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You might have seen a few advertisements on television lately about the importance of balancing the good and bad bacteria in your gut. Or you may have heard a coworker raving about the benefits of probiotics. You may have even read a comment that claims women need probiotics more than men!
Whatever led you to this article, be excited that you’ve ended up here because we’re going to give you all the information you need about what probiotics are and how you can introduce them into your life to improve your gut and overall health.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live within your small and large intestines aiding with digestion and absorption of nutrients, among other things.
We know what you’re thinking, bacteria equals gross! But actually, these good bacteria are essential for maintaining good gut health and defending your body against bad bacteria. Groupings of these beneficial strains of bacteria, yeast and live microorganisms are called ‘gut flora’.
In a healthy person there can be over 400 species of probiotics in the body and around 40 trillion good and bad bacterial cells. Probiotics help to produce a heap of vitamins such as A, K and B1, they’re also responsible for around 70% of the body’s immune function as well as helping to regulate hormones in women.
So if probiotics are so important and useful, why are they only just gaining the spotlight in the last few years?
Well, it’s partly because of all the awesome developments in general health awareness but mainly because clinical studies of probiotics are very time consuming and expensive due to how thorough they need to be.
So research into their benefits has been slow to be released but every new morsel of information has been very promising.
Probiotics can be found naturally in foods such as:
- Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage)
- Kefir (cultured, fermented beverage akin to a yoghurt drink)
- Kombucha (fermented tea drink)
- Kimchi (popular spicy Korean dish of spicy, fermented cabbage)
And don’t forget your prebiotics, if you’re getting your probiotics from food it’s great to consume some prebiotics as well to help the friendly bacteria thrive and multiply in your gut. You can get prebiotics from foods like bananas, onions, garlic, wholegrain oatmeal and asparagus.
Do I need probiotics?
Not every woman has the time to make sure her diet is healthy and perfectly balanced. Work, kids, social commitments and life in general can get in the way of ensuring you’re getting all the nutrients you need from your diet.
So a great way to help that along and ensure the good and bad bacteria in your gut are balanced, is by taking a probiotic supplement specifically designed for women.
A probiotic supplement is going to be most helpful when you’re lacking a healthy diet, however, even if you’re on top of your health, a daily dose of probiotics will increase your body’s efficiency at absorbing nutrients from your food. The perfect booster to make sure all your health efforts are fully capitalized on.
Probiotics can also assist with keeping your vaginal health in check, preventing nasty yeast infections that can cause thrush – which can otherwise wreak all kinds of havoc down there.
And if you’re a regular sufferer from the dreaded urinary tract infection (UTI’s), something that is much more common in women than men, then probiotics can help to lessen their severity and even prevent further infections.
When to take probiotics
The great thing about taking a probiotic is that you never have to worry you’re going to overdo it.
Basically, the probiotics in a daily supplement don’t actually set up camp in your gut, instead they pass through and crowd out nasty microorganisms so that when they leave your system the normal way, they take some of the bad bacteria with them.
In saying that, it’s always best to start off slow and gradually work your way up to allow your body to get used to your new supplement.
Probiotics are great for when you’ve been on a course of antibiotics and need to allow your gut flora to replenish but don’t want to give bad bacteria the chance to overpopulate the neighbourhood.
Or, if you have a viral infection such as diarrhea, have been stressed or exposed to an extremely poor diet that’s left you with lots of toxins in your body.
All these factors are indicators that you need a daily hit of probiotics to get your body back on track before it all starts to go downhill.
Here are a few of the conditions that probiotics are said to assist in treating:
- Urinary/vaginal health
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Immune health
- Oral health
- Common cold
If you’re still unsure as to whether a probiotic supplement is the way to go, pop down to your doctor for an official recommendation. Your doctor will be able to let you know if and how it could benefit you and what the best types for you are.
This is especially important if you’re using a probiotic to treat a specific health issue – you need to know exactly what probiotic strains to take as not all are created equal, which is explained below.
Types of probiotics
So this is the confusing part. Within probiotics, there are certain strains that each serve a different function and treat different conditions.
Not all strains can be used together as some will negate the effects of another so it’s important to find a supplement that contains all the strains you need that work together in harmony instead of buying a couple of different probiotic supplements – that’s a big no-no.
To make it a little easier, we’ve broken down the strains and their uses:
This is the most important bacteria species. They live in the small intestine and are responsible for producing lactase which is the enzyme that breaks down lactose – the sugar in milk.
They are also the bacteria that create an acidic environment in your digestive tract to discourage nasty microorganisms, they do this by fermenting the carbohydrates you consume which produces lactic acid.
This lactic acid also helps your body absorb calcium, iron and magnesium which are all very important minerals for a healthy body.
Lactobacillus strains and what they can help with:
- Acidophilus – Overall digestion and immune health, urinary and vaginal health, absorbing nutrients, relief for cramping, gas and diarrhea
- Fermentum – Overall digestion, neutralizes toxins generated from digestion of food
- Plantarum – Overall digestion and immune health
- Rhamnosus – One of the best Lactobacillus strains for vaginal health, helps with traveller’s diarrhea
- Salivarius – Immune and oral health
- Paracasei – Liver health
- Gasseri – The best Lactobacillus strain for healthy vaginal microflora, help decrease diarrhea
- Reuteri – Overall digestion and immune health, oral health
These bacteria reside in your large intestine and protect your body against nasty bacteria and microorganisms like yeast. They do this by producing lactic acid which generates 70% of the energy needed by cells that create a natural barrier in your gut.
Bifidobacterium also produce B vitamins that assist with digestion and fuel production for the body and vitamin K which is essential for strong and healthy skin, hair, bones and more.
Bifidobacterium strains and what they can help with:
- Bifidum – Overall digestion and nutrient absorption, relief from diarrhea
- Longum – Overall digestion and immune health, neutralizes toxins generated from digestion of food
- Infantis – Overall digestion, decreases bloating and constipation
These lactic acid producing bacteria live in your small intestine, they are highly resistant to stomach acid and remain in your system longer than other bacteria.
Bacillus strain and what it helps with:
- Coagulans – Overall digestion, relief from constipation, highly effective for good vaginal health
Another bacteria that produce lactic acid, have been said to assist with the immune system and colon health as they are great at protecting the tissue in your intestine.
Streptoccocus strains and what they can help with:
- Salivarius K12 – Overall oral and immune health
- Salivarius M18 – Healthy teeth and gums
Tips and tricks for purchasing probiotics
- Check out the culture count – You need at least 10 billion colony forming units (CFU’s) to get any kind of effect, but aim for as many as you can. Some brands can contain over 200 billion CFU’s!
- Check how many and which strains – At least 10 strains is a great place to start but aim for as many as possible. If you’re choosing a probiotic for specific health conditions, make sure to get the correct strains using our guide above!
- Coating on capsules – As probiotics can be killed off by stomach acid, make sure the capsules have an acid-resistant coating. This also reduces your chances of getting an upset tummy.
- Shelf life/refrigeration – Check the shelf life of your probiotic supplements and the expiry date, choose the one that’s the furthest away from it’s expiry as potency can be reduced after being on the shelf for a long time. Probiotics last best when refrigerated so make sure they were stored properly before purchase.
- Check the label – Always read the label thoroughly. You want to make sure that all probiotic strains are within the Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, E. Coli and Bifidobacterium species to ensure you’re getting native bacteria. Also take note of extra ingredients and fillers. If you can avoid fillers, that’s the best way to go but pick a probiotic with added vitamins and minerals.
- Prebiotics – You’ll need some kind of prebiotic included with your supplement, like inulin, this will help fuel the bacteria so they can do their job effectively.
- Daily dose – As the probiotics don’t stay within your body, you need to be taking them daily. But aim for one that’s no more than once per day to decrease your chances of missing a dose.
Best Probiotic for Women
#7 Vitamin Bounty – Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic
An excellent beginner’s probiotic that is specifically designed for women. With 10 billion CFU’s and 6 strains that target healthy digestion, vaginal and thyroid function.
- Strains specific to female health
- Contains key minerals and extracts
- Contains powerful prebiotics
- Stomach acid resistant capsules
- Two capsules daily
- Should be taken with meals
|Quality||Price||Our Rating: 2 stars|
#6 Natural Riches – Probiotics Supplement for Women
This probiotic claims to have a range of different positive effects with a focus on colon and digestive health. 30 billion CFU’s in every 2 servings.
- Money-back guarantee
- One tablet daily
- Claims to contain most effective probiotics for women
- Focus on digestive, vaginal and colon health
- Not much clinical testing evidence on website
- Doesn’t say how many strains it contains
|Quality||Price||Our Rating: 3 stars|
#5 Renew Life: Ultimate Flora Probiotic
With 50 billion CFU’s and 10 probiotic strains, this is great for overall immune and digestive health with delayed release delivery.
- Once daily capsule
- High potency formula
- Stomach acid resistant
- Might be a bit harsh for beginners – can cause digestive issues
- Has to be refrigerated
|Quality||Price||Our Rating: 3 stars|
#4 Sedona Labs: Iflora Women
This probiotic is resistant to stomach acid and supports healthy digestion, bowel function and both vaginal and urinary tract health.
- Small pills
- Gentle formula
- Targets vaginal and urinary tract health
- Needs to be taken twice daily (15 billion CFU’s per capsule)
- Only 5 strains
|Quality||Price||Our Rating: 3 stars|
A more targeted probiotic with 50 billion CFU’s and 10 strains that focuses on vaginal health, digestion and immune support.
- Time release delivery
- Focuses on vaginal health
- Must be refrigerated
|Quality||Price||Our Rating: 4 stars|
Controlled-release probiotics that get to where you need them most with 15 times more results than other brands, heavily focused on preventing yeast infections – 5 billion CFU’s and 6 strains.
- Don’t have to refrigerate
- Helps with yeast and weight issues
- No added sugars
- Controlled release probiotics
- Lower potency
- Fewer strains
- Large pills
|Quality||Price||Our Rating: 5 stars|
The great thing about this probiotic is that it specifically mimics the function and benefits of eating fermented whole foods. It’s formula is designed for women and their specific health needs with no added fillers.
- 85 billion CFU’s
- 33 probiotic strains
- Gluten free, no fillers
- Don’t have to take it with food
- Pills are quite large
- Some women experience constipation after use
- Have to be refrigerated
|Quality||Price||Our Rating: 5 stars|