How to Use Probiotics to Treat Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection that affects more than 21 million women ages 14 to 49. It occurs when the unhealthy bacteria outweigh the healthy bacteria in the normal vaginal flora (microorganisms). 

A strong “fishy” smelling vaginal discharge is the most common symptom of BV. Vaginal discharge also increases, and it is thin (and sometimes foamy) gray, greenish, yellow, or white. 

Close up happy young black young woman with a pill - stock photo

Fizkes / Getty Images

Probiotics are “good," or beneficial, bacteria that naturally live in the body. They keep excess “bad,” or harmful, bacteria away and help maintain vaginal flora balance and health.

This article reviews why vaginal imbalances occur, how probiotics help maintain balance, the best probiotics for bacterial vaginosis, dosage, and other treatment options. 

The History of Probiotics

Probiotics were first used in 1907. After antibiotics (drugs that kill bacteria) were discovered, probiotics were put on the back burner. However, probiotic therapy research and use have increased in recent times.

While research studies have had mixed results regarding probiotics' effectiveness, the majority report benefits with their use. There is also evidence probiotics can improve vaginal health.

Why Do Vaginal Imbalances Occur?

A healthy vagina has a vaginal flora consisting of bacteria, yeast, and fungi. The good bacteria and vaginal discharge keep the vagina clean and infection-free.

Typically, the vagina's pH level (acidity) helps the good bacteria to survive. Vaginal imbalances occur when there is an overgrowth of harmful or unhealthy bacteria in the vagina.

Medications, diet, hormones, sexual activity, douching, and lifestyle factors can disrupt the balance. This creates an environment in which harmful bacteria can grow and cause bacterial vaginosis. 

Sexual intercourse with a male partner is an example of how sexual activity can disrupt the pH level in the vagina, which at 3.8 to 4.5 are ideal for normal flora to thrive.

A man's semen has a pH level between 7.1 and 8. Having vaginal intercourse increases the risk of BV because the pH in sperm increases the pH in the vagina, making it easier for bacteria to grow. 

At Home Feminine Screening Tests

Vaginal pH tests, or feminine screening kits, are available for at-home testing and are easy to use. You collect a vaginal discharge sample with either litmus paper or a vaginal swab. Once collected, you can compare your results with an easy-to-read pH color chart. 

You can also buy at-home tests to check the balance of the vaginal flora. The collection is similar to pH tests. However, they are packaged and sent to a lab, so results aren't immediate. 

Having pH levels above 4.5 may indicate BV. In this case, contact your healthcare provider so they can direct your treatment.

How Do Probiotics Help Maintain Balance?

Probiotics are good bacteria that are present in your:

  • Intestines
  • Skin
  • Lungs
  • Mouth
  • Urinary tract
  • Vagina 

Probiotics can help support your immune system, decrease inflammation, and help you digest food. Some studies show that probiotics help to restore the normal vaginal flora so that the bad bacteria don’t outgrow the good bacteria.

Probiotics may also be helpful for certain people who get recurrent BV. If you are not getting enough probiotics in your diet, your healthcare provider may suggest supplements. 

Foods That Contain Probiotics

Probiotics naturally occur in fermented foods, such as:

  • Yogurt
  • Pickles 
  • Kombucha (fermented tea)
  • Kimchi (fermented cabbage)
  • Kefir (fermented dairy drink) 
  • Buttermilk
  • Sourdough bread
  • Fermented sauerkraut
  • Miso soup

What Probiotics Are Best for Treating BV?

Lactobacilli play a key role in maintaining vaginal health. They produce lactic acid, which creates the acidic environment needed in the vagina. Certain types of lactobacilli are used in foods or in supplements, such as probiotics.

The following are probiotics that are lactobacilli-based: 

  • Lacticasebacillus rhamnosus (also referred to as Lactobacillus rhamnosus or L. rhamnosus) GR-1 (or LGR-1)
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus (oral or intravaginally)
  • Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14
  • Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14

Probiotics Dosage

Probiotic supplements come in capsules, powders, wafers, liquids, and more. They also come in suppositories that you insert into the vagina. 

Probiotics have different strengths, ranging from one to 50 billion colony-forming units (CFU). While there is no set dosage, the recommendation is for adults to start with probiotics with at least 1 billion CFUs. 

Talk with your healthcare provider so they can suggest a dose and timing that works for you. The following are some common probiotic regimens that your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Two capsules daily for six weeks
  • Two capsules for seven days, nothing for the next seven days, then two capsules for another seven days
  • Once weekly, for several months, if taken intravaginally
  • Two capsules daily (continuously) for recurring BV

If you are taking antibiotics, they may also recommend taking probiotics two hours after the antibiotic. 

Potential Side Effects and Who Should Avoid Taking Probiotics

Probiotics are considered safe for otherwise healthy people. Possible side effects include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Increased thirst

While the research is limited, some have shown possible harmful effects, such as infections for those with compromised immune systems or severe illnesses.

People with food allergies should check ingredients carefully, as some probiotic supplements may contain allergens such as milk, yeast, egg, soy, or gluten.

Other BV Treatment Options

 BV is typically treated with one of the following antibiotics: 

  • Flagyl (metronidazole)
  • Clindacin, Cleocin, Clindesse (clindamycin)
  • Tindamax, Fasigyn, Simplotan (tinidazole)

 Your healthcare provider may also consider:

Your provider may prescribe these medications as pills taken by mouth or as a vaginal cream or gel. Sometimes healthcare providers prescribe both oral and vaginal medicines for you to take at the same time. This is especially true for recurring infections (those that come back repeatedly). 


Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is an imbalance in the normal flora of the vagina. Medications, diet, hormones, sexual activity, and more can cause an imbalance where the bad bacteria outgrow the good bacteria.

Probiotics are good bacteria that can help restore balance in the vaginal flora. Lactobacilli-based probiotics are best for treating BV. There is no set dosage for probiotics, but the recommendation is that adults start with probiotic supplements with at least 1 billion colony-forming units (CFUs). 

Bacterial vaginosis is also treated with oral or vaginal antibiotics. Probiotics are often recommended in addition to these antibiotics to help fight recurring BV. 

A Word From Verywell

It may feel uncomfortable to talk to your healthcare provider about vaginal symptoms. Remember that bacterial vaginosis is a common infection and is nothing to be embarrassed about. Early treatment can help reduce the risk of complications from untreated BV, so speak with your healthcare provider if any symptoms occur.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which probiotics are best for BV?

    Lactobacilli-based probiotics such as Lacticasebacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus fermentum, and Lactobacillus reuteri are best for treating BV.

  • Can probiotics help prevent BV?

    Yes, probiotics can help keep the natural flora in the vagina balanced. This creates an environment where good bacteria thrive, which keeps bad bacteria from overgrowing.

  • How long do probiotics take to work for BV?

    The length of time it takes for probiotics to work for BV varies on the person and severity of BV, and whether the probiotics are taken along with antibiotics.

    They can start working within five days, but BV can take a couple of months to completely resolve, especially for those with recurring infections. 

17 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial vaginosis (bv) statistics.

  2. Wang Z, He Y, Zheng Y. Probiotics for the treatment of bacterial vaginosis: a meta-analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(20):3859. doi:10.3390/ijerph16203859

  3. Heczko P, Tomusiak A, Adamski P, et al. Supplementation of standard antibiotic therapy with oral probiotics for bacterial vaginosis and aerobic vaginitis: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. BMC Womens Health. 2015;15:115. doi:10.1186/s12905-015-0246-6

  4. Holistic Primary Care. Balancing the vaginal microbiome: an unmet women’s health need.

  5. University of Michigan Health. Vaginal wet mount.

  6. Office of Women’s Health. Douching.

  7. United States Food and Drug Administration. Vaginal ph.

  8. Webb L. Probiotics for preventing recurrent bacterial vaginosis. JAAPA.  2021; 34(2):19-22. doi: 10.1097/01.JAA.0000731484.81301.58

  9. Amabebe E, Anumba DOC. The vaginal microenvironment: the physiologic role of Lactobacilli. Front Med (Lausanne). 2018;5:181. doi:10.3389/fmed.2018.00181

  10. Borges S, Silva J, Teixeira P. The role of lactobacilli and probiotics in maintaining vaginal health. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2014;289(3):479-89. doi: 10.1007/s00404-013-3064-9

  11. Bagnall P, Rizzolo D. Bacterial vaginosis: A practical review. J Am Acad Phys Assist. 2017;30(12):15-21. doi:10.1097/01.JAA.0000526770.60197.fa

  12. Petrova M, Reid G, ter Haar, J. Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus gr-1, a.k.a. lactobacillus rhamnosus gr-1: past and future perspectives. Trends in Microbiology. 2021;29(8):747-761. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2021.03.010

  13. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Probiotics.

  14. Planned Parenthood. What is bacterial vaginosis?

  15. Lerner A, Shoenfeld Y, Matthias T. Probiotics: if it does not help it does not do any harm. really? Microorganisms. 2019;7(4):104. doi:10.3390/microorganisms7040104

  16. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH). Probiotics: what you need to know.

  17. Martín-Muñoz M, Fortuni M, Caminoa M, et al. Anaphylactic reaction to probiotics. cow's milk and hen's egg allergens in probiotic compounds. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2012;23(8):778-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3038.2012.01338.x

Additional Reading

By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.