The Best Probiotic For Women: Nine Useful Things to Know
Probiotic research over the last few years has shed light on a host of essential functions — immunity, mood, and metabolism — served by the human microbiome. You may already be familiar with mentions of the gut microbiome and its role in preserving and supporting your body's natural immunity, nutrient absorption, and synthesis of nutrients such as folic acid and vitamin K.
But the proliferation and function of probiotics aren't just limited to your gut, communities of good bacteria live on and in the body including your skin as well as your oral and vaginal cavities.
Taking probiotic supplements has been indicated as a promising way to restore the well-being of your gut microbiome and overall health. Probiotics for women are a blend of microbes that can potentially benefit women’s digestive health, immune health, vaginal health, and hormonal balance.
One of the ways probiotics confer their health benefits is by competing with pathogens for nutrition and intestinal space in the gut. Some of best probiotics for women contain a blend of helpful bacteria and/or yeast strains such as Lactobacillus plantarum and S. boulardii that have anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system and display a competitive advantage over pathogens for nutrients.
Want to learn about how probiotics for women might benefit you? Let’s dive right into some of the common probiotics that might support women’s health and well-being!
How do probiotic supplements work?
To gather a better understanding of how a probiotic supplement might benefit you, it's essential to understand that not all probiotics are the same. Probiotic species with the same name can be very different at the strain level and that can translate to different effects on your health. It’s important to know if the strains present in your probiotic supplement will work well together to accomplish your goals.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, offer a range of health benefits to the host. Your gut is home to a mix of good and bad microbes collectively known as the gut microbiota, and probiotics can help restore a healthy balance of microbes in the gut. The most common species of probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Good gut health is associated with having a protective effect on your overall health. In contrast, poor gut health has been associated with metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders.
Which should you choose: probiotic supplements or fermented foods?
Fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, cheese, yogurt, and miso can be great sources of good bacteria and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), but adding a formulated probiotic dietary supplement can be a great way to support your gut microbial diversity and metabolic health. Especially if you’re not regularly eating eating fermented foods.
Gut bacteria diversity has been linked with health benefits such as weight management, increased satiety, and protective effects against neurodegenerative disorders.
What are probiotics for women?
Probiotics work by restoring the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and other parts of the body, including the vagina. When the bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria, it can lead to a range of health problems, including digestive issues, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections. By introducing more good bacteria into the body, probiotics can help to restore balance and promote better health.
There are specific options that can be great probiotics for women, as they address concerns related to women's health. Probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus paracasei, and Lactobacillus gasseri, etc. have been linked with having protective characteristics in health issues such as genitourinary infections, IBS, obesity, and skin concerns.
Our BioFlux™ formulated probiotic, Sugar Shift is a unique blend of probiotic strains such as Bacillus subtilis (DE111®), Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus plantarum (TBC0036™), Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus reuteri, Leuconostoc mesenteroides (TBC0037™), and Pediococcus acidilactici (TBC0068™) that work together to support healthy digestive and immune function.
How might probiotic supplements for women benefit your health?
Probiotics might benefit your health by fermenting indigestible carbohydrates and producing bacteriocins (bacterial byproducts that act against pathogens) and SCFAs (butyrate, propionate, and acetate) as well as by playing an essential role in the synthesis and absorption of nutrients.
- Inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria
- Improve the protective intestinal mucosal barrier
- Enhance immune health
Additionally, probiotics for women might help support:
- Genitourinary system infections such as vaginal yeast infections, UTIs, and bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- Sleep, mood, occasional anxiety
- Reproductive health
How do probiotics help gut health?
When your gut microbiome is balanced, you feel healthy, whereas an imbalanced gut or dysbiosis – an increase in harmful bacteria over beneficial bacteria – has been associated with conditions such as IBS, IBD, obesity, colorectal cancer, and autism.
A few of the key ways a healthy gut confers positive effects is via the production of metabolites, short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), vitamin K, folic acid, and neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin, and dopamine.
The trillions of microbial cells known as your gut microbiome can interact with your brain via a bidirectional pathway known as the gut-brain axis. Through this communication, processes such as gut barrier permeability, motility, immune activation, and nutrient absorption are managed.
What are SCFA’s and bacteriocins?
Bacterial fermentation of dietary fiber leads to the production of SCFAs— butyrate, propionate, and acetate. SCFAs are a source of energy for intestinal epithelial cells (IEC) and promote the production of regulatory immune cells or Treg cells.
Propionic acid (SCFA) encourages the production of mucus by the goblet cells present in the lining of the gut. A healthy mucus barrier in turn is associated with increased immunity, protection from pathogens, and better absorption of nutrients.
Bacteriocins are proteins produced by bacteria that kill or inhibit the growth of specific pathogenic bacteria, thus maintaining the balance between the diverse groups of microbes that live in your gut. Bacteriocins are very specific in their targets, unlike antibiotics which are broad and kill both good and bad bacteria.
How does the gut microbiome affect the immune system?
The circular relationship between the development and regulation of your immune system and your gut can be understood with the functioning of GALTs (gut-associated lymphoid tissue). GALTs are an important immune structure whose primary development depends on their interaction with gut bacteria.
Your immune system has two types of immune responses — innate and adaptive. The innate immune response is a generalized and fast protective response to pathogens, whereas the adaptive response is an enhanced and specialized response to a known pathogen upon reinfection.
The role of a healthy immune system isn’t just limited to protecting you from environmental pathogens, but it’s also to provide you with a certain immune tolerance towards your own gut microbiome and food antigens.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is an antibody produced by B cells that is part of your innate immune response.
Microbes, whether helpful or pathogenic, induce the production of IgA. IgA plays a large part in shaping the gut microbiome as it preferentially targets colitogenic bacteria — bacteria that might cause inflammation in the bowel.
The gut microbiome helps us tolerate foreign bacteria by regulating the action of T-cells and anti-inflammatory cytokines to maintain a balanced immune response.
In gut immune homeostasis, the gut and the immune system maintain the balance between protective and tolerogenic immune responses. But factors such as age, diet, stress, and antibiotic use can disturb this delicate balance and promote gut dysbiosis and activate a hyperinflammatory response that can lead to gastrointestinal diseases such as IBD.
Do probiotics help with weight control?
Lack of diversity in the gut is considered a biomarker for dysbiosis and the presence of metabolic and cardiovascular health conditions. Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes are bacterial phyla that represent more than 90% of the gut microbiome. Several studies indicate a relationship between the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio (F/B) as a marker for obesity.
Firmicutes have been indicated to play a bigger role in modulating hunger and satiety whereas Bacteroidetes might have a larger impact on immune function. The balance between the F/B ratio is crucial to weight management and disease prevention. Some studies have found that overweight and obese individuals display gut dysbiosis with a higher Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio.
Probiotics from the genera Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium such as L. rhamnosus, L. sakei, L. paracasei, L. salivarius, L. reuteri, L. plantarum, L. fermentum, L. acidophilus, B. lactis, B. amyloliquefaciens, B. bifidum, and the yeast S. boulardii have shown a positive effect on weight loss and anti-inflammatory effects.
Do probiotics help with IBS and IBD?
Your gut microbiome composition is an important factor between a healthy state and increased inflammatory markers in the body. Dysbiosis can be due to an increase in pathogenic bacteria, a decrease in beneficial bacteria, or an overall reduction in total gut flora diversity.
A weaker gut barrier allows for the translocation of pathogens from the gut. This translocation can increase your body's adaptive immune response leading to intestinal inflammation.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are both conditions that affect the gut but their management is different. Both IBS and IBD are stressful health conditions that can lead to poor quality of life.
IBS symptoms might include:
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
Whereas IBD is an inflammatory disease of the gut and might be treatable.
Probiotics and IBS
Women show a predominance of IBS constipation (IBS-C). The consumption of probiotics such as Bacillus Coagulans (LBSC) has been found to be effective in easing symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
In a study of 65 IBS patients, L. plantarum was found to help prevent gas formation. Similarly, a double-blind randomized control trial with 150 subjects to study the efficiency of multispecies probiotics on symptoms of IBS-C found that the two groups which received two different multispecies probiotics reported an overall improvement in symptoms when compared to the control group.
Several studies have shown a positive correlation between probiotic supplementation and relief of IBS diarrhea (IBS-D) and IBS-C symptoms, such as improving stool consistency, bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, and slowing down the transit time of the colon.
Probiotics and IBD
Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis are the primary forms of IBD. Although they present with similar symptoms they affect different parts of the gut. Symptoms can include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and abdominal pain.
It has been shown that gut microbiota plays an anti-inflammatory role and interferes in the production of proinflammatory cytokines.
The role of probiotics and specifically butyrate due to its anti-inflammatory and cytoprotective effects are being studied as a general therapeutic alternative to reducing the chances and need for surgery, severe antibiotics, and immunosuppressant therapy.
Lactobacillus acidophilus and lactobacillus rhamnosus gg might potentially interfere with pro-inflammatory responses and inhibit cytokine-induced cell death in intestinal epithelial cells.
Crohn’s disease is marked by a significant reduction in Faecalibacterium prausnitzii belonging to the Firmicutes phyla. F. prausnitzii produces butyrate and lends an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.
Butyrate is the primary energy source for intestinal epithelial cells, which are needed to protect the epithelial barrier from becoming weak and vulnerable to pathogens. A loss of butyrate-producing bacteria and an increase in sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) has been associated with IBD. An increase in SRBs can negatively affect the effective use of butyrate and in turn make the epithelial cell wall more permeable and susceptible to pathogen translocation, leading to what is commonly referred to as a leaky gut.
Probiotics containing strains such as B. breve, L. plantarum, L. paracasei, L acidophilus, B. longum and B. infantis, and S. thermophilus have been shown to be effective in the remission in patients with mild to moderate Ulcerative Colitis. S. boluardii is a yeast that has been found to be effective in preventing relapse from active disease in Crohn’s disease.
Do probiotics help with skin conditions?
Several studies connect poor gut health with skin conditions such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and acne.
The presence of pathogens in the bloodstream due to a weakened gut barrier activates your immune response. This immune response in turn can negatively affect the microbiota of organs such as the skin.
How do probiotics affect acne?
According to this study, people with acne have distinct gut microbiota when compared to healthy individuals. It's been reported that patients that show acne have decreased diversity in their guts with an increased Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes ratio.
According to this study, genera Bifidobacterium, Butyricicoccus, Coprobacillus, Lactobacillus, and Allobaculum were all decreased in acne subjects when compared to the control group.
In a randomized trial by Jung et al., a probiotic mixture of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii bulgaricus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum in 45 adults with acne showed a 67% reduction in the lesion count at 12 weeks of treatment.
Do probiotics help Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis (AD)?
Eczema is one of the most common chronic inflammatory diseases of the skin. Suffering from inflamed and itchy skin can be mentally harrowing. Eczema can lead to a disrupted skin barrier and an inflammatory response to pathogens, irritants, environmental factors, allergens, etc.
In a study published by Navarro et al, probiotic bacteria such as Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, and Lactobacillus casei when taken for 12 weeks showed a significant reduction in the Scoring Atopic Dermatitis (SCORAD) index score for over 80% of the probiotic group.
Another study performed by Gerasimov et al. saw an improvement in SCORAD scores when preschool children were given probiotic strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis together with prebiotics.
Studies have found that children suffering from AD have higher levels of pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridium, C. difficile, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and others, and lower levels of symbiotic bacteria such as Bifidobacterium, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, and Akkermansia muciniphila.
Children with AD also have lower levels of fiber-derived butyrate which leads to a damaged skin barrier and a sensitized immune response to allergens.
Can probiotics help with vaginal health?
The role of gut microbiota is widely acknowledged. However, all mucosal surfaces on your body have thriving microbial communities, including your vagina. The role of Lactobacillus in maintaining the vaginal mucosal barrier, a low pH level, and its ability to interfere with the progression of cervical cancer has been investigated.
Similar to an intestinal epithelial barrier, the vaginal epithelial barrier protects the vaginal wall from bacterial and vaginal yeast infections and pathogenic translocation while maintaining an immunomodulatory effect on the vaginal flora.
The population of lactic acid-producing strains of Lactobacillus is linked with the glycogen (type of carbohydrate) stored in the epithelial cells and the estrogen levels in the body.
At the onset of menopause, the estrogen levels and glycogen available in the epithelial cells in the vaginal epithelium go down, which leads to a reduction of protective populations of Lactobacillus. This opens a window for the growth of infection-causing pathogens such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and Gardnerella vaginalis which causes bacterial vaginosis.
Lactobacillus produces lactic acid which turns the vaginal ph acidic. The acidic environment inhibits the growth of pathogens in the vaginal flora. The protective effects of the lactobacillus species in diseases such as human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, bacterial vaginosis, and genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) in women’s health are being studied. Some of the protective Lactobacilli species present in the vaginal flora are L. crispatus, L. gasseri, L. iners, and L. jensenii.
According to a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study published in 2020, oral consumption of probiotics containing the strain Lactobacillus paracasei might have a potentially positive effect on vaginal health.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Probiotics might also be beneficial for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding. A systematic review studying the effects of maternal nutritional supplements can have a positive effect on the colonization of the infant's gut microbiota. A review published in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology found that probiotics might help to reduce the risk of preterm labor and birth complications.
Another systematic review found that probiotics may have the potential to reduce the risk of allergies in babies. Additionally, probiotics can be helpful in supporting breast milk production and reducing the risk of mastitis, a painful breast infection that can occur while breastfeeding.
So, which are the best probiotics for women?
A balanced gut biome is essential in maintaining a protective gut lining and a tolerant immune response. Multiple factors such as diet, age and changing hormones, disease, infections, use of antibiotics, surgery, smoking, and environmental factors might lead to gut dysbiosis.
Taking probiotics for women such as Sugar Shift or Heart Centered might not only help you maintain a healthier gut microbiome, but it might also increase your tolerance towards coping with different environmental and daily stressors.
According to a narrative review published in Cureus, autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in women. Probiotic strains that confer anti-inflammatory effects might play a preventative and protective role in the case of autoimmune conditions such as atopic dermatitis, and acne, or in managing the symptoms of inflammatory diseases.
If you have any questions about our probiotics and how they can help, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Martha Carlin, is a Citizen Scientist, systems thinker, wife of Parkinson’s warrior, John Carlin, and founder of The BioCollective, a microbiome company expanding the reach of science. Since John’s diagnosis in 2002, Martha began learning the science of agriculture, nutrition, environment, infectious disease, Parkinson’s pathology and much more. In 2014, when the first research was published showing a connection between the gut bacteria and the two phenotypes of Parkinson’s, Martha quit her former career as a business turnaround expert and founded The BioCollective to accelerate the discovery of the impact of gut health on all human health, including Parkinson’s. Martha was a speaker at the White House 2016 Microbiome Initiative launch, challenging the scientific community to “think in a broader context”. Her systems thinking background and experience has led to collaborations across the scientific spectrum from neuroscience to engineering to infectious disease. She is a respected out of the box problem solver in the microbiome field and brings a unique perspective to helping others understand the connections from the soil to the food to our guts and our brains.