Medically reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
7 min read
Probiotics support women’s health in a number of ways. But with so many options available now, from foods with probiotics to probiotic supplements, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which probiotics to take. While research is still discovering all the ways probiotics help our bodies maintain balance and wellness, what we do know is that every part of our body is alive with its own unique microbiome. This includes a healthy mix of beneficial viruses, fungi, and bacteria. Probiotics, from foods and from supplements can add good bacteria to this mix, help to keep all this in better balance.
Probiotics aren’t short-term medications that solve a specific problem overnight. In this sense, they’re not like a headache medication that you take when your head hurts and experience relief as a short-term result. Probiotics, rather, are about your long-term wellness. You don’t grab a bottle of probiotics to treat an immediate condition. You take probiotics, whether from food or supplements, to help improve the health of your body over time.
Most of the attention on probiotics generally focuses on their effect on the intestines. But beneficial bacteria populate many other areas of the body, including the urinary tract. Lactobacilli, for instance, plays a big part in the urogenital flora of premenopausal women. So, supplementing your diet with probiotics that contain this strain can be an easy and safe way to help promote urinary tract health.
Did you know there are over 50 different types of bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus gasseri, that live in the vagina? Vaginal changes to the bacteria balance can be caused by many factors including menstrual cycles and hormone changes and can lead to infection and other issues. A probiotic supplement may help support the vaginal microbiome that can easily become out of balance.
To understand how probiotics help with weight, it’s important to see how these bacteria work in the gut. Good bacteria breaks down foods that we eat, because they’re especially good at digesting fiber that our gut can’t process. In this process, they produce essential nutrients. There may be a link between the balance of different types of good bacteria and weight. Overweight people may have an imbalance of these microbes, which is why probiotics may be helpful in supporting healthy weight.
Your skin can feel very distinct and distanced from your gut, but did you know that your skin is swarming with bacteria? Don’t worry: It’s not as scary as it sounds. Strains like Bifidobacterium, Vitreoscilla and Lactobacillus work to keep your skin healthy and protected from bad bacteria. Oral probiotic supplements and topical probiotic creams can help add in beneficial bacteria that can help support skin health.
As previously mentioned, vaginal health can be attributed to a healthy and balanced vaginal microbiome. Probiotics can help with keeping things in balance, which in turn can impact fertility and the ability to conceive. Good vaginal bacteria helps to regulate the pH balance of the vagina, helping to ensure that it is an environment where sperm can survive. Good bacteria can also help with regulating menstrual cycles, which can allow for better chances of conceiving. Beyond the vaginal microbiome, probiotics help support healthy weight management, which can also improve fertility.
Probiotics can help support a healthy and strong immune system by encouraging the growth of antibodies and giving immune cells a balanced environment where they can flourish. One study found the probiotic Bifidobacterium animalis BB-12 contributed to helping the body’s immune system protect against respiratory infections, actually helping to reduce acute respiratory tract infections. Another study suggests that probiotic supplements from birth into childhood could help boost the immune system, including helping to activate macrophages, which destroy harmful organisms that could attack the body.
The digestive system is probably where most people think of the probiotic benefits happening. And that’s for good reason. Probiotics are known for supporting the gastrointestinal function, helping the body to digest and process foods, regulating the digestion process, and possibly helping with maintaining healthy bowel movements.
For instance, a study illustrated bowel frequency improvement in adults with low bowel frequency who were given Bifidobacterium animalis lactis, BB-12 probiotic. Another study showed fermented milk that included the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis helped improve the stool frequency and consistency in the constipated women in the study. And yet another study found similar beneficial results to bowel frequency when healthy women in the study consumed yogurt. These women, the study reports, saw improved intestinal microflora and an improved intestinal environment, as well.
Probiotics are generally a safe and mild supplement. However, you should still consult your healthcare provider before beginning any supplement. You should not take a probiotic if you have a compromised immune system or currently have a bacterial or fungal infection. It is best to wait until your infection has been resolved before beginning a probiotics supplement.
Generally, probiotics are encouraged for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, for the benefits they can provide to both parent and baby. However, it’s still best to check in with your healthcare provider to be on the safe side.
In terms of timing, it’s best to follow the directions of the specific probiotic you are taking. Some probiotics are better absorbed on an empty stomach. The time of day you take a probiotic only makes a difference in terms of how easy it is to remember to take your dose. Consistency is key for maximizing the benefits of probiotic supplements, since these good bacteria continuously need to be replenished.
When first beginning a probiotic supplement, some people experience bloating, gas, or even diarrhea. This isn’t cause for alarm. It’s normal to experience a change in bowels or experience brief abdominal discomfort when initially starting a probiotic. It’s often just your digestive system adjusting to the new bacteria being introduced. If these symptoms don’t dissipate within a few weeks, check in with your doctor. Your solution could be as simple as just changing the probiotic you’re using.
Some probiotic supplements contain ingredients that are common allergens, such as dairy, eggs, and gluten. However, it’s easy to find probiotic supplements that are free of all of these allergens. Care/of’s The Harmonious Gut, for instance, is vegan and gluten-free.
Since there are over 500 species of beneficial bacteria in the body, in general it’s not going to be easy to keep track of the particular functions of each strain. Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus are just a few of the most common probiotics found in supplements.
You don’t need to get too caught up in the details of specific strains since probiotic blends may be more effective than supplementing with single strains. Consider probiotic-rich food sources, including yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and natto. It’s also important to consume both prebiotic and probiotic foods to help balance your gut bacteria. When selecting a probiotic supplement, it’s important to look for one with at least one billion colony forming units (CFUs). For reference: Care/of’s The Harmonious Gut has 8 billion CFUs, including Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, and Lactobacillus acidophilus LA-5.
Like most supplements, it’s important to take them every day in order to get the maximum benefits. Probiotics aren’t a one-time fix like a medicine. In fact, many of the good bacteria that probiotic foods and supplements add to the body don’t stick around for long, which is why it’s important to continuously replenish the body’s supply of good bacteria to maximize the benefits.