Boric acid is a white powder available at hardware stores that can do everything from get stains out of your clothes to deodorize your fridge to kill pesky roaches crawling around your kitchen.
But apparently there's another use for this chemical remedy, and mentions of it have been popping up lately on social media threads and message boards: it's also a treatment for chronic bacterial vaginosis.
You've probably heard of bacterial vaginosis, or BV. It's an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina that causes yeast infection–like symptoms such as itching, burning, and discharge, as well as a telltale fishy odor. BV isn't considered a , and it's typically not serious. Still, ob-gyns see it all the time; it's the most common vaginal infection for women of childbearing age.
Usually, BV is treated with a 5- to 7-day course of antibiotics. Problem is, the infection recurs in up to 50% of women who have it. When it recurs, ob-gyns consider it to be chronic. It's in these chronic cases where boric acid comes into play.
“We always recommend traditional treatment with antibiotics for bacterial vaginosis first, but for patients who fail this treatment or keep getting it over and over, boric acid is still an acceptable treatment and prevention measure,” New York–based ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, MD, co-author of The Complete A to Z for Your V, tells Health. Though boric acid was a common remedy for BV decades ago in an era before effective antibiotics, some doctors still recommend it to women who develop BV three or more times a year.
Of course, a woman with recurrent BV can't cure herself just by sprinkling some boric acid into a smoothie. (This is poisonous, for starters.) Instead of taking it by mouth or in pill, a boric acid suppository is inserted into the vagina at night for 7-14 days. Some physicians also use boric acid as a preventive measure for women with recurrent BV infections, says Dr. Dweck, advising that they insert a boric acid suppository once or twice a week for 3-4 months.
Dr. Dweck admits that she often has to persuade her patients to try boric acid. Its name—not to mention its reputation as roach poison—can scare women away. But once she explains how well it works, that apprehension subsides. “Boric acid puts the vagina back in an acidic state, so that it has a more normal pH again,” Dr. Dweck explains.
So is it more effective at treating BV than antibiotics? Though lack of evidence makes it hard to know, some women may find that it works for them, especially if their BV has been resistant to antibiotic treatment. An ongoing study at the University of British Columbia predicts that boric acid will be 77-88% effective in treating BV. That's in comparison to an antibiotic called metronidazole, which is predicted to be 70-80% effective—with a recurrence rate of 33% at the three-month mark and 49-66% after one year, according to the study.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites boric acid as one of the management strategies for women with persistent or recurrent BV, the FDA has not approved it as a treatment strategy because there's not enough research demonstrating its safety and effectiveness. Still, Donnica Moore, MD, a New Jersey–based gynecologist and president of Sapphire Women's Health Group, tells Health that many of her patients have reported that boric acid suppositories put an end to their infections, and only a few reported adverse reactions.
Yet just like its name suggests, boric acid can extremely dangerous, says Dr. Moore. So follow some ground rules if you're thinking of using it. First, be careful not to swallow it, keep it away from children, and avoid putting it near any open cuts or wounds because results can be fatal.
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Finally, Dr. Moore clarifies that it should only be used under the advice and recommendation of your gynecologist. “A lot of women are saying ‘oh this is awesome, you don't have to go to the ob-gyn, you could just put the acid in the capsules yourself and it's inexpensive,’” Dr. Moore tells Health. “No. You need a proper diagnosis and to make sure the boric acid is medical grade or pharmaceutical grade as opposed to the kind that’s just in roach killer.” This is something to leave to your doctor.
If you're not keen on trying boric acid, there are other strategies that can help prevent recurring BV. Dr. Moore recommends avoiding scented soaps, not sitting in wet or sweaty clothes, and taking probiotic supplements to help maintain your vagina’s pH balance. But if you’re already trying these measures and antibiotics aren't working, she suggests speaking to your ob-gyn about whether a boric acid regimen is right for you.