Consuming foods rich in probiotics has many health benefits?especially for women. The main benefit of probiotics for women? is that they?re good for your digestive health and can treat conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which women are three times more likely to have compared to men. They also can help with weight loss, urinary tract and vaginal infections, autoimmune conditions, depression and anxiety, and skin health?all of which are of concern for women especially.
You?ve probably heard of probiotics, but you might not know what they are. Probiotics are ?good? bacteria, as opposed to bacteria that cause disease. They?re microorganisms that live in your gut and regulate your gut microbiota (microorganisms in your digestive tract). They keep your digestive tract healthy.
Here?s a list of some of the many benefits of probiotics for women.
Probiotics improve digestive health
Probiotics are often used to treat digestive problems. For example, IBS is caused by an imbalance (or ?dysbiosis?) of gut bacteria?people with IBS have lower levels of probiotic strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, so probiotics are an effective treatment. Several studies have found that IBS patients who take probiotic supplements see an improvement in their symptoms.
They?re also used to treat diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn?s disease and ulcerative colitis. Patients who have diarrhea due to antibiotics are often administered probiotics . Probiotics are also effective as preventative medicine. For example, taking probiotics can prevent the contraction of C. difficile infection in patients on antibiotic treatment. Giving probiotics to pre-term babies also reduce their risk of getting digestive diseases.
Probiotics can help you lose weight
Probiotics can also promote weight loss. The bacteria in your gut affect your weight. People who are obese have less diverse gut microbiomes than people of a normal weight. Obesity is linked to inflammation, and probiotics have anti-inflammatory effects. In one study, people who ate yogurt containing Lactobacillus probiotic strains experienced a reduction in body fat.
Probiotics can treat vaginal and urinary tract infections
Probiotics promote vaginal health by replenishing the vaginal microbiome with beneficial bacteria. They can counteract the vaginal discomfort created by birth control pills and antibiotics and can potentially help treat conditions like bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis (an STI that disproportionately affects women). Bacterial vaginosis is a condition in which there is an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. There is some evidence suggesting that probiotics can restore this balance.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common types of infections. Women have a significant chance of getting UTI at some point in their lives: 40-60% of women get one. Consuming probiotics (Lactobacillus strains in particular) can reduce your likelihood of becoming infected.
Probiotics can help treat autoimmune disease
Autoimmune diseases disproportionately affect women: 80% of people with autoimmune diseases are female. Inflammation is one of the driving forces behind autoimmune diseases, and probiotics reduce inflammation. Also, most of the immune system is located in the digestive tract, which means that gut health is essential for immune health. In restoring balance to the gut, probiotics boost the immune system.
Probiotics may help treat depression and anxiety
Probiotics may be able to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which both disproportionately affect women. At first, this might seem strange. But there is a connection between the gut and the brain, which means that intestinal bacteria can affect the nervous system and gastrointestinal conditions can affect your mental health. The probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with clinical depression.
This connection is called the gut-brain axis (GBA). It links your central nervous system, which includes your brain and spinal cord, to your gastrointestinal tract.
Experts believe microorganisms living in your gut, including probiotics, play a crucial role in the GBA by:
- producing and expressing neurotransmitters that can affect appetite, mood, or sleep habits
- reducing inflammation in your body, which?can contribute to depression
- affecting cognitive function and your response to stress
Probiotics can keep your skin healthy
Applying probiotic skin care products makes your skin retain moisture and look more youthful. Probiotics can be used to treat skin conditions like acne and rosacea by restoring balance to the skin microbiome. They may be able to prevent eczema. Probiotics can also make your skin look younger. They can treat and prevent UV-induced skin damage, and the probiotic strain Nitrosomonas eutropha can reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Not all bacteria are ?bad? bacteria?which means that antibacterial soaps can kill off bacteria that are actually good for you. Using antibacterial soaps reduces the diversity of gut flora in your microbiome, which can inflame and dehydrate your skin.
Instead of using antibacterial soaps, look into probiotic and prebiotic skin care products. These will help you maintain a healthy skin biome and prevent you from getting skin conditions. (?Prebiotic? just refers to what probiotic bacteria eat.)
Sources of Probiotics
Fermented foods that contain lactic acid bacteria are the best sources of probiotics. Some fermented foods are yogurt, kimchi, kefir, cottage cheese, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, and buttermilk.?
Make sure to get yogurt that is labeled ?live and active cultures,? which means it contains live bacteria. The same applies to cheese: look for ?live and active cultures? and avoid pasteurized and processed cheese. Also, avoid yogurt with lots of added sugar.
In addition to consuming probiotic-rich foods, you can also take probiotic supplements, which come in capsules, powders, liquids, and other forms. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, but you can consult reliable sources to determine which ones are best to consume. Peter Tzemis of Body Nutrition recommends 1MD Probiotics as the best overall supplement, Probiotic 40 Gut Boost+ as the best supplement with the Lactobacillus probiotic strain, and Garden of Life Primal Defense Ultra as the best probiotic and prebiotic combination. As always, talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a supplement regimen.