Women and Probiotics—It’s Not Just About Digestion
by David Perlmutter, M.D., Board-Certified Neurologist, #1 New York Times Best-Selling Author, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition
Hardly a day goes by without some new announcement related to the beneficial effects of probiotics for women’s health. We have now gotten to a place where the notion of doing everything you can to maintain and reinforce healthy gut bacteria has become well defined as an important recommendation from healthcare providers across a wide spectrum of specialties. Who would’ve thought that maintaining healthy gut bacteria would be an important consideration in such seemingly diverse specialties as gastroenterology, gynecology and even psychiatry?
But now that we recognize the important role that healthy gut bacteria play, not just in digestion, but also in regulating immunity, balance of hormones, stabilizing metabolism, detoxification, and even in emotional health, it’s no wonder there is so much support in our scientific literature for women to use probiotic supplements.
In an ideal world, women could probably get away with just “eating right.” But this would be a world in which food didn’t contain preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, or products derived from genetically modified plants. It would be a world free of toxins in the air we breathe and the water we drink. And, perhaps most importantly, it would be a world in which we were not exposed to various medications and other environmental threats that can wreak havoc on our gut bacteria and open the door for declining health.
Probiotics help support the day-to-day function of the trillions of bacteria living within the gut. Our bacterial friends contribute to our health in so many ways including producing important vitamins like, biotin, folate, B12, and vitamin K, which is so important for bone health.
In addition, probiotics have a well-defined role in digestion, allowing us to break down and absorb important nutrients like magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates.
Probiotics also play an important role in maintaining vaginal health. They do so by helping maintain a slightly acidic environment within the vagina, and this helps to reduce the overgrowth of bacteria that might otherwise prove harmful. This is particularly important as there are a variety common events that can negatively affect the vaginal environment including the use of antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and even spermicides.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that healthy gut bacteria help regulate hormones. And this goes well beyond estrogen as even the functionality of thyroid hormone is influenced by gut bacteria. While the thyroid is where thyroid hormone is created, the actual activation of this hormone happens, to a significant degree, because of the action of gut bacteria.
Ideally, the best probiotics for women should contain the types of bacteria that have been most studied and validated. Some of the more important include:
- Lactobaccilus rhamnosus is one of the most clinically studied probiotics and has been demonstrated to be extremely beneficial for women. Research shows that it readily colonizes the intestine as well as vagina, and shows benefits in mood health, digestive health and maintaining healthy body weight.
- Lactobaccilus reuteri helps maintain gut health, thyroid health, produces vitamin B12 and helps stabilize vaginal health as well.
- Lactobaccilus fermentum is beneficial for women because of its association with immune health, as well as vaginal health. Newer research is focused on the roll that Lactobaccilus fermentum may play in mood and even cognitive function.
- Lactobaccilus gasseri is receiving a lot of attention these days because of its ability to help maintain normal body weight.
- Bifidobacterium lactis does a great job maintaining digestive health and providing constipation relief.
Other important considerations in choosing a probiotic include:
- Diversity – Go for products that supply at least 12-to-15 different bacterial species.
- Potency – Always look for a probiotic that has a high CFU content. 50 billion CFU is an ideal recommendation.
- Stability – Your probiotic should give you a guaranteed shelf life stability.
- Tolerability – Always choose a product that is gluten-free, soy free and dairy free.