When we heard that actress and author (and Health coverstar) Gabrielle Union recently confessed to putting yogurt in her vagina to cure a yeast infection—a treatment we've heard about that other women swear by—we definitely wanted to take a closer look.
“I ended up in a situation where I had a yeast infection, and I didn’t want to go to CVS to buy Monistat,” Union told Unstyled, Refinery 29's fashion podcast. “I called my girlfriend, who always has an answer for everything, and she was like, ‘Go get yogurt and then you’re gonna just put the yogurt up your vagina.”
Union said she picked up some vanilla-flavored yogurt, then got to work applying it—with little success. “It’s not going in, it’s just slapped on the outside, which is providing a bit of relief, but I need to get it in there,” she recalled. So she called back her friend, who recommended using a straw from a local fast-food joint as a makeshift applicator.
Union didn't say whether the yogurt worked. So we decided to ask a gynecologist if yogurt really can cure a yeast infection, or at least ease symptoms, such as itching and burning.
While an over-the-counter antifungal cream or prescription oral med are the preferred methods of treatment for a yeast infection, yogurt does seem to offer at least temporary relief, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School. “A yeast infection is an overgrowth of yeast, and the good-guy bacteria in yogurt, the lactobacilli, maintain an acidic environment, which makes it hostile for yeast to grow.”
However, she cautions, the strain of bacteria that's native to the vagina may be different from the strain in your favorite yogurt. If that’s the case, the yogurt may not help much after all. Since there’s no way to tell which brand is best suited to your body, at least make sure you’re buying a yogurt with live cultures, or you won’t get any yeast-fighting benefits, says Dr. Minkin. Opt for an unflavored variety too.
Flavored yogurts, especially fruity ones with jellies or jams, can be packed with sugar, and sugar can fuel the growth of vaginal yeast, she adds.
To keep the mess minimal, apply the yogurt internally rather than externally on the vulva. To do so, a makeshift applicator like Union’s straw isn’t a terrible idea, Dr. Minkin says, “although it might scratch you, whereas other applicators are smoother.” You can actually purchase vaginal suppository applicators online (like this 15-pack for $12 at Amazon) or at a pharmacy, she says, and simply fill the applicator with yogurt.
If an applicator isn't available, coating your finger with yogurt before inserting it into your vagina works just fine too. You can also dab a little yogurt on a tampon and insert it that way, as Health’s medical editor Roshini Raj, MD, has previously recommended.
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Your most mess-free option for yeast infection relief might be to regularly eat yogurt. Delivering those lactobacilli to your gut can help ward off future infections, Dr. Minkin says—and you'll get some protein and calcium while you're at it.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s not a whole lot of research on just how effective slathering up with yogurt below the belt is when it comes to treating a yeast infection—but who doesn’t have a friend like Union’s who swears by the technique? Bottom line, it’s worth a shot. “If it works, great! If not, at least you haven’t hurt yourself,” Dr. Minkin says.