Vitamin C Effective Against Common Feminine Problem
By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (November 11, 2004)—A new study finds that vitamin C is effective against a tough-to-treat vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV), according to the European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology (2004;117:70–5).
BV, also known as nonspecific vaginitis, is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. It is diagnosed when at least three out of four of the following are present: vaginal discharge, fishy odor, increased vaginal pH (lowered acidity of the vagina), and bacteria-laden cells in the vagina as seen under a microscope. Women with BV may also have a fever and vaginal itching or burning. Almost half of the women with BV have no symptoms at all; however, the condition can be serious, leading to other pelvic infections and to pregnancy complications. Having BV also increases a woman’s susceptibility to HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and other sexually transmitted diseases. For these reasons, treatment is recommended for all women with BV and is especially important for pregnant women.
BV is related to an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. Normally, protective organisms such as Lactobacilli create an acidic environment that makes it difficult for harmful bacteria to grow. When the beneficial bacteria decrease in number, harmful bacteria can grow and multiply. These changes are accompanied by a decrease in the natural acidity of the vagina and symptoms associated with BV. Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control, douching, and having new or multiple sexual partners can all disrupt the balance of the vaginal flora, leading to an increased risk of developing BV.
Treatment for BV infection usually involves a seven-day course of the antibiotic metronidazole (Flagyl™). This drug is not recommended for use in the first trimester of pregnancy because no human studies have proven its safety. Side effects can include nausea, decreased appetite, and a metallic taste in the mouth. Treatment clears up most cases of BV infections, but the disease can recur in up to 80% of women within nine months. One reason for the high recurrence rate may be the failure of the protective bacteria to become reestablished in the vagina.
Vitamin C applied vaginally has the ability to increase the acidity of the vagina, potentially inhibiting the growth of bacteria associated with BV. The new study investigated the effect of intravaginal administration of vitamin C in 91 women with BV. The women were assigned to receive either a placebo or 250 mg of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) per day for six days. The participants were instructed to insert one tablet vaginally each night before bed. The presence of BV and related symptoms was assessed at the beginning of the study, and one and two weeks after the treatment was discontinued.
One week after treatment, BV infections had resolved in significantly more women who received vitamin C than in those women who took the placebo. Fishy odor and the numbers of harmful bacteria and bacteria-laden cells decreased significantly in the group receiving vitamin C compared with the placebo group. Lactobacillus concentrations increased significantly after treatment with vitamin C, indicating a positive change in the flora of the vagina. In addition, significantly more women in the vitamin C group than in the placebo group had an increase in vaginal acidity, indicating that vitamin C produced an environment less suitable for the growth of harmful bacteria. There were no significant differences between groups with respect to vaginal itching and discharge.
The vitamin C used in this study was a time-release formulation designed to provide extended contact of the vitamin with the vaginal tissue and to reduce irritation. Vitamin C treatment was generally well tolerated; two cases of yeast infections were the only adverse events reported. Buffered forms of vitamin C would not have the same effect as the acidic form used in this study. In addition, many vitamin C preparations contain binders and fillers that may render the product unsuitable for intravaginal use. Consulting with a healthcare professional trained in nutritional medicine is advisable before starting treatment.
Intravaginal vitamin C should be considered for the treatment of BV, especially in pregnant women who may not be able to safely take a prescription medication. Pregnant women should always consult with a medical professional before taking any medications or supplements.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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