Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a very common vaginal condition. In fact, because BV can be asymptomatic, you could have it right now and not even know; one study of over 3,700 women ages 14-49 found that 29.2% had BV, even though 84% of those cases reported no symptoms (Koumans et al, 2007).
Because it is so common, the Internet is full of anecdotal home remedies for bacterial vaginosis. It’s important for you to understand what works--and what doesn’t.
We’ve sorted through all the available research to help you make good decisions about treating your bacterial vaginosis at home.
1. Good Vaginal Hygiene
“Prevention is the best cure” may be an overused cliche, but it’s only repeated so often because it’s so true. By practicing good vaginal hygiene, you may be preventing future episodes of BV before they start--or you might just help prevent making your current case of BV any worse
Here are some ways to practice good vaginal hygiene.
This advice may seem strange to some of you; after all, isn’t a douche supposed to clean your vagina? The answer is no--in fact, douching is a risk factor for developing bacterial vaginosis (Livengood, 2009), as well as several other vaginal conditions.
Because of this, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health does not recommend douching your vagina for any reason (2019).
Make sure when you use the restroom, you wipe from front to back (from your vagina toward your rectum), never back to front. This will help prevent the spread of bacteria into your vagina.
This advice may seem strange to you, too--but studies have shown that nicotine use results in a higher rate of developing BV!
2. Good Sexual Hygiene
Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, those who have frequent sex with multiple partners, or who engage in sex between two vaginas, are more likely to get BV. (You can, however, get BV even if you have never had sex.)
Practice safe sex by always using a condom or oral contraceptive, and making sure everything you are putting in and around your vagina (a penis, finger, toy, etc.) has been thoroughly cleaned with soap and water.
3. Antibacterial Foods
The first-line treatment for BV is often a prescribed antibiotic. However, you may know that our overuse of antibiotics has led to microbial organisms that are more resistant to these kinds of treatments (Llor & Bjerrum, 2014).
As a result, more people are turning to natural antibacterial sources, which may be gentler than a prescribed antibiotic.
(Note: antibioticsand antibacterialsare both medications that kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, where an antimicrobialwill kill bacteria as well as fungi and other pathogens.)
Studies suggest that the following foods have natural antibacterial properties:
- Garlic and other Alliums (Adetumbi & Lau, 1983;Sengupta, Ghosh, & Bhattacharjee, 2004)
- Ginger(Sebiomo et al, 2011)
- Oregano (Chaudhry, Saeed, & Tariq, 2007)
4. Antibacterial Drinks
Of course, eating antibacterial foods isn’t the only natural way to kill bacteria; many drinks can have a similarly cleansing effect. Here are a few delicious drinks you can try for their natural bacteria-destroying properties:
- Turmeric milk (Gul & Bakht, 2015)
- Cinnamon (added to tea or coffee) (Sharma et al, 2009)
- Citrus juice, like orange or grapefruit (Okeke et al, 2015)
Antibiotics are very good at killing bacteria--but often, they will kill natural, beneficial bacteria in addition to the harmful bacteria. This is particularly relevant in BV, where harmful bacteria grow and replace healthy lactobacillibacteria.
Because of this, some clinicians are now trying to supplement antibiotic treatment with probiotics that contain lactobacilli; early results are promising, though we need to do more research to confirm these effects (Senok et al, 2009).
Some over-the-counter probiotic supplements contain lactobacilli, but you can also obtain probiotics from fermented foods such as cheese, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, pickles, and kombucha (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020).
6. What To and Not To Insert
No matter what lifestyle gurus may tell you about “yoni pearls”, most gynecologists will neverrecommend that you place any foreign object in your vagina--especially not for long periods of time.
This includes common home remedies for BV like a chamomile tea douche, for which little scientific evidence exists (and as mentioned above, experts do not recommend douching at all). It also includes applications of tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic, and hydrogen peroxide.
However, there is one gynecologist-approved medication that you canconsider inserting into your vagina -- boric acid suppositories. No, this isn’t the same thing as Borax--they just both come from the element Boron (and please do not insert Borax into your vagina either).
Boric acid is very safe and usually does not have any side effects; where side effects do appear, they are usually mild (Jovanovic, Congema, & Nguyen, 1991). It may be better to avoid during the first trimester of pregnancy, but is usually safe in the second and third trimesters (Iavazzo et al, 2011).
Boric acid has been well-researched in the treatment of other forms of vaginitis such as yeast infections (Iavazzo) and trichomoniasis (Brittingham & Wilson, 2014); while its use for the treatment of BV is still being researched, an ongoing study predicts that it will be 77-88% effective (Mullins & Trouton, 2015). Ask your OBGYN what they recommend!
There is much we still don’t understand about bacterial vaginosis--particularly because it appears so commonly and is so often asymptomatic. While antibiotic medication is often the first line of treatment, overuse of medications may make the bacterial imbalances causing your BV worse, not better--particularly if you experience chronic BV.
Luckily, many foods and drinks contain antibacterial and probacterial properties; a combination of the two may help your vagina fight off infection in a more gentle, natural way. Even using these tools (particularly a probiotic) in addition to an antibacterial may help give your vagina a little extra fighting power.
That said, if your chronic or acute BV is not going away, please see an OB/GYN right away. And please, do not insert anything into your vagina without consulting with your OB/GYN first--most sources that suggest inserting anything into your vagina other than doctor-approved boric acid are based on little to no scientific studies, and may do more harm to your vagina than any potential good.
- Koumans, E. H., Sternberg, M., Bruce, C., McQuillan, G., Kendrick, J., Sutton, M., & Markowitz, L. E. (2007). The prevalence of bacterial vaginosis in the United States, 2001–2004; associations with symptoms, sexual behaviors, and reproductive health. Sexually transmitted diseases, 34(11), 864-869. https://doi.org/10.1097/OLQ.0b013e318074e565
- Livengood C. H. (2009). Bacterial vaginosis: an overview for 2009. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology, 2(1), 28–37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672999/
- Office on Women's Health (Ed.) (2019). Douching. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/douching
- Llor, C., & Bjerrum, L. (2014). Antimicrobial resistance: risk associated with antibiotic overuse and initiatives to reduce the problem. Therapeutic advances in drug safety, 5(6), 229-241. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042098614554919
- Adetumbi, M. A., & Lau, B. H. (1983). Alliumsativum (garlic)—A natural antibiotic. Medical hypotheses, 12(3), 227-237. https://doi.org/10.1016/0306-9877(83)90040-3
- Sengupta, A., Ghosh, S., & Bhattacharjee, S. (2004). Allium vegetables in cancer prevention: an overview. Asian Pacific journal of cancer prevention : APJCP, 5(3), 237–245. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15373701/
- Sebiomo, A., Awofodu, A. D., Awosanya, A. O., Awotona, F. E., & Ajayi, A. J. (2011). Comparative studies of antibacterial effect of some antibiotics and ginger (Zingiber officinale) on two pathogenic bacteria. Journal of Microbiology and Antimicrobials, 3(1), 18-22. https://doi.org/10.5897/JMA.9000027
- Chaudhry, N. M. A., Saeed, S., & Tariq, P. (2007). Antibacterial effects of oregano (Origanum vulgare) against gram negative bacilli. Pakistan Journal of Botany, 39(2), 609. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf049033e
- Gul, P., & Bakht, J. (2015). Antimicrobial activity of turmeric extract and its potential use in food industry. Journal of food science and technology, 52(4), 2272-2279. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-013-1195-4
- Sharma, A., Chandraker, S., Patel, V. K., & Ramteke, P. (2009). Antibacterial Activity of Medicinal Plants Against Pathogens causing Complicated Urinary Tract Infections. Indian journal of pharmaceutical sciences, 71(2), 136–139. https://doi.org/10.4103/0250-474X.54279
- Okeke, M. I., Okoli, A. S., Eze, E. N., Ekwume, G. C., Okosa, E. U., & Iroegbu, C. U. (2015). Antibacterial activity of Citrus limonum fruit juice extract. Pak J Pharm Sci, 28(5), 1567-1571. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26408878/
- Senok, A. C., Verstraelen, H., Temmerman, M., & Botta, G. A. (2009). Probiotics for the treatment of bacterial vaginosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews https://www.cochrane.org/CD006289/STI_probiotics-for-the-treatment-of-bacterial-vaginosis
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2020). How to get more probiotics. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-get-more-probiotics
- Jovanovic, R., Congema, E., & Nguyen, H. T. (1991). Antifungal agents vs. boric acid for treating chronic mycotic vulvovaginitis. The Journal of reproductive medicine, 36(8), 593-597. https://europepmc.org/article/med/1941801
- Iavazzo, C., Gkegkes, I. D., Zarkada, I. M., & Falagas, M. E. (2011). Boric acid for recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: the clinical evidence. Journal of Women's Health, 20(8), 1245-1255. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2010.2708
- Brittingham, A., & Wilson, W. A. (2014). The antimicrobial effect of boric acid on Trichomonas vaginalis. Sexually transmitted diseases, 41(12), 718-722. https://doi.org/10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000203
- Mullins, M. Z., & Trouton, K. M. (2015). BASIC study: is intravaginal boric acid non-inferior to metronidazole in symptomatic bacterial vaginosis? Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 16(1), 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-015-0852-5