Researchers are discovering more and more every year that links our overall health to our gut microbiome. A balanced and diverse gut is key to healthy digestion, immunity, and more. It’s even more important from the lens of women’s health, as your gut biome is linked to vaginal health, hormone balance, and so much more.
One of the best ways to ensure your gut is full of good bacteria is to supplement with good bacteria! Enter probiotics.
Probiotics are concentrated supplements containing live beneficial bacterial cultures. It’s like taking the best of the best, and introducing them directly to your gut team’s roster. Not to be confused with prebiotics—which are fibers and nutrients meant to feed the populations of good bacteria in your digestive tract. Taking the right probiotics can give your gut the support it needs to help you balance hormones, support immune health, improve digestion, and even support mood and sleep.
But with so many out there, how do you pick the right one? Let’s break down the key factors to know when scouring the shelves for your ideal probiotic for women.
What Research Says About Probiotics and Women's Health
Probiotics can provide the diversity and balance needed for a healthy gut, something especially crucial for women’s health. Not only are women more likely than men to experience digestive gut issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but our microbiome is also linked to vaginal health and hormone regulation. Dysbiosis—when your gut community is imbalanced or potentially overrun with harmful bacteria—can seriously affect everything from mood to menstruation.
Wait… menstruation? Yep, a healthy gut is a major factor in balancing your hormone levels.
What is the estrobolome and how does it affect reproductive health?
The estrobolome refers to the colony of bacteria and other microbes with the unique ability to break down estrogen.
Certain bacteria colonies in your gut are actually responsible for part of how you manage your estrogen metabolism. An imbalance in your microbiome could be steering you into estrogen dominance and a higher risk of painful, heavy periods, mood swings, and PMS.
Can probiotics support estrogen and hormone balance?
Probiotics continue to be important to support your gut health during menopause. On top of supporting your estrobolome, studies on menopausal mice found that two strains of Lactobacillus bacteria, Lactobacillus reuteri and Lactibacillus rhamnosus could be helpful in protecting against the bone loss, leaky gut, and inflammation that normally occurs with a loss of estrogen.
Oral probiotics may also directly affect your vaginal health and promote a diverse, healthy vaginal microbiome. Yep, just like in our guts, there’s a whole team of bacteria regulating immunity and pH down there too.
The idea with probiotics is to keep the trouble making bugs in check by supporting good bugs. For example, probiotics containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus may help improve microbiome diversity in the vagina, while also fighting off harmful bacteria like E. coli and reducing itching and discharge. Studies support the notion that a balanced and diverse vaginal microbiome could help protect you from bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, vaginal dryness, and UTIs.
I’ve been using probiotics to help heal my patients for years, and learning more and more about the ways women’s health connects to microbiome dysbiosis. Studies like these helped me to develop my own Brighten Essentials Women’s Probiotic, specifically designed with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, a Bacillus blend, prebiotics and phytonutrients to combine the best research-supported outcomes in women’s health.
The Best Research-backed Probiotic Supplements for Women
Best for Urinary Tract Health
Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14® and Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001™ have both been shown to be beneficial for urinary tract health. In addition, taking a probiotic with aronia berry juice may provide additional benefits. Aronia berry has been found to be rich in proanthocyanins, which play a role in restricting bacterial adhesions in the urinary tract. This may provide protection from E. coli, the most common cause of urinary tract infections (UTIs), especially when combined with D. mannose.
Best for Vaginal Health: Lactobacillus rhamnosus and L. acidophilus
Though taken orally, these strains can influence the vaginal microbiome. In fact, in the vaginal microbiome, the Lactobacillus species are the primary organisms. Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus) is one of the key organisms in maintaining a healthy vaginal pH. A healthy vaginal pH is what helps ward off yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. In one 15-day clinical trial (yes, just over 2 weeks), women who consumed Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14® and Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001™ showed improvement in their vaginal ecology and reduction in vaginal itching and unwanted discharge.
Probiotics for vaginal health include the specific combo of Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14® and Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001™ have been shown in several clinical trials to improve vaginal symptoms, like reduced itching and discharge, as well as reduce the abundance of unfavorable bacteria. Because of the favorable evidence in these clinical trials and what I’ve observed in my clinical practice, we included these specific strains in our Women’s Probiotic formulation.
Best for Digestive Health: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bacillus coagulans, and Prebiotics
Lactobacillus rhamnosus has been shown to be beneficial for those who struggle with diarrhea (including preventing it) and may even help with traveler’s diarrhea. In animal studies it has been shown to help with IBS.
Prebiotic fibers, like guar gum, Jerusalem artichoke, and inulin can help support healthy digestion and regularity. They are what help feed the beneficial bacteria strains to encourage healthy growth in the gut. In some conditions, like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), certain prebiotics can aggravate digestion leading to gas and bloating. We specifically selected guar gum in our probiotic blend to make it more accessible to those with sensitive digestion.
What to Look for in a Women's Probiotic Supplement
When it comes to benefits of probiotics, we have a TON of options to sort through when searching for a reputable, effective supplement. Here are 7 factors to understand when selecting a probiotic for women’s health.
Should probiotics be shelf stable or refrigerated?
Depending on how a probiotic is manufactured, it may require refrigeration, or it may be safely stored at room temperature. Neither is better, but pick the type that best fits your lifestyle! Most probiotics are designed to be taken daily, so If you’re traveling often, opt for a shelf stable package that you can toss in your carry on. Or if you’re someone who can’t remember your probiotic unless it’s in your purse, that’s another time to pick a non-refrigerated option. In either case, remember to check the best by date.
If you want the benefits of a probiotic, make sure you know exactly what’s going in your body. Brands that use fillers, preservatives, or artificial flavors simply aren’t looking out for your health.
Eating for two? Try eating for 39 trillion! That’s about the number of bacteria living in an average human! A quality probiotic supplement is amplified when it contains prebiotics: specific fibers to support the beneficial organisms while they establish themselves in your microbiome. It also promotes the overall diversity and health of the microbiome. If you’re prone to small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), it’s important to make sure your prebiotic is SIBO friendly, like guar gum. In fact, guar gum has been shown to be beneficial when used with rifaximin in the elimination of SIBO.
Different probiotic supplements can offer different benefits, such as general women’s health, digestion, or vaginal health depending on how they are formulated. Your own health goals will help you decide what to look for.
Well-studied, beneficial strains
For women’s health, keep an eye out for the strains like Lactobacillus rhamnosus and acidophilus. These have also been shown to be beneficial for gut health, which we’ll discuss later on. .
Colony Forming Units (CFU)
The quantity of Colony Forming Units (CFUs) indicate the amount of live bacteria each serving contains. The more the merrier! Most probiotic supplements claim to contain 1-10 billion CFUs per serving. At minimum, you want a probiotic blend with at least 1 billion CFUs.
If you have any food sensitivities or preferences, be sure to check if your supplement contains animal by-products, gluten, or is processed in a facility that shares equipment with any allergens you need to avoid.
Ask Dr. Brighten: Prebiotic and Probiotics for Women
Is It Better to Take Probiotics or Prebiotics?
Both! Probiotics are best taken in combination with a prebiotic supplement, or a diet high in whole food prebiotic fibers. You can grab our free meal plan and recipe guide to start building a fiber rich diet. Prebiotics provide the essential nutrients that the friendly strains need to compete for space in your microbiome.
Is It Good to Take Probiotics Everyday?
Yes. Most probiotics are best to take every day. Consider adding a probiotic supplement to your morning routine to make it easy to remember.
What Probiotic Do Doctors Recommend for Women?
Finding a probiotic specifically developed for women can be highly beneficial for women’s health and hormones. Research shows the Lactobacillus strains mentioned previously can be especially helpful for women. These specific strains have undergone clinical trials and have been shown to be beneficial in women’s health. That’s why they are included, along with gut beneficial Bacillus species, prebiotic support, and antioxidant rich aronia berry in our doctor formulated Women’s Probiotic.
What Are the Signs You Need Probiotics?
Probiotics can benefit everyone, but are especially useful if you suffer from bacterial vaginosis, UTIs, digestive issues, food sensitivities, or low energy. Often, these problems can originate from imbalances in the gut and can be improved with a regular probiotic.
What Happens to Your Body When You Start Taking Probiotics?
When you first start taking probiotics, you may notice some bloating or gas as your bacterial populations adjust. These effects should go away in a few days. After that, it can take a few weeks to start seeing the benefits of probiotics.
Probiotics are a simple way to show some extra love to your gut, support vaginal and urinary health, and give your body what it needs to maintain your health. Your microbiome supports nearly every system in your body, and protecting its optimal health is an excellent first step toward improving digestion, immunity, and hormones.
When researching probiotic options, consider their intended use, the quality of their ingredients, the bacterial strains they contain and their CFU count, as well as whether or not they contain prebiotics, or require refrigeration.
I followed these criteria, and extensive research, to create my Brighten Essentials Women’s Probiotic. Using my years of experience in women’s health, I designed this probiotic as a targeted approach to the issues I see so often in my clinical practice. This supplement is versatile enough to support women at any age, containing highly effective SIBO-friendly, low-bloat prebiotics, and powerful plant-based antioxidants.
- Gut Health and Your Menstrual Cycle: What Women Need to Know
- Gut Hormone Connection
- Bacterial Vaginosis Causes, Symptoms & 5 Natural Treatments – Dr. Jolene Brighten
- The Importance of a Healthy Gut in Pregnancy – Dr. Jolene Brighten
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