Gut health and the study of the microbiome, the bacteria that live on our bodies, is a hot topic in nutrition and health right now. Some of this interest started with the Human Microbiome Project that set out to categorize the types of microbes that colonize the human body and how they influence our health.

From there an understanding grew that some bacteria might be hurting us, whereas many are quite  helpful. Taking a probiotic, or healthy bacteria supplement, may be able to give the body more of the helpful microbes and improve several common health concerns. Here are a few specific probiotics that may help common women’s health problems.

Probiotics and Digestion

Digestive health is probably the main reason why people start taking probiotics. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that can cause significant digestive problems such as constipation, bloating, gas, and diarrhea, is more common in women than in men.1

Certain probiotic strains can help with IBS symptoms. For constipation, B. lactis, B. longum, S. cerevisiae, lactobacillus, and B. animalis have all been found to be effective in helping with more frequent bowel movements.2,3,4,5

For IBS with diarrhea, the lactobacillus family of probiotics seem to be most effective. Other strains that may be helpful include B. coagulans, S. boulardii, and bifidobacterium.6,7,8,9

Interestingly, although there is a lot of research about the potential benefits for diarrhea and constipation, a review of 19 studies on the impact of probiotics on other symptoms of IBS, such as bloating and gas, was unable to find any specific connection between strains and improvement in symptoms.10

Probiotics and Weight Loss

Probiotics may also help you maintain a healthy weight. Certain strains may help decrease the amount of calories and fat that are absorbed by the gut, which could result in weight loss. L. gasseri, L.rhamnosus, and B. lactis seem to be the most effective at helping with fat loss.11, 12 Probiotics will not work miracles, you still need to eat healthy and exercise to lose weight.

Probiotics for Vaginal Health

Probiotics may help maintain balance in women’s reproductive system, helping prevent vaginal imbalances that can lead to infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and trichomoniasis. All of these conditions are caused by an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the vagina and urinary system. If left untreated, these imbalances could lead to severe infection and kidney disease.

Probiotics can help keep bacteria in the right balance and may help improve symptoms if you do have an infection. The lactobacillus strain seems to be most effective in helping prevent vaginal imbalance.13,14 Probiotics will not substitute medical treatment for these conditions, but can be used in combination with prescribed treatment.

The Bottom Line on Probiotics

Although we know quite a bit about how the microbiome impacts our health, everyone has a slightly different collection of bacteria on their bodies. The types of microbes found on your body is influenced by your birth, family, geographic location, gender, illnesses, diet, medications, etc. Therefore, it is very difficult to say that one bacteria will have one effect for all people.

If you are interested in the benefits from probiotics, they can be found in both food and supplements. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and saurkraut are high in probiotics.

If you choose to take a supplement, in addition to the type of bacteria they contain, the dosage is important.  Many supplements do not contain enough of the bacteria to make a difference. Look for the highest possible number of colony-forming units (CFUs).

We are still learning about all the potential benefits of probiotics and which stranis work best. At this time, if you are looking to improve your digestive health, lose weight, or struggle with vaginal imbalance, they might be a good addition to your routine.

Yours in Health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL’s Community Registered Dietitian


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