Try to shop at the grocery store without seeing all the hype for probiotics — the so-called “magical gut bacteria” — on yogurt, supplements and gummies galore. There are plenty of health junkies (and Hollywood actresses) proclaiming benefits of probiotics for women, stating that they improve digestion, relieve allergies and even boost immunity. But is there any truth to these claims?
According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s tough to say, but for some people, probiotics could be worth trying if you suffer from one or more of the following:
- Loose stools triggered by antibiotics or infections
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Recurring yeast infections
The science gets a little murky beyond that because there’s a lot of unknown. Here’s what’s confirmed:
1. Probiotics Can Help, Especially for Women
Unless you have a serious health condition that affects your immune system, probiotics are pretty safe — and can even be pretty helpful, too. That’s because researchers think probiotics (as “good” bacteria) might work by protecting your intestinal tract from “bad” bacteria.
Women stand to gain the most from that benefit for three reasons:
- During PMS, hormones can cause digestive issues, including constipation and diarrhea
- Irritable bowel syndrome affects more women than men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Yeast infections are the second most common vaginal infection in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2. It’s Easy to Fit Probiotics Into Your Diet and Routine
If women bear the brunt of digestive issues, how can they get more probiotics into their gut? Pretty easily, actually.
Most people choose to eat yogurt with live cultures to get in their “friendly” bacteria, but other sources can include:
- Kefir, or fermented milk with kefir grains
- Kombucha, a fermented tea
While some people may choose to take probiotic supplements (such as pills or gummies), it’s important to know that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate dietary supplements the same way it does with medications.
Unlike drugs, which go through rigorous safety checks, dietary supplements don’t have to be deemed safe before they’re sold. That’s why some people may choose yogurt over other options to get their probiotics.
But there’s a catch: Not all probiotics are the same. Different strains of bacteria can help or hurt in different ways. Try sticking with lactobacillus (the culture often found in yogurt), which has the most research showing its potential benefit for digestive health.
3. Know If You Need More Probiotics
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about correct probiotics doses, but these signs may mean you might want to add a small amount of yogurt, kefir or other sources to your diet:
- You’ve recently finished a round of antibiotics and have a problem with diarrhea
- You have unusual digestive issues, like diarrhea or stomachaches
- You have IBS
In all three of those cases, ask your doctor first whether probiotics might be a good option. Depending on their instructions, you might try starting with one serving every few days to see how you feel.
If you have a vaginal yeast infection, talk to your doctor about clearing up your current infection, then discuss ways you can prevent it from recurring.
4. Talk to Your Doctor
Apple cider vinegar has ridden its own hype wave for its supposed health benefits, especially when combined with probiotics, as many people believe the two have a symbiotic relationship for good gut health.
While some science has shown that to be true, many people believe more research is needed. Before trying a home remedy like apple cider vinegar, always ask your doctor first. The Gynecology team at Lahey Medical Center in Peabody, Massachusetts can provide guidance for you.
The Bottom Line on Probiotics
While all the hype about the benefits of probiotics for women may not be overblown at all, the fact remains that researchers want more evidence before making any claims about its properties. While they gather that research, however, it doesn’t hurt to pack a yogurt cup in your lunch. And if you ever have questions about what you should eat or how to strengthen your diet, talk to a nutrition expert at Lahey.