ARTICLE: Lactobacillus-dominance and rapid stabilization of vaginal microbiota in combined oral contraceptive pill users examined through a longitudinal cohort study with frequent vaginal sampling over two years
JOURNAL: EBioMedicine. 2022 Dec 16;87:104407. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2022.104407. Online ahead of print.
Background: Bacterial vaginosis (BV), a condition in which vaginal Lactobacillus spp. are in low abundance, is associated with vulvovaginal symptoms, obstetric outcomes and urogenital infections. Recurrent BV is difficult to manage, and emerging data indicate a reduced risk of BV with the use of hormonal contraception (HC). Despite widespread use, little longitudinal data is available on whether, and in what timeframe, combined oral contraceptive pills (COCs) may act to affect vaginal microbiota stability and Lactobacillus dominance.
Methods: We compared the vaginal microbiota of reproductive-age cisgender women during intervals on combined estrogen and progestin COCs with non-use intervals in a 2-year observational study. Vaginal microbiota were characterized by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing.
Findings: COC users were more likely to have Lactobacillus-dominated microbiota and more stable microbiota over time. Stability increased and then plateaued four weeks after COC initiation. The associations between COCs and Lactobacillus spp. dominance, and microbiota stability, were statistically significant for White, but not African American women; however sample size was limited for African American participants. Findings were similar for other forms of HC and when excluding samples collected during menses.
Interpretation: Our study provides a methodologic framework to evaluate observational longitudinal microbiota data with exposure crossovers. We found COCs are associated with vaginal microbiota stability and a Lactobacillus-dominated state. COCs appear to impact stability within a month of initiation. Our findings have clinical implications for how soon benefits can be expected in (at least White) patients initiating COCs, and support the need for larger prospective trials to verify our results in ethnically diverse populations.
Keywords: Hormonal contraception; Obstetrics and gynecology; Reproductive health; Stability; Vaginal microbiome.
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