Using yoghurt for vulvovaginal health – it has to be alive!

If you are considering using yoghurt vaginally to treat an infection or imbalance, there is one key element that many aren’t aware of: the yoghurt has to be full of live bacteria, which means you may need to make it yourself at home or buy fresh, unpasteurised (heat-treated) yoghurt.

Many areas don’t carry live yoghurt on their shelves, because the shelf-life is more limited and the product may spoil faster. This reduces profit for the company making the yoghurt, so it makes sense for them to make yoghurt for flavour, and not for its live, healthy bacterial content. It could be argued, however, that while yoghurt is delicious, its probiotic content is part of its appeal.

These probiotic bacteria are the critical component when using yoghurt to treat vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and so on. The probiotic bacteria are a biological weapon, as they fight pathogens for real estate in your vagina.

If you are going to use yoghurt vaginally, the only way it will be effective is if you buy or make fresh yoghurt that has live bacteria in it. Usually this information will be printed on the label – if it’s alive, then the manufacturer will want you to know this, so will say so on the label.

Where to buy live yoghurt

  • Ask at your local health food store
  • Check your local specialty supermarket
  • Some supermarkets will carry live yoghurt – check the labels
  • Look up some fermentation fanatic groups on social media – people love this stuff and sell their own products

How to make your own yoghurt at home

  • Get a home-made yoghurt starter kit pack, check second-hand stores, as these things are like foot spas (people think they are a good idea but then never use them)
  • Get fresh milk kefir grains online (one tablespoon costs about US$10) (get fresh, not dried, and look on local listings, as opposed to retailers – grains are not sold in shops)
  • Do not add sugar or flavourings to vaginal yoghurt preparations – plain, unsweetened only

Making your own yoghurt can seem laborious, but it’s easy once you take the time to understand the process.

How yoghurt goes from milk to yoghurt – the fermentation process

Yoghurt is the end result of a specific set of bacteria that ferment milk. These bacteria use lactose in milk as a food source, converting it into lactic acid. This lactic acid interacts with proteins in milk to convert it into the classic yoghurt texture and flavour – thick and tart.

All mammal milk, including human breast milk, contains lactose, and can be used to make yoghurt. Each type of mammal milk produces a different style of yoghurt.

The milk is heated to uncoil the milk proteins so that the milk doesn’t turn into curds. The milk is then cooled down, the bacteria are mixed in, and the milk sits at about 45C for up to 12 hours as the fermentation process is completed.

The most common forms of bacteria used to make yoghurt include:

  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • L. acidophilus (a bacteria sometimes found in the vagina)
  • Bifidobacteria
  • L. casei (a bacteria often found in the vagina)

Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)