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What Do Probiotics Do for Women?
Updated on September 27, 2023
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What Do Probiotics Do for Women?

Probiotics are supplements that contain live beneficial microorganisms like bacteria that can benefit your health.

Evidence shows that probiotics could be useful for various health benefits.1 This includes improving your gut health, immunity, and skin.

Women, in particular, can benefit from probiotics as some research has found they can affect the vaginal microbiome’s health. Maintaining the collection of beneficial microorganisms in the vagina can help prevent and possibly treat vaginal infections.

What Are Microbiomes?

We normally think of bacteria as bad or harmful, but many helpful microorganisms are found throughout the body.

Most of these microorganisms are in your intestines, making up the gut microbiome. However, these helpful microorganisms are also present in other places, like in the vagina or even on the skin.1,2,3

The microbes in a microbiome play an important role in human health. Some of its functions include:1

  • Fighting dangerous germs
  • Alert your body’s immune system when there’s a potential threat
  • Breaking down and digesting some kinds of food

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What Are Probiotics and Why Do Women Need Them?

Probiotics can benefit vaginal health by helping maintain a good microbiome composition, which could prevent conditions like bacterial vaginosis or urinary tract infections (UTIs).2

In women, the vaginal microbiome is closely linked to vaginal health. Common conditions like bacterial vaginosis can result from changes to the microbiome’s composition. The microbiome can also change due to sexual activity, menstruation, or pregnancy.4

It’s important to note that lots of research about probiotics and their benefits is still relatively young. Probiotics are generally safe, but much is still unknown regarding their benefits.5

Types of Beneficial Bacteria for Women

There are a large number of probiotic strains that you can find in supplements, but some are more beneficial for women’s health than others.

Most of the vaginal microbiome is made up of Lactobacillus bacteria, which are important for keeping harmful kinds of microorganisms at bay. A lack of this kind of beneficial bacteria can negatively impact vaginal health, including sicknesses like bacterial vaginosis.

Here are some types of beneficial probiotics for women:2,5

  • Lactobacillus crispatus Usually the most common type of bacteria in the vaginal microbiome. Creates lactic acid, which fights pathogens. Known to be protective against UTIs.5
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus Has antifungal properties and can fight yeast infections. It can also reduce gastrointestinal inflammation and bloating. Is also thought to be able to fight invading fungi, which can protect against conditions like yeast infections.2
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus – Can treat diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
  • Lactobacillus reuteri – Encourages gut health and protects against UTIs.
  • Lactobacillus fermentum Produces hydrogen peroxide to attack dangerous microorganisms.
  • Bifidobacterium lactis Can reduce abdominal bloating and reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii Can alleviate diarrhea caused by antibiotics.

6 Key Benefits of Probiotics for Women

There are various probiotic supplements available, and these can have a wide range of positive health effects, which include:

1. Improved Gut Health

Out of all the potential ways probiotics can affect the body, their benefits for digestive health are the most well-established.

Probiotics can be used to treat diarrhea as a side effect of some antibiotics. There is also evidence that good gut bacteria can help resolve diarrhea from infections.

Probiotics with Lactobacillus or Saccharomyces boulardii have also been recommended to treat infections that result in colitis in combination with antibiotics.

Some probiotics have also been found to benefit people with inflammatory bowel disease and are known to reduce inflammation in the gut in general. Even without these conditions, probiotics can help you keep a healthy gut microbiome to reduce symptoms like bloating.

This all shows that probiotics could be very helpful if you have poor gut health.5

2. Enhanced Immune System

Your microbiome plays an important role in blocking pathogens from entering your body and helping alert your immune system in case there is an infection.

Evidence shows that probiotics can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, in turn supporting its role in your immune system.6 However, it’s still unclear how strong this effect is and how long it can last.7

3. Better Vaginal Health

A healthy microbiome is essential for vaginal health.

Conditions like bacterial vaginosis occur due to a disruption in the vaginal microbiome. By helping maintain a healthy balance of microbes, probiotics with Lactobacillus can prevent and potentially treat bacterial vaginosis.5

There is some evidence that shows probiotics with this species could help fight yeast infections.2

Yeast vaginitis, also known as a yeast infection, is another common condition caused by infectious fungi. Many probiotic bacteria are ineffective against these fungi, but Lactobacillus acidophilus has antifungal properties.

4. Prevention of Urinary Tract Infections

UTIs can be difficult to deal with. While antibiotics effectively manage UTI symptoms, there’s a fairly high chance they can recur after they are cured.2

Some evidence shows that probiotics can help treat UTIs, but there are currently some conflicting views on their effectiveness for treatment.5

However, while probiotics may or may not be able to treat ongoing UTIs, some research indicates they could prevent infections from recurring if taken regularly. Take note that in this case, you will need to take the probiotics vaginally instead of orally.

5. Stronger Skin Health Resistance

Beneficial microorganisms can be found not only inside your body but also on your skin.

Like other microbiomes, imbalances in your skin microbiome could have negative effects. In this case, these effects could include acne, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.

Some clinical trials have found that emollients containing probiotics can help reduce symptoms of eczema.3 In particular, some strains of Bifidobacterium can be helpful in this regard.2

There is also some evidence that probiotics could help fight the growth of acne-causing bacteria and reduce oxidative stress related to aging.

Much of the research into probiotics for the skin is still ongoing, so there are still few solid benefits for probiotics in skincare.3

6. Better Mental Health and Mood Regulation

Your microbiome is also associated with your mental health and mood. In fact, research has found that people with mental health disorders like depression can have different microbiome compositions compared to people without depression.

Probiotics could potentially help improve mood and mental health by reducing types of inflammation related to conditions like depression. They also increase the production of neurotransmitters related to mood, like serotonin.

However, much more research is needed to determine the benefits the probiotics can have for mental health and to confirm if they could be useful as supplemental treatments.8

How to Choose the Right Probiotic Supplement for Women

If you’re considering trying a probiotic, you need to remember that not all probiotics are the same. Different probiotic products can contain different species of microorganisms, each having different potential benefits for different aspects of your health. 

Probiotics can also come in different forms like pills and topical agents, and can even be found in food and drinks, and will contain varying amounts of microorganisms. The amount of each probiotic strain in different probiotic products can significantly affect how well they work.

How Much Probiotic Supplements Should I Take?

Microorganisms can be counted in colony-forming units (CFU), a rough estimate of the number of microorganisms in a particular sample. CFU is usually expressed in powers of 10. The higher the exponent, the more microorganisms are present.

Generally, one million CFU per gram or mL of a product is considered the minimum amount for a probiotic to be effective. However, you can maximize effectiveness with a dose of one hundred to one billion CFU per gram or mL daily.6

Keep in mind that a higher CFU count does not always equate to a more effective probiotic product.9

When and How to Take Probiotics for Optimal Results

Aside from choosing the right probiotics, when and how you take them can also contribute to their effectiveness.

There’s no universally recognized time that is ideal for taking probiotics. However, some experts might recommend taking them before bed, as the digestive system is less active when asleep.

Remember to read the directions of any probiotic supplements you use and follow what they say about timing as well as you can. Keep in mind that it’s likely that the time you take your probiotics matters less than taking them consistently from day to day.11

Probiotics and Antibiotic Interactions: What You Need to Know

Sometimes, you need antibiotics to treat serious infections. So, can you take probiotics and antibiotics together?

While probiotic bacteria are beneficial for us, they are still bacteria. This means they could be affected by medicines like antibiotics designed to kill bacteria.

Unfortunately, taking antibiotics is likely to make some probiotics ineffective. However, there are ways to still take probiotics since not all of them will be susceptible to all antibiotics.

Depending on the antibiotics you need, some probiotic species could remain unaffected. For example, while antibiotics kill bacterial probiotics, they will likely not affect fungal probiotics like Saccharomyces boulardii.12

Remember to consult your healthcare provider to confirm whether your medication will have adverse reactions to probiotics. They may recommend another strain of probiotics to take or adjust your treatment accordingly.

How Do You Get Probiotics?

Taking probiotics to improve your body’s microbiomes can significantly improve your health, and there are different ways to get them. You can take probiotics in several ways, such as:

Taking Supplements

The simplest way to get a specific probiotic is by buying probiotic supplements. It’s generally safe to take probiotic supplements daily. Remember to consult your healthcare provider to confirm if taking these supplements can interact with any conditions or medications you’re currently on.

Eating Fermented Foods High in Probiotics

Supplements are not the only way to get probiotics. Many different foods can also be good sources of probiotics as well.

Generally, fermented foods and drinks are great sources of probiotics. Some of these probiotic-rich foods are fairly common, such as:13

  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Sourdough bread

Incorporating Probiotic Foods into Recipes

Because of how common probiotic foods are, it can be a breeze to add them to different recipes. Read about these ingredients and where you can get them, and be sure to always have some in the kitchen.

For example, yogurt can be used in place of ingredients like mayonnaise or in sauces and dressings.13

Taking Prebiotics and Synbiotics

You should also consider taking prebiotics or synbiotics to maximize the benefits of any probiotic supplement.

Prebiotics are nutrients that probiotic bacteria feed on and can use to grow, potentially making probiotics more effective. When the prebiotics are broken down, they can release other beneficial substances.

On the other hand, synbiotics are products that contain both probiotics and prebiotics.10 

These combinations of microorganisms improve the survival and activity of the gut’s beneficial microorganisms.

Are There Any Side Effects or Risks Associated with Probiotics?

There is little data showing the risks associated with probiotics, but there are some side effects you may need to be aware of before taking them.

Probiotics are generally safe, but they can have some side effects. These include:14

  • Mild stomach upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating

Who Should Avoid Taking Probiotics

Currently, data shows that probiotics should be safe for pretty much everyone. However, there are rare cases where using probiotics has resulted in negative effects like microorganisms being found in the bloodstream. 

Remember to take precautions when taking probiotics if you are elderly, immunocompromised, or have short gut syndrome.15

How Long Does It Take to Experience the Benefits of Probiotics?

Generally, you will need to take probiotics for a few weeks to experience their benefits, but the time can change depending on the probiotics involved and the conditions you’re hoping to address.16

How well a probiotic works can be affected by different factors, such as the probiotics used, the amount of microorganisms in a supplement, and how the supplements are manufactured. 

Some evidence also shows that probiotics with a greater diversity of probiotic strains are more likely to be effective as well.17

Signs Your Probiotics Are Working

The signs your probiotics are working will depend on the strains you are taking or the issues you are hoping to address by taking them.

For example, you might notice less abdominal bloating. Experiencing fewer symptoms of bacterial vaginosis or less frequent UTIs indicates that your probiotic supplements are doing their job.5

Key Takeaways

Probiotics are microorganisms that improve microbiomes in the body that affect your body.

Lactobasillus strains of probiotics prove effective in women to mitigate vaginal illnesses, like bacterial vaginosis, and promote overall vaginal health. Besides promoting better vaginal health, probiotics can also improve gut health, enhance mood, strengthen skin, and prevent UTIs.

 Probiotics can be found in natural food sources and supplements, which can be added to your diet. While taking probiotics is generally safe, it can lead to certain side effects, such as mild stomach upsets and diarrhea.

Remember to consult your healthcare provider to confirm that taking probiotics won’t have adverse reactions on any medication or treatment you currently have.

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Updated on September 27, 2023
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17 sources cited
Updated on September 27, 2023
  1. The microbiome.” Harvard School of Public Health. 
  2. Urogenital infections in women: can probiotics help?” Postgraduate Medical Journal.
  3. Topical Probiotics: More Than a Skin Deep.” Pharmaceutics.
  4. The Female Vaginal Microbiome in Health and Bacterial Vaginosis.” Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.
  5. Probiotics in Medicine: A Long Debate.” Frontiers in Immunology.
  6. Beneficial Effects of Probiotic Consumption on the Immune System.” Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism.
  7. A review of probiotic supplementation in healthy adults: helpful or hype?” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  8. Exploring the Role and Potential of Probiotics in the Field of Mental Health: Major Depressive Disorder.” Nutrients.
  9. Probiotics.” National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.
  10. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications.” Probiotics.
  11. What's The Best Time To Take Probiotics? Gut Doctors Explain How To Get The Most Benefits.” Women’s Health.
  12. Antibiotic Susceptibility of Probiotic Strains. Is it Reasonable to Combine Probiotics with Antibiotics?” Médecine et Maladies Infectieuses.
  13. How to get more probiotics.” Harvard Health Publishing.
  14. Probiotics.” Celveland Clinic.
  15. Probiotics.” StatPearls.
  16. How Long Does It Take For Probiotics To Start Working?” Dr. Ruscio DC.
  17. “Factors Determining Effective Probiotic Activity: Evaluation of Survival and Antibacterial Activity of Selected Probiotic Products Using an “In Vitro” Study.” Nutrients.
Will Hunter
Will Hunter
Content Contributor
Will is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. He received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Will has 7 years of experience writing health-related content, with an emphasis on nutrition, alternative medicine, and longevity.
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