Some women have more HIV-fighting bacteria in their vagina

This one kind of bacteria can make women more resistant to HIV. Now, doctors are looking at probiotics to boost this superhero in all women


Scientists have found that HIV fighting bacteria are naturally present in some women’s vaginas. A study done by Professor Janneke van de Wijgert of the University of Liverpool, also reveals that sex workers were unlikely to have HIV if they had Lactobacillus crispatus (L. crispatus) bacteria in their vaginas and it is one among the five bacteria present in female genitals.

Post the discovery, researchers are now looking to develop probiotics to increase the level of the bacteria in all women. In fact, researchers also believe the vagina is healthiest if L. crispatus) is dominant.

Science writer and former cell biologist Kendall Powell throws more light on L. crispatus in an edited series of excerpts from an essay published by Mosaic Science.

What is vaginal bacteria?

Compared with those of other mammals, the human vagina is unique. As warm and moist canals exposed to all sorts of things including penises, babies and dirt, most mammalian vaginas harbour a diverse mix of bacteria. However, for many women, one or another species of Lactobacillus has become the dominant bacterial resident.

What these bacteria do?

Lactobacillus bacteria throw out lactic acid, which keeps the vaginal environment at a low, acidic pH that kills or discourages other bacteria, yeast and viruses from thriving. There are even hints that certain Lactobacillus species reinforce the mucus in the vagina that acts as a natural barrier to invaders.

Brief history of vaginal bacteria

Researchers speculate that human vaginas gained Lactobacillus protectors around 10,000–12,000 years ago when humans began fermenting milk and eating foods like yogurt and cheese, which are full of bacteria. The health burden of not having good vaginal microbiota is enormous. Certain Lactobacillus may have expanded their territory to colonise the vagina – travelling the short distance from the anus to the vaginal opening. There, they find found their perfect environment, a low-oxygen chamber that, during a woman’s reproductive years, has an abundant supply of the sugars Lactobacillus feed upon.

Different from woman to woman

All Lactobacillus bacteria – long thought to keep vaginas healthy – are not created equal. In 2011, a study found that there are five different types of bacterial community. Four of these were dominated by different Lactobacillus species. But the fifth contained a diverse mix of microbes many of which have been associated with bacterial vaginosis.

Source: Daily Mail