White, cracking, itchy skin patches are the hallmark of a skin disorder called lichen sclerosus. Applying a topical steroid cream to the affected area has historically been a common treatment for this kind of skin irritation. But it's possible that a more natural approach can help this disorder: Research is showing that probiotics can possibly prevent lichen sclerosus.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria that are good for your body, found in dietary supplements or foods like yoghurt, kefir, and some soy drinks. Probiotic means "for life." These helpful bacteria assist with digestion and help fight against harmful bacteria that reside in the intestines. According to Corazon Ibarra, MD HMD, a doctor of Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine in Reno, Nevada, probiotics help to cleanse the bowels and restore their ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients, a process that may be hampered by the presence of antibiotics in food. Considering that there are 20 times more bacteria than cells in the human body, it is important to keep the "good" and "bad" bacteria in balance. Probiotics enhance the immune system by favourably balancing the micro-organisms in the gut.
What is Lichen Sclerosus?
Lichen sclerosus is a disorder of the skin that can affect anyone, but is most common in women. It usually appears on the outer genitalia of women, but it can also develop on the head of the penis in men. Lichen sclerosus also can be seen on other parts of the body, often the breast and upper arms. The early symptoms include small white spots. These areas are inconspicuous, shiny and smooth. Later, the spots become bigger patches and the skin thins and looks crinkled. The skin tears easily and may discolour from bleeding inside the skin.
Michael Picco, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the Mayo Clinic, states there is encouraging evidence that probiotics may assist with overall health, including treating diarrhoea, preventing and treating infections such as urinary tract and vaginal yeast infections, shortening the duration of intestinal infections, and preventing eczema in children. He cites a 2005 research study in Sweden that found that people given Lactobacillus reuteri missed less work than those who did not receive the probiotic.
Dr. Ibarra says that the exact cause of lichen sclerosus is unknown. The cause may be a fungus or be bacterial. She says that if the lichen sclerosus is caused by a fungus, like Candida, probiotics are a much healthier choice of treatment than a steroid cream. In fact, the results of some clinical trials show that several types of lactobacilli administered either orally or intravaginally help stop the colonisation and infection of the fungus Candida albicans in the vagina.
The public has become increasingly interested in probiotics. Researchers need to confirm the effectiveness of probiotics with further and larger studies, but those completed so far are promising as to the overall health benefits of these beneficial bacteria.
- Dr. Corazon Ibarra, MD HMD; Bio Integrative Health Center International; Reno, Nevada
- Consumer health