MAY 24 2017

Gut Feeling: Probiotics + Women's Health

Probiotics seem to be everywhere these days - store shelves are full of them. Aside from the predictable sources like kombucha, yogurt and sauerkraut, probiotics are being added to chocolate, protein powder and even topical skincare products.

The latest research shows that women benefit in particular from these “good bacteria”. Here is a quick primer on prebiotics and probiotics to help you understand how they contribute to our overall health:

Prebiotics are indigestible parts of carbohydrates left in our intestinal tract from the food we eat. Because they do not get digested in our small intestine, they are able to reach the colon where they are fermented by bacteria. They act as “food” for probiotics, thereby helping probiotics remain and thrive within our intestinal tract. The best sources of prebiotics are high-fiber foods like leafy greens, onions, garlic, leeks and asparagus, to name a few.

Each of us has hundreds of billions of bacteria in our intestines at all times, including different strains of bacteria, which together form our microbiota. Everyone’s microbiota is different, and affected by environmental factors including diet, stress and medications. Probiotics are products that contain an adequate dose of live bacteria that have been documented in target-host studies to confer a health benefit by improving the balance of the intestinal microbiota (as defined by The World Health Organization here).

There are myriad claims of what probiotics can do for women’s health. These are the ones with published clinical studies showing a benefit:

1. Body Weight + BMI

A new meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that consuming probiotics can reduce body weight and body mass index (BMI). BMI is an individual’s weight-to-height ratio, calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters, and is expressed in units of kg/m2. The researchers combined the findings of 25 randomized human trials investigating the impact of probiotic consumption on body weight and BMI in over 1,900 healthy adults. What did they find? Taking probiotics reduced BMI and body weight, with the greatest reduction in BMI occurring in overweight adults. They also saw results that indicated ingesting more than one type of probiotic and taking probiotics for eight weeks or more resulted in increased weight loss.

Above: Trust Your Gut by Ora Organic is a probiotic powder that's also packed with prebiotics. You can mix it in water or in smoothies, and it tastes great. It's freeze-dried so no need to refrigerate. Also available in capsule form. Click here for more info.

2. Mood + Depression

Probiotics may help reduce negative thoughts associated with sad moods. In a randomized controlled study published in Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity, participants who consumed seven different probiotic strains showed significantly reduced obsessive thinking and worry compared to those who received the placebo. Given that the tendency to think obsessively and worry can turn a mood into depressive episodes, probiotics could potentially support therapy for depression, or prevent depressive episodes altogether.

3. Vaginal + Urinary Health
Like the intestinal tract, the vagina is a finely balanced ecosystem. It can be thrown out of balance by a number of factors, including antibiotics, spermicides, and birth control pills. As probiotics move through the digestive tract, the bacterial strains colonize within your gut as well as within the urinary tract and vagina. Probiotic treatment may be helpful for common female urogenital problems like yeast infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and bacterial vaginosis. Certain probiotic strains in particular, when taken orally, have shown promising results for preventing or treating UTIs; these strains are L. acidophilus L 1259, Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14, Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14+L, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1.


Above: Gastrus chewable probiotic tablets by BioGaia. They contain a powerful strain that may prevent or treat UTIs and is highly beneficial for gastrointestinal health too. Click here for more info.

4. Skin + Hair

Oral Probiotics Supplements
There is evidence that consuming the probiotic strain Lactobacillus plantarum HY7714 for 12 weeks reduces skin aging. The studies on HY7714 show that it:

  • significantly increases the moisture content of the skin;
  • limits the formation of wrinkles and reduces the depth of wrinkles;
  • improves skin elasticity and skin gloss. “Skin gloss” is science-speak for the amount of light reflected from the skin’s surface - i.e., how much the skin glows.

You can bet it won’t be long before a major skincare company harnesses the anti-aging power of the HY7714 bacterium to develop the next must-have skin product.

Probiotics In Skincare
A handful of skincare companies (such as TULA Skincare and The Beauty Chef) are infusing probiotics into their topical products. This isn’t just a marketing gimmick: dermatology research is showing that probiotics help balance the skin just as they balance the gut microbiota.