Bacterial vaginosis is an inflammation of the vaginal tissue as a result of bacteria. As anaerobes, or “bad” bacteria, become too numerous, they disrupt the natural balance of vaginal flora. This leads to irritation and subsequent inflammation of the vaginal tissue, causing symptoms often associated with the condition, such as vaginal discharge, itching and foul odors. You may also notice a burning sensation upon urination or even pain during intercourse. Multiple sex partners, douching, IUDs and lack of contraceptive protection — namely condoms — increase your risk, but research has found that there may be a dietary component to this condition, including a lack of folate in the diet. Talk to your doctor before taking a dietary supplement to prevent or treat bacterial vaginosis.
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A study published in the September 2007 “Journal of Nutrition” found that certain nutrients may affect the severity of bacterial vaginosis. Women with diets higher in folate — as well as vitamin E and calcium — were less likely to develop severe vaginosis than women whose diets lacked the recommended daily allowance of this nutrient. Researchers believe the increased intake of both folate and vitamin E improved immune response, which could then lower the risk of this condition. The reason calcium was of benefit is still unknown.
Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate, a water-soluble B vitamin. Recommended daily allowance is set at 400 micrograms, or mcg, a day for both men and women 14 years and older. As with any nutrient, the best source of folate is diet. Breakfast cereals are often fortified with this B vitamin, but spinach, peas, beans, asparagus, avocado, peanuts, romaine lettuce, wheat germ and beef liver are also good sources. It’s also found in cantaloupe, papaya, banana and breads. If you’re unable to get enough folate in your diet, you may then want to take folic acid to bring your intake of folate to the recommended amount, but talk to your doctor before doing so.
While folate — or folic acid, for that matter — may help reduce your risk of severe bacterial vaginosis, it doesn’t appear to treat the condition. Any report of benefit is anecdotal at best. Instead, your doctor will likely prescribe a medication. Metronidazole and clindamycin are the most common drugs used to treat bacterial vaginosis, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health. Both medications are used topically for a period of five to seven days until the infection clears. MayoClinic.com, however, also lists tinidazole as another option to treat this condition. This medication is taken orally for two to five days. Your doctor can determine which prescription is best suited to your needs.
Although folic acid is considered safe, it isn’t without potential side effects, especially when taken in high doses. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, high doses of folic acid have been known to cause stomach problems, sleep disruption and skin reactions. It may also cause seizures in people taking anticonvulsant medications. Always talk to your doctor before taking this or any other supplement to prevent bacterial vaginosis.