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Probiotics for Women: Diving Into Types, Benefits, and Side Effects

Not all microorganisms are 'bad' and some can even be helpful, like probiotics. Mostly made up of bacteria and some yeasts, probiotics are microorganisms that provide potential health benefits to their host — you. The health-promoting microorganisms are naturally found or added in certain foods and are available as a dietary supplement. Though most humans may benefit from probiotics, preliminary research suggests that they may provide specific benefits to women, such as supporting vaginal health, preventing gynecological infections, and potentially improving the metabolic changes that occur in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Read on to learn more about probiotics for women, how they work, the types that may provide health benefits, and the potential side effects. Please note that we use the term 'women' in this article in alignment with study terminology, acknowledging it refers to those assigned female at birth (AFAB).

Insights into probiotics for women

Your body is home to trillions of microorganisms, living in the gut, the mouth, the skin, and the genitals. While not all microorganisms in your body are beneficial, probiotics are the 'good' ones that can positively impact overall health.

The makeup of microorganisms — known as the microbiome — varies in each individual. Nonetheless, the composition of your microbiome has a significant influence, with the right balance of beneficial microorganisms benefiting overall health and potentially reducing the risk of certain diseases.

Probiotics found in food and dietary supplements may help maintain or restore microbiome balance. Depending on the specific strain, they may support human health by inhibiting the growth of 'bad' microorganisms, neutralizing toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria, and making nutrients like vitamins, short-chain fatty acids, and amino acids. They may also influence the function of various body systems, like the immune and nervous system.

Since specific strains of probiotics seem to have targeted effects on the body, understanding which type of strain may help your needs can be particularly useful when considering a probiotic supplement.

What types of probiotics are best for women?

Probiotics are identified by strain, which includes genus, species, and subspecies. Each strain exhibits its unique benefits, and the best types of probiotics for women will depend on individual health needs and goals.

However, most scientifically-studied potential health benefits come from Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces genera (or family) of probiotics. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are bacteria, and Saccharomyces are yeast.

Lactobacillus

Lactobacillus are rod-shaped bacteria found in the gut, mouth, and vaginal microbiota that help digest carbohydrates and protect against harmful germs. The vagina is home to several strains of Lactobacillus. Specific strains of the most notable Lactobacillus strains include L. crispatus, L. gasseri, L. iners, L. jensenii, L. reuteri, L. rhamnosus, and L. fermentum. These strains appear to contribute to the vaginal environment and help inhibit the growth of pathogens. The Lactobacillus in the gut also protects against harmful germs.

Lactobacilli strains L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. reuteri, and L. casei may benefit women with PCOS by supporting blood sugar and cholesterol levels. While emerging scientific evidence is promising, more well-designed scientific research is needed before drawing definitive conclusions about probiotics for PCOS.

Bifidobacterium

Bifidobacterium is another rod-shaped bacteria found in the gut, mouth, and vaginal microbiota, as well as breast milk. These probiotics protect against germs, inhibit inflammation, and make vitamins and amino acids in the gut.

For women, Bifidobacterium strain B. lactis may improve mild gastrointestinal symptoms. In addition to B. lactis, strains like B. breve, B. infantis, and B. longum may ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a gastrointestinal condition that affects twice as many women as men.

Animal research studies show that Bifidobacteria may improve the bioavailability of calcium in the gut and may benefit bone health in humans. A 2024 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found supplementing with the Bifidobacteria or Lactobacilli may improve bone health and offer some protection against postmenopausal osteoporosis, a serious bone disorder that makes you susceptible to fractures. However, more comprehensive clinical research is needed to support these potential benefits.

Saccharomyces

Saccharomyces is a probiotic yeast present in the gut and vaginal microbiota. Preliminary studies show that this probiotic may help prevent yeast infections in women taking antifungal medications. However, more research is needed to better understand how Saccharomyces may support vaginal health.

Potential benefits of probiotics for women

Many studies have looked at the potential health benefits of probiotics for women. Though researchers are still learning about probiotics and how they work, the following are some of the potential benefits of the friendly germs for women:

Recovery from vaginal infections

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection) are common infections in women. Both infections occur from a change in the vaginal microbiome. The medications used to treat the infections may worsen the microbiome imbalance, so supplementing with probiotics may support recovery.

There’s also evidence that taking probiotics may reduce risk of a recurrence of yeast infections, but more research is needed to confirm this potential benefit.

Support postmenopausal bone health

Your bones are constantly remodeling, removing old bone cells and replacing them with new ones. When you reach menopause, the rate of bone resorption (breakdown) outpaces the rate of bone formation, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Supplementing with probiotics may support bone mineral density in the lumbar spine in postmenopausal women, benefitting bone health. Again, scientific evidence in this area is limited and more research is needed.

Improve gastrointestinal health

Probiotics may help maintain microbiome balance. The good microorganisms in turn support digestion function, immune health, and metabolic function. Probiotics may also alleviate IBS symptoms and prevent or reduce diarrhea when taking antibiotics.

Support PCOS management

Women with PCOS produce excessive amounts of androgen, a male sex hormone, affecting ovulation and fertility. The hormonal imbalance may cause weight gain and insulin resistance, affecting the movement of glucose from the blood into the cell.

Preliminary research shows that supplementing with probiotics reduces fasting blood sugar, insulin levels, and insulin resistance in women with PCOS. However, more studies are needed.

Reduce the risk of lactational mastitis

Lactational mastitis is a breast infection that occurs in women during breastfeeding. Early research studies suggest that probiotics taken during pregnancy may lower a woman’s risk of developing this infection, but more research is needed to better understand the potential benefits.

It's advisable to consult with a medical professional before supplementing with probiotics when pregnant.

Help with weight management

There’s a strong connection between microbiome imbalance and obesity. Researchers theorize that this imbalance may affect how the body uses and stores energy, causing the body to store more body fat and trigger the release of hormones that increase hunger.

According to a 2021 systematic review study published in Nutrients, taking probiotics while following a reduced-calorie diet or exercise program may support weight loss efforts.

Potential side effects of probiotics

Probiotics are safe for most people but may cause mild side effects while your body’s microbiome rebalances. Potential side effects of probiotics for women include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Thirst
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Rashes

You should consult with your doctor before adding probiotics to your daily routine to discuss benefits and side effects. Further, supplementing with probiotics isn’t recommended if you have an underlying health condition such as valvular heart disease. You may also want to avoid probiotics if you’re taking medications that affect immune function like anti-rejection drugs for organ transplant.

How effective are probiotics for women?

While probiotics benefit women’s health, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of specific strains and the best dose for supporting some of the health issues women face.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR1, also called Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus GR1, is the most studied probiotic strain for women’s health and may reduce recurrence of vaginal and urinary tract infections. However, there are several strains of L. rhamnosus, and not all dietary supplements indicate specific strains. Taking other strains of L. rhamnosus may not have the same health effects.

Dosage is also a factor that influences the effectiveness of probiotics for women. Probiotic dose is measured as colony forming units (CFU), or the number of viable cells of the specific strain or strains in each serving. Supplements generally have 1–10 billion CFUs but can have as much as 50 billion CFUs or more. Currently, there’s no standard dose for probiotic strains, and more isn’t always better.

Probiotics sold as dietary supplements don’t require FDA approval before they hit the shelves. While the safety of dietary supplements containing probiotics is the responsibility of the manufacturers, many probiotic formulas may not have undergone rigorous scientific studies to support their effectiveness and potential benefits. It’s up to the consumer to determine what strains they need to support their health needs. Again, consulting with your doctor can help you figure out what probiotic is best for you.

Probiotics for women alternatives

Probiotic supplements can be a simple way to get the microorganisms the body may need, but similar benefits can also be obtained from food. Live microorganisms are used to make fermented foods such as:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Buttermilk
  • Kombucha
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi

You can also find foods with added probiotics like juice, smoothies, and nutrition bars. However, it’s not clear how these fortified foods may benefit health.

How to choose the best Probiotics for women product?

To choose the best probiotic for women, consider several key factors:

  1. First, look for a product that includes strains specifically beneficial for women's health, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri, which have been studied for supporting vaginal and urinary tract health.
  2. Ensure the product contains an appropriate CFU count. Supplements typically range 1–10 billion CFUs, but some can have 50 billion CFUs or more. As mentioned before, there's no standard dose for probiotic strains, so more CFUs aren't always better.
  3. Read customer reviews for real-world effectiveness, focusing on reported improvements in digestion, immune support, and overall well-being.
  4. Lastly, choose a reputable brand known for transparency and high-quality manufacturing standards, preferably one that follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and third-party testing to assure quality.

📝Healthnews editor's top picks

If you're considering probiotics for women, our dedicated article might offer valuable insights. Explore some of the leading probiotic products on the market, tailored to potentially address various health needs such as improved digestion, enhanced vaginal health, and better immune support.

Bonafide Clairvee supp
  • Supports vaginal microbiome
  • 5 billion CFUs
  • Affordable
  • Third-party tested

What we loved most about Bonafide is that the probiotic is specifically designed to rebalance the vaginal microbiome and aid in vaginal microbiome upkeep during hormonal changes in perimenopause and menopause. We also appreciated that the products are manufactured in an FDA-registered, cGMP-certified facility and are third-party tested for quality. The only downside is that the product contains lactose.

Unbloat comm block
  • 40 ingredients for bloating
  • cGMP and FDA-approved facilities
  • 25 billion CFU
  • No refrigeration needed

We appreciated that Unbloat probiotic for women helps ease bloating with its blend of prebiotics, digestive enzymes, herbal ingredients, and nutrients. It contains 25 billion CFU from 7 well-studied probiotic strains, plus magnesium and folate. Manufactured in FDA and cGMP-approved facilities, it ensures best quality practices. The only downside is its higher price per serving compared to other products.

Ritual Synbiotic+ supp
  • Third-party tested
  • Delayed-release capsules
  • Bundle options
  • Best for gut health

We valued Ritual's commitment to transparency, as their probiotics are third-party tested forsafety and quality. Independent lab testing ensures the products are non-GMO, and allergen-free. Best for women's digestive health, it includes the two most studied strains, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium animalis. The downside is the money-back guarantee is only available with a subscription.

Yourbiology probiotics
  • 10 strains for overall health
  • Non-GMO
  • cGMP-certified facilities
  • Supports overall health

We appreciated that YourBiology includes a blend of 10 probiotic strains, offering up to 20 billion CFU in three capsules, to support women's gut, skin, immune, and bowel health. The MAKtrek® Bi-pass complex claims to boost probiotic survival rates by up to 250 times. These probiotics are produced in cGMP-certified facilities in the UK. The downside is the higher price per serving compared to other products.

Routine comm bl
  • 24 billion CFU
  • Delayed-release capsule
  • Moisture-control packaging
  • Best for constipation and anxiety

We admire Routine for its commitment to sustainability, sourcing non-GMO and vegan ingredients, and using recycled packaging for its supplements. Their product contains 24 billion CFU from 5 probiotic strains aimed at promoting gut health. It also includes ashwagandha root extract to help address sleep, anxiety, and stress-related issues. However, the product contains chicory extract that may not be suitable for individuals with gallstones.

Future prospects in probiotics for women

Scientific evidence is growing in terms of probiotics for women. There’s evolving evidence that supplementing with certain strains of probiotics may prevent or support treatment of bacterial vaginosis, vaginal candidiasis, and lactational mastitis.

Some studies also show that probiotic supplements may benefit the management of health conditions that affect women like PCOS.

Though the evidence is promising, there’s not enough data to support health claims of probiotics for women. The effectiveness of probiotics can vary widely depending on the strain, dosage, and individual health conditions.

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