Probiotics have grown in popularity these days—with very good reason! They are linked to tons of health benefits and are beloved by doctors and wellness enthusiasts alike.
There are so many valid reasons why a high quality probiotic is a good thing—especially for women. They can boost energy levels, improve digestive health, help combat fatigue and stress by reducing cortisol levels, and reduce symptoms of illnesses like autoimmune diseases (which disproportionately affect women).
So, what, exactly, are probiotics? And what are the different reasons that women should take them?
A Primer on Probiotics & Your Gut Flora
Probiotics are supplements that contain some of the types of good bacteria that live and thrive in your gut (also known as your gut microbiome or gut flora). When there are enough of these good bacteria, they can conquer the effects of the bad bacteria that inevitably grows within your gut as well. Bad bacteria are normal; they live in everyone, but they shouldn’t take over the beneficial gut flora.
According to Kelsey Kenney, dietitian, “Potential pathogens are gut flora that have the potential to be pathogenic (harmful, causing symptoms)… Pathogens or pathogenic bacteria are the bad gut bugs—these are ones that, if found, are very like to make you symptomatic. Depending on the pathogen, that could mean symptoms from anything like bloating, excessive gas, flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, reflux, and more. When your gut microbiome is well-balanced, it helps you digest food, make nutrients, influences the immune system and the metabolic system, and more.”
Probiotics are best obtained from eating a healthy, natural diet, and while most people could probably benefit from the addition of a probiotic supplement, they are not appropriate for everyone—and taking a probiotic supplement should not be a replacement for eating healthy. You should discuss if you would benefit and which one to take with your doctor before adding it to your daily regimen.
The ABC of Probiotics
There are a few different strains of beneficial probiotic bacteria—the main ones being Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii. Lactobacillus can help improve digestive health while Bifidobacterium has been found to reduce inflammation. Saccharomyces boulardii (which is actually a yeast) can also help reduce digestive issues and issues associated with antibiotics.
Not every probiotic strain is a quick fix for everything. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider about which particular strain can help with your specific symptoms.
This is because not all probiotics are created equal. In fact, far from it. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Probiotics are not all alike. For example, if a specific kind of Lactobacillus helps prevent an illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean that another kind of Lactobacillus would have the same effect or that any of the Bifidobacterium probiotics would do the same thing.”
The NIH also states, “We still don’t know which probiotics are helpful and which are not. We also don’t know how much of the probiotic people would have to take or who would most likely benefit from taking probiotics. Even for the conditions that have been studied the most, researchers are still working toward finding the answers to these questions.”
It’s important that you look at probiotics like you would any supplement: they can be beneficial, but they’re also not regulated. And they still need to be studied more, even if there is anecdotal and researched evidence that they can promote health. In short, use high-quality probiotics sold from trusted sources and know that they’re not a one-stop-shop to fix all your health concerns. They should be used alongside a good lifestyle: proper diet, exercise, good sleep, and stress management.
There is a great deal of evidence suggesting a strong link between poor gut health and digestive problems (like leaky gut or celiac disease), metabolic diseases (think heart disease and diabetes), adrenal fatigue, and mental health issues, as well. One study in the journal Autoimmune Diseases found a real link between disease prevention and gut health maintenance as well.
A great example of bad being linked to illness comes from the journal Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, which found that the bacteria called Klebsiella has been linked to immune diseases like ankylosing spondylitis and Crohn’s disease. It stated, “Thus, probiotics showed therapeutic potential for diseases, including several immune response-related diseases.”
Other bad bacteria that are linked to diseases include Blastocystis hominis (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and irritable bowel syndrome), Giardia (diarrhea), H. pylori (rosacea, ulcers), and Proteus mirabilis (rheumatoid arthritis), among many others.
Probiotics May Help Promote Healthy Weight Loss
For women who want to maintain a healthy weight, probiotics can help. According to a 2016 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism, there are many strains of probiotics that can help suppress body weight gain and support anti-obesity effects. These include the strains Lactobacillus curvatus HY7601, Lactobacillus curvatus HY7601 in combination with Lactobacillus plantarum KY1032 and Pediococcus pentosaceus LP28, among others.
Additionally, the same study found “promising effects of probiotics in improving liver function, fat metabolism and insulin resistance in patients with obesity related non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.”
Probiotics Can Help Restore the Body’s Bacteria After Antibiotic Use
Antibiotics can wreak havoc on the body, as they destroy bacteria that protects the vagina, as well as other systems. After using antibiotics to treat an illness (like strep throat), lots of women also develop a vaginal yeast infection—which is frustrating, itchy, and inconvenient. If this is the case for you, probiotics can help by restoring the good bacteria your body needs.
Probiotics Can Support Mental Health
Because what is in the gut can affect your brain, it’s no surprise that a study published in 2016 also found that people who consumed 100 grams of probiotic yogurt per day or took a daily probiotic capsule experienced benefits for general health, depression, anxiety, and stress. For the busy, working women and mothers among us, there’s no doubt that supporting mental health and reduced stress levels is important.
The Best Probiotic Supplements for Women
Pure Probiotic is a unique formula that delivers active organisms to promote healthy gut flora, boost immunity, and protect intestinal integrity. Every capsule contains probiotic strains that can endure the harsh gastrointestinal environment. Thanks to BioShield technology, the probiotic organisms are preserved and released in accurate amounts inside the intestines for optimal benefit.
Pure Pre/Probiotic DF
The Pure Pre/Probiotic DF formula is designed with probiotics and phages, which increase the function of the probiotics. Phages are harmless to the host (and to good bacteria) and can help kill bacteria.
Ultra Probiotic for Women
Ultra Probiotic for Women is a specialized combination of probiotics that have been supported by research for over 25 years. Delivering two billion live probiotic cells, this is the complete probiotic for women’s urogenital and vaginal health.
Pure Probiotic 225 Billion CFU
This highly concentrated supplement packs 225 billion CFUs of “good” bacteria to support your gut flora. The strains included here were included due to their ability to thrive in a gut where millions of bacteria are taking up space.
Besides supplements, probiotics are also found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, apple cider vinegar, live-cultured yogurt, and kimchi.
What About Prebiotics and Synbiotics?
You already know that probiotics are good bacteria. But prebiotics are actually food for your probiotics! They feed the good guys, helping them flourish. Sound complicated? Don’t worry. That’s where synbiotics come into play; they’re products that contain both probiotics and prebiotics, like the above Pure Pre/Probiotic DF. Win-win!
You should take probiotics with meals. This maximizes the chance of survival in your gut, since your stomach acid won’t destroy it. There are long-term and short-term benefits of probiotic supplementation. Some probiotic strains work more long-term (to sustain gut health), while some others are faster-acting (to relieve diarrhea), according to GutSpace. It may also be a good idea to take your probiotic supplement along with a digestive enzyme, which can help aid digestion. You can feed your gut the good stuff by drinking plenty of water, eating clean foods, and not overdoing it on the alcohol.
Be sure to talk to your doctor or a pharmacist about the best option for your needs. And make sure you let them know about any other health issues you may have, as some probiotics do come with risks.
Contact a physician within the BodyLogicMD network today about how starting a probiotic regimen could boost your health. If you’re experiencing digestive distress, antibiotic-induced yeast infections, or day to day bloating, probiotics may be for you. And even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s in your best interest to maintain a healthy gut—because a healthy gut is a healthy body.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.