Our bodies contain large quantities of bacteria and yeast. Infections happen when the pathological (bad) bacteria get out of control. But we need our good bacteria, both to keep infections under control and to balance our guts and keep our digestive systems functioning. Let's explore what probiotics for women can do for our health.
Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts that you can consume to increase the number of good bacteria in your body and help keep things in balance. The most common probiotic organisms are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
Taking probiotics can benefit your health in a number of ways, primarily by helping your body's biome stay balanced. You naturally have these bacteria in your body, and you even trade them with people you live with. Nonetheless, there are reasons why many people will benefit from regularly taking probiotics.
Probiotics Don't Stick Around
Your natural gut bacteria have adapted and evolved to the specific conditions inside your body. Those colonies last for months, if not years. Probiotic supplements, however, contain bacteria that have not specifically adapted to you, which is why you have to take them regularly. Eventually, the bacteria will adapt. If you take probiotics over an extended period of time (eight weeks or more) then your system will begin to change.
This does mean that if you take a probiotic containing a bacteria that is not well suited to your system, it will not stick around to cause negative effects or disease.
Probiotics Help Balance the Friendly Bacteria in Your Digestive System
The flip side is that these bacteria breed rapidly when introduced. This helps them to crowd out disease-causing bacteria, restoring balance to your gut. Probiotics are useful for treating all kinds of digestive upset, including chronic conditions such as IBS.
Taking probiotics after a course of antibiotics is a good idea. Antibiotics tend not to distinguish between the disease-causing bacteria you are taking them to get rid of and the good bacteria that are supposed to be there. Antibiotics, especially if you are taking an extended course, kill a lot of your gut bacteria. Probiotics recolonize your gut and restore that balance faster. (It's also a good idea to take prebiotics, which are supplements intended to provide extra food for beneficial bacteria.)
If you are taking probiotics for a specific health condition, make sure to talk to your doctor about precisely what probiotics you should be taking. For example, if you have ulcerative colitis, taking E. coli Nissle is as effective as drugs to keep you in remission. Probiotics do not help with Crohn's disease.
What About Probiotics for Women?
Women have specific reasons why they should take probiotics. For one, probiotics can help maintain urogenital health. There are a number of other reasons why women, in particular, should consider probiotic supplements.
What do Probiotics do for the Female Body?
In addition to their gut-balancing properties, probiotics can do specific things to help support the female body. Specifically, they can:
- Reduce your risk of a urinary tract infection. Women who are prone to UTIs and experience them regularly should take probiotic supplements (talk to your doctor or nutritionist about the best option).
- Reduce your child's risk of certain allergies if you take probiotics while pregnant. One study showed a potential link between probiotics and reduced severity of eczema in infants.
- Improve your fertility and chances of conception.
- Reduce your risk of Listeria monocytogenes infection during pregnancy by speeding bowel transit time.
- Help modulate your immune system, reducing your risk of developing lupus and other autoimmune diseases.
- Improve your heart health, which is important as doctors often miss the signs of heart attacks in women.
In addition to this, there are three very specific reasons why probiotics for women are beneficial.
Probiotic Supplements Improve Some Mental Health Conditions
The health of your gut affects the health of your brain. A review of 15 human studies showed that supplementing with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus can:
- Reduce depression and anxiety.
- Improve the symptoms of autism.
- Improve the symptoms of OCD.
- Promotes good memory.
Women between puberty and age 50 are about twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder. By adding probiotics, you rebalance your gut. Brain health then improves through something called the gut-brain axis. The connections are not conclusive, but more and more doctors are prescribing probiotics to people suffering from anxiety, depression, and overall stress.
Any woman who has ever had a yeast infection has become very aware of the importance of vaginal health. Your vagina, like your gut, is a very finely balanced ecosystem dominated primarily by Lactobacilli. However, if you are taking antibiotics or using spermicides or the pill for contraception, your vagina can get out of balance. This results in a yeast or bacterial infection and potentially bacterial vaginosis. BV can increase your risk of pregnancy complications and pelvic inflammatory disease.
If your vagina gets out of balance, you need to take Lactobacillus. The dominance of this bacteria keeps your vagina acidic, which fends off bacterial infections and STDs. As your vagina is open to the outside, it needs that protection to keep things from getting in that do not belong there.
Many women struggle to maintain an ideal weight. If you are one of them, probiotics can help. First of all, by improving your digestive health, they allow you to get good nutrition from your food. This means you are less likely to leave the table hungry or crave things that are not good for you, such as processed sugar.
Also, your gut bacteria helps you produce short-chain fatty acids that impact metabolism, and moderates absorption of fat from food. This forces excessive fat to be excreted rather than absorbed. Finally, they are part of the signaling mechanism that tells you when you are full. A gut bacteria imbalance can cause that mechanism to malfunction, meaning you keep eating after your body should have signaled enough.
All of this means that probiotics for women can help if you are putting on more pounds than you like. Plus, without any of the side effects and risks of messing around with diets. However, you should make sure you take the right probiotics for women. For instance, Lactobacillus acidophilus can, in fact, cause weight gain. (Which, if you are under your ideal weight might be worth considering).
Certain Probiotic Strains Can Help Keep Your Heart Healthy
Some probiotic strains can also help with heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. The symptoms of heart disease are often different in women from men, and thus women are less likely to be diagnosed early and more likely to end up dying of the condition.
How can probiotics help your heart? The answer is in your cholesterol and blood pressure. Bacteria in your stomach break down bile, preventing it from being reabsorbed. Reabsorbed bile turns into cholesterol. There's also some indication that probiotics can have a small impact on your blood pressure.
What Are the Signs You Need Probiotics for Women?
First of all, probiotics don't cause harm to most people. Taking them to see if they help is a perfectly reasonable course of action. However, if you are experiencing the following, you should consider probiotics or talk to your doctor:
- Frequent constipation or diarrhea.
- Frequent urinary tract infections.
- You have recently had an infection for which antibiotics were prescribed; you might want to talk to your doctor about probiotics when they prescribe the antibiotics.
- Frequent yeast infections or other issues with your vagina.
- You are traveling (probiotics can help prevent traveler's diarrhea).
- You feel overall run down for no good reason.
Again, for most people (there are a few exceptions, such as people with immune system deficiencies), probiotics are something worth taking to see if they improve your health.
Probiotics for women, in particular, can help balance gut health, improve heart health, lose weight, and reduce the risk of vaginal infections and UTIs. Not every probiotic works for every person or condition, and you should talk to a doctor or a nutritionist about which one is right for you.