Probiotics are one of the most widely researched natural products for gut health. But what does science say about the benefits of probiotics for women in particular?
Probiotics are the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract designed to support your body’s immune system, absorb nutrients, and provide protection against digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
However, the benefits of probiotics may go well beyond gut health, especially when it comes to women’s health.
Probiotics may work specifically by restoring and maintaining the healthy composition of your gut biome. These are the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit your GI tract.
Probiotics might also:
- Support the GI tract’s natural barriers against harmful pathogens (fungi, bacteria, viruses)
- Release byproducts that discourage damaging overgrowth
- Jumpstart your immune system response
When it comes to probiotics for feminine health, research suggests the good bacteria may reduce the severity of bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection symptoms, benefit thyroid health, and treat many pregnancy- and fertility-related issues.
In This Article:
Benefits of Probiotics for Women
Why take probiotic supplements? A lot of women can benefit from probiotics, which can treat a large number of health conditions and issues.
However, in this section, we will look at how probiotics might treat bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, endometriosis, pregnancy-related issues, cancer, skin problems, and atopic diseases.
The benefits of probiotics for women may also include treatment for weight loss, skin problems, pH balance, hormonal imbalance and fertility issues, and bone health.
Probiotics and Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection that often affects young-to-middle-aged women. The condition affects the reproductive organs of women with an active sex life, women who are pregnant, or women who have a weak or impaired immune system.
The condition is caused by an imbalance in the vaginal microflora. The balance of bacteria in vagina also changes as women go through menopause.
Reduced estrogen secretion in postmenopausal women increases vaginal pH and depletes lactobacilli bacteria, and this results in an increase in harmful vaginal colonization with species such as E. coli (Escherichia coli), Enterobacter, and Gardnerella.
The conventional treatment of BV is antibiotics; however, this not only destroys the bad bacteria, but it also leads to vaginal dysbiosis by lowering the amount of the good vaginal bacteria.
Is inserting probiotics for BV possible? Studies suggest that certain probiotic strains can inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause BV.
Vaginal administration of Lactobacillus acidophilus for six to 12 days, or oral administration of L. acidophilus or Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus fermentum for two months, has been found to benefit those with BV.
What is the best probiotic for BV? The options for probiotics for BV prevention include yogurt and a fermented dairy product called kefir. Lactobacillus bacteria levels tend to be low when the vagina is dry.
A study published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine in 2011 found that 100 grams (g) of probiotic yogurt twice daily for a week was effective in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis in pregnant women during the third trimester.
Research published in the journal Menopause in 2014 suggests that restoring vaginal bacteria with lactobacillus probiotics may improve the treatment and prevention of atrophic vaginitis. Atrophy is a similar condition that causes changes in the vagina that make it easier for bacteria to thrive.
Probiotics and Yeast Infections
What about probiotics for yeast infection symptoms? There are several health conditions categorized under the term vaginitis; however, vaginal yeast infections are the most common.
Vaginal yeast infection symptoms include:
- Vaginal pain
- Slight bleeding
- Irritated skin around the opening of the vagina
- Vaginal itching
- An usual smell
- Pain when urinating or going to the bathroom
- Vaginal discharge that is thick, white, clumpy, and odorless
Two lactobacillus bacteria, L. rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri, have been found to be especially effective at colonizing the vagina and fighting off harmful fungi.
Possible probiotics for yeast infection include fermented probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi. These are effective for improving the immune system and fighting yeast.
A 2012 study found that a mixture of honey and yogurt was more effective than an antifungal drug at treating vaginal yeast infections in pregnant women.
The probiotic yogurt mixture was 87.8% effective, while the antifungal cream was 72.3% effective. A 2015 study also concluded that a yogurt and honey combination was more effective than medication at treating some symptoms of vaginal candidiasis.
The natural decline in estrogen among postmenopausal women often results in an increase in threatening microorganisms such as candida.
One 2013 study suggests that probiotic supplementation has the potential to reduce gastrointestinal candida colonization in critically ill children receiving antibiotics. This benefit may potentially extend to adult women.
Probiotics and Weight Loss
Certain probiotics can also help women lose weight and maintain the weight loss. It is thought that intestinal bacteria in obese individuals are different than those found in thin people.
One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014 found that probiotics containing L. rhamnosus strains had helped women lose weight. Obese women consuming probiotics had lost twice as much weight over the 24-week study than those taking a placebo. In the probiotic group, women had lost an average of 4.4 kilograms (kg), whereas women in the placebo group lost 2.6 kg.
Researchers also observed a drop in the appetite-regulating hormone leptin in the probiotic group, as well as a reduced concentration of obesity-related intestinal bacteria. The study authors suggested that the probiotic may prevent the chain reaction that leads to type 2 diabetes, glucose intolerance, and obesity.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 25 trials and 1,931 people published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition in 2015 found that ingesting probiotics for eight weeks or more could reduce body weight and body mass index (BMI) in overweight individuals.
Probiotics and Pregnancy-Related Issues
Probiotics appear to be highly beneficial for pregnancy-related issues. Studies have found probiotics to be effective against the following health problems:
Pregnancy-related obesity: Research showed that one year after giving birth, women were less likely to have the dangerous type of obesity, central obesity, when probiotics had been given from the first trimester of pregnancy. Central obesity was found in 25% of the women who received probiotics with dietary counseling, compared to 43% of women who received diet advice alone.
Premature birth and pre-eclampsia: A study published in the journal BMJ Open in January 2018 suggested that women taking probiotics during early pregnancy might also have a lower risk of premature birth and pre-eclampsia—a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and damage to other organs like the kidneys and liver. Premature births occur before 37 weeks and may lead to disability and illness in the infants.
Listeria bacteria: More research published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine in 2017 suggested that probiotics could protect individuals who are particularly susceptible to listeria, such as pregnant women. Listeria is a bacterium found in food such as uncooked meat, vegetables, fruit, and processed food.
Heavy metal exposure: Another study from 2014 showed that probiotic yogurt with L. rhamnosus bacteria successfully protected pregnant women against heavy metal exposure, and specifically against arsenic and mercury.
Childhood allergies and eczema: A study published in PLOS Medicine in February 2018 found that women who take probiotics during late pregnancy may reduce their infant’s risk of eczema and food allergies.
Gestational diabetes: In a 2015 study, researchers reported that daily probiotic supplementation with the strain Lactobacillus salivarius affects metabolic parameters and pregnancy outcomes in women with gestational diabetes—a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women.
Probiotics and Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a common women’s health issue characterized by pain and discomfort in the reproductive region. It is also one of the leading causes of infertility.
Studies suggest that gut bacteria imbalances may trigger or worsen endometriosis by changing estrogen and stem cell activity. At the same time, Lactobacillus gasseri bacteria may play a key role in restoring a healthy balance of bacteria.
One study published in the journal Cytotechnology in 2011 found that the probiotic strain L. gasseri had significantly reduced the total weight and surface area of endometrial implants in female mice.
Although the exact reason for the success of the probiotic was unknown, the researchers believed it was due to lactobacillus increasing levels of a cytokine called interleukin-12, which has been found to decrease the growth of endometrial tissue.
Human studies are needed to help determine the best probiotic strain and dose for the treatment of endometriosis.
Probiotics and Cancer
Good bacteria have also been shown to exhibit anti-cancer and anti-tumor benefits. As a result, probiotics are thought to play a role in cancer prevention.
Probiotics have been found to be effective in preventing adverse side effects among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Research published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2016 found that good bacteria, lactobacillus and Streptococcus thermophilus, are more abundant in healthy breasts; therefore, these probiotics may be protecting women against breast cancer. Conversely, women with breast cancer had elevated levels of E. coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis.
For the study, breast tissue was obtained from 58 women undergoing mastectomies or lumpectomies, with 45 of the patients having cancerous tumors and 13 with benign tumors. Breast tissue was also obtained from an additional 23 women who had undergone breast enhancement or reduction surgery.
Probiotics and Skin
Probiotic supplementation might also benefit skin health and certain skin conditions in women. For instance, skin prone to rosacea or acne has shown improvement when given probiotics daily.
Research published in the Journal of Dairy Science in 2014 found that milk fermented with Lactococcus lactis probiotic bacteria would significantly improve sebum content in the cheeks of women with skin diseases. As such, probiotics are thought to benefit the skin in young women.
Probiotics and pH Balance
There are also reported benefits of probiotics for women’s pH balance, which may include helping to fight yeast infections and improving overall health. Good bacteria seem to help women maintain optimal pH balance, as well as a healthy balance of beneficial microorganisms in the vagina.
As a result, probiotics can potentially treat candida infections. This is likely because of the acetic acid and lactic acid produced by the good bacteria.
Taking daily probiotics may allow women to keep intestinal pH levels balanced, which would also restore acidity in the body. This is what ultimately prevents the overgrowth of candida and other yeasts.
Vaginal yeast infections happen once the pH of the vaginal area becomes more acidic; however, probiotics work to restore and keep vaginal pH at 4.2.
What leads to vaginal pH imbalance? Risk factors include birth control pills and spermicidal contraceptives, intercourse, antibiotic and oral steroid use, obesity, diabetes, and both cancer and cancer treatments.
Probiotics and Hormone Imbalance
Hormones such as estrogen are chemical messengers that affect various aspects of health and a number of organs and glands, including the adrenals, thyroid, and ovaries. Probiotics are able to repair your gut lining, and might also balance your hormones in the process.
Undigested food can leak through your gut and into your bloodstream. This can especially impact glands like the thyroid, which is very susceptible to an increase in inflammation.
People with leaky gut are known to have a probiotic deficiency. Furthermore, probiotics can improve the regulation and production of key hormones like leptin, ghrelin, and insulin.
Probiotics and Fertility
As mentioned earlier, probiotics may benefit endometriosis, which is a leading cause of infertility. While yeast and unwanted bacteria can affect a woman’s fertility, a number of probiotic strains may also be able to ease temporary inflammation. This effect has the potential to treat pregnancy issues and support healthy fertility.
Lactobacillus bacteria, in particular, have been linked with improved fertility, overall vaginal health, and protection against preterm birth.
Testing the vaginal microbiome has been found to be helpful for diagnosing abnormal vaginal bacteria and predicting pregnancy outcomes in in-vitro fertilization treatment.
Probiotic treatment in place of antimicrobial therapy is also thought to restore healthy vaginal bacteria, which may promote fertility. One study found that dosages of lactobacillus probiotic bacteria for 10 consecutive days resulted in fertile mice.
Probiotics and Bones
Osteoporosis is one the main bone diseases associated with menopause. A hip fracture caused by osteoporosis is one of the more serious problems among women over age 50.
Studies have found that the consumption of Lactobacillus helveticus fermented milk reduces bone resorption in postmenopausal women. Ionized serum calcium, total calcium, phosphate, and urinary calcium were higher in those consuming the fermented milk compared to a control group.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2016 found that probiotic supplements protected female mice from bone density loss that occurs after the ovaries have been removed. For the study, female mice had been treated twice weekly with the probiotic L. rhamnosus.
A month after ovary removal, mice not treated with probiotics had lost half their bone density; however, the bone density in probiotic-treated mice had remained the same.
This suggests that probiotics may be beneficial in the treatment of post-menopausal osteoporosis. In mice without their ovaries removed, probiotics had even led to an increase in bone density.
Probiotics and Atopic Diseases
Atopic diseases are thought to be the result of an imbalanced immune response to our environmental or dietary allergens. The three involved here are allergic rhinitis (hay fever), atopic dermatitis, and asthma.
The fact that there are more atopic diseases in the developed countries as compared to underdeveloped countries may be the result of reduced microbial pressure, or exposure to microbes during childhood.
Probiotics taken during pregnancy have been shown to confer protection against atopic disease in newborn infants. Supplements with “Bifidobacterium lactis” or “Lactobacillus GG” reduced the extent and severity of atopic eczema in infants and young children.
In summary, scientific evidence suggests that probiotics can prevent or treat a variety of women’s health problems, such as post-menopausal osteoporosis, fertility problems and endometriosis, atopic diseases, hormone imbalance, pH imbalance and vaginal infections, skin diseases, breast cancer, bacterial vaginosis, issues with weight loss, and pregnancy-related issues.
Some probiotics that have shown promise in treatment of women’s health issues include L. gasseri, S. thermophiles, L. helveticus, L. reuteri, L. lactis, and L. rhamnosus.
What Are the Best Probiotics for Women?
The best probiotics for women include probiotic foods and high-potency probiotic supplements. Let’s a take look at what are considered the best female probiotics below:
Fermented vegetables include kimchi and sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is high in organic acids, which support the growth of good bacteria. Kimchi, on the other hand, is a fermented probiotic food that includes cabbage and other veggies such as kale, radishes, and carrots.
Lacto-fermented pickles are also a probiotic vegetable that benefits your health.
Kefir, yogurt, and raw milk are among the probiotic dairy products. Similar to yogurt, kefir is a milk-based probiotic. Kefir is created from fermented milk, while yogurt is a good probiotic food when it comes from raw, grass-fed animals.
Natto is a Japanese dish that contains fermented soybeans, which are extremely high in the probiotic Bacillus subtilis. Miso is also made from fermented soybeans.
Kvass is a fermented beverage used since ancient times in Eastern Europe. It is made from fermenting barley or rye, but in more recent years, it has been made from fruit, beets, or other root veggies like carrots.
Coconut kefir is another probiotic drink and dairy-free kefir option made from the juice of young coconuts with kefir grains. Kombucha is a fermented black tea that is produced by using SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast).
Women’s probiotic supplements are available in capsule and tablet form. Consult with a natural health practitioner for a probiotic recommendation, dosage, and potency to treat your particular health problem.
Final Thoughts on Probiotics for Women
Consuming probiotic supplements and probiotic foods on a regular basis can go a long way in protecting women’s health from a variety of conditions, including breast cancer, infertility, bacterial vaginosis, post-menopausal osteoporosis, and endometriosis.
What are the best probiotics for women? Daily probiotic supplements are among the best probiotics for women. Probiotic foods to include in the diet are kvass, coconut kefir, kombucha, natto, miso, kefir, yogurt, raw milk, kimchi, sauerkraut, and lacto-fermented pickles.
It is a good idea to consult a holistic nutritionist and natural health practitioner for advice on how to use probiotic supplements and probiotic foods.
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