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Probiotics are popular, but do you know how they benefit you? If you’re a woman, you need to know about these women-specific probiotic health benefits.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that benefit health; these 400+ species, mostly bacteria, are often called “good” or “beneficial bacteria.” They’re found everywhere on and inside your body, but they’re most dense in your intestinal tract.
While probiotics are also found in foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso, because it’s so hard to get a wide variety and sufficient quantity of beneficial bacteria from food, most pro-probiotic women take a supplement.
Busy lifestyles, stress, illness, antibiotics, medications, and aging all affect our microbial makeup. And the average diet isn’t so great either – often deficient in key nutrients and fiber – leading to an imbalanced gut microbiome. For women, taking a probiotic to promote the colonization of good bacteria makes sense on many levels.
So why are probiotics for women so important? Probiotics can address a wide range of health issues that affect women from digestive issues and depression to skin health and weight management.
Due to differences in anatomy and hormones, women have gastrointestinal (GI) systems and issues different from men. We’re more prone to constipation (thanks to slower digestion) and six times more likely to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) compared to men.
Probiotics can help with regularity – researchers found that probiotics containing Bifidobacterium were effective at helping slow bowel transit time, increasing the number of weekly bowel movements, and softening stools. And evidence shows that while IBS is associated with an imbalanced gut microbiome, probiotic therapies offer promise in treating this difficult disease.
Women are prescribed broad-spectrum antibiotics often, for everything from sinus infections to urinary tract infections (UTIs), but antibiotics upset the natural balance in the digestive tract and cause all sorts of digestive issues, including diarrhea.
Taking probiotics after a course of antibiotics helps repopulate the GI tract with beneficial bacteria and aids in getting digestive function back to normal. Studies also show taking probiotics can help prevent nearly 85% of traveler’s diarrhea with fewer potential side effects than other methods – a lifesaver for women with wanderlust.
In addition to normalizing digestive function, probiotics can help strengthen the immune system. Due to genetic differences, women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but with more than 70% of your immune system located in the GI tract, bolstering this system with beneficial bacteria may help prevent future illness.
Who doesn’t want great skin? Taking probiotic supplements with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and acidophilus has been shown to improve acne by inhibiting inflammatory compounds; likewise, supplementing with L. paracasei has been linked to significantly reduced skin sensitivity in people with conditions like atopic dermatitis and eczema. And topical probiotics have been shown to protect against skin infections by destroying the harmful bacteria on skin.
Even cosmetic companies are betting on probiotics for women’s skin health.
The breast microbiome (the bacteria found in breast tissue) is linked to breast cancer. Research shows tumor-free women have higher levels of Lactococcus and Streptococcus bacteria, and other studies suggest that these, as well as Lactobacillus, may be able to break down cancer-causing compounds.
The good news? Taking probiotic pills with Lactobacillus has been shown to result in an increase of the good bacteria in breast flora.
Women’s flora “down there” can benefit from probiotics, too. Probiotics, including multiple strains of vaginal lactobacilli, show potential in treating women’s urogenital health issues like urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infections (a common side effect of antibiotic use) – all conditions that become more common when the microbial balance of the vagina becomes imbalanced.
Gut microbes influence weight, and between bad bacteria in our GI tract that cause cravings for fattening foods, early doses of antibiotics that are linked to later-life obesity, and the gut microbiome’s “memory” of previous obesity, weight maintenance is no easy task..
But science shows that probiotics promote weight loss and reduce BMI. One study found that taking a Lactobacillus probiotic may help reduce abdominal fat and subcutaneous fat; another study found women taking the probiotics Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium during pregnancy had the lowest levels of belly fat and the lowest overall body fat percentage.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing more than a third of all deaths each year. But studies find that taking multi-strain probiotics may help reduce blood pressure (a major contributor to cardiovascular disease) by meaningful amounts.
Women are twice as likely as men of the same age to suffer from depression, but probiotic supplements can help improve one of the most predictive vulnerability markers of depression called rumination. They’re so promising, in fact, that some doctors are starting to prescribe these “psychobiotics” to help treat depression and anxiety.
With so many key health benefits for women, it’s easy to embrace the beneficial bacteria that improve our wellness. Just remember – when it comes to probiotics, both quality and quantity count!
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