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Probiotics for Women: What are the benefits?

Dr. Selena Colarossi, RPh, PharmD, BASc

Written by: Dr. Selena Colarossi, RPh, PharmD, BASc

Updated: June 3rd, 2024

It’s no secret that probiotics are a popular and easy choice for anyone hoping to improve their overall health and wellness. Choosing amongst the various types of probiotics on the shelves however, can prove more difficult. Aside from the different brands, stains, and formulations, you’ll also find probiotics specifically for women. Whether you spot them in the stomach section, the row with the yeast infection medication, or even the skincare aisle, you may be skeptical – and for good reason!

Because some products target women with pink branding and no added benefit vs. their gender-neutral counterparts, we tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to women-only or feminine-directed products. While there are in fact many cases when the pink box is merely a marketing ploy, we assure you that probiotics is not one of them. Women’s probiotics offer several potential benefits purposely tailored to support women’s health. We’ll guide you through these benefits, and empower you to make the most informed decision for your specific health needs.

What are Probiotics for Women?

First, let’s start with the basics. What exactly are probiotics? Probiotics are living microorganisms that, when consumed, play a crucial role in keeping our bodies healthy. They help support our gut, a specialized part of our body where various types of bacteria coexist1. Normally, there is a delicate balance between good and harmful bacteria, but this balance can be disrupted by factors like medications or illnesses. When that happens, it can lead to issues ranging from digestive discomfort to chronic diseases1.

That’s where probiotics come in – they help to restore the harmony in our gut. By replenishing the good bacteria, probiotics help to reestablish the balance and promote good health. This can aid in preventing and treating certain illnesses associated with imbalanced gut bacteria. By incorporating probiotics into our diet, we can support our overall well-being and maintain a healthier gut and lifestyle. 

The Vaginal Microbiome

While we hear a lot about the gut microbiome and its impact on our health, the vaginal microbiome is not discussed as often. Like the gut, the vagina is host to many types of bacteria that play critical roles in its overall health and function. Among these, Lactobacillus has the largest role, and contributes many strains to the vaginal microbiome2.

The various types of bacteria in the vaginal microbiome exist in a perfect balance, and can even regulate themselves if they become slightly imbalanced. However, if the imbalance goes too far, it can lead to gynecological diseases2. Probiotics help to prevent and restore this imbalance by promoting a favourable flora, especially when they contain one or more Lactobacillus strains.

Some gynecological conditions that can be impacted by the use of probiotics for women include:

Probiotics and Cervical Cancer

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases worldwide3. HPV impacts the balance in the vaginal microbiome, which leads to the growth of precancerous lesions and the occurrence of cervical cancer2.

Probiotics, specifically those with strains of Lactobacilli, may have an impact on cervical cancer. Lactobacillushelps to create a healthy environment in the vagina, preventing harmful bacteria from overgrowing and causing problems. It can also fight against cervical cancer cells by releasing substances that stop their growth2. Probiotics can boost our immune system, helping our body fight against cancer. Recent studies have shown that certain types of probiotics can activate special immune cells that can recognize and destroy cancer cells2. Some research suggests that having more Lactobacillus in the vagina is associated with a lower risk of cervical cancer2

Probiotics and Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina4. The good bacteria (Lactobacillus) decreases, while harmful bacteria like Gardnerella and Prevotella overgrow2. BV is usually treated with antibiotics, but it often comes back and has unpleasant side effects, including a foul smell. Probiotics help restore the balance of bacteria in the vagina by increasing the number of good bacteria. Studies have shown that probiotics can reduce the recurrence of BV and improve the cure rate2.

Probiotics and Yeast Infections

Like BV, yeast infections are caused by a decreased number of good bacteria and an overgrowth of fungus, mainly Candida5. This means they are also a result of an imbalance in the vaginal microbiome, and result in a white discharge that leads to itching and burning. As we know, probiotics aid in restoring a microbiome to its natural balance. Unsurprisingly then, studies show that probiotics, particularly those with the strains L. acidophilus and L. rhamnosus, can help prevent vaginal fungal infections5.

Probiotics and UTIs

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are the most common infections affecting women6. They are most often caused by a type of bacteria called E. coli, and result in painful, frequent and sometimes bloody urination7. UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics, but much like BV, they often recur. Women who suffer from recurring UTIs may benefit from the use of Lactobacillus-containing probiotics that help to restore the vaginal flora to a healthy balance, and prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria like E. coli7. Studies show that consistently taking feminine probiotics actually lessens the number of UTI recurrences for some women7.

Other Benefits of Probiotics for Women

Aside from improving the health of the vaginal microbiome, vaginal lining, and urinary tract, probiotics can help support women’s health in other ways. Probiotics can:

For example, Culturelle® Women’s Healthy Balance, formulated by women for women, has the only clinically proven blend of four Lactobacilli most commonly found in a balanced feminine microbiome plus the proven effective Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. Taken daily, it helps proactively support existing feminine, digestive and immune health.

Probiotics are an important part of a daily dietary routine that can help improve a women’s overall health and wellbeing. If you need help selecting the right probiotic, consult the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in Canada for a list of probiotics that have been proven to prevent, treat, or reduce the symptoms of various medical conditions. 

As always, we recommend you consult your Primary Care Provider or a Pharmacist if you are experiencing symptoms relating to any of the infections that we mentioned, or any other illness. They can help ensure you are getting the right treatment, in addition to the right probiotic – which may just be the one with the pink on the box!

Download the Probiotics for Women Infographic:

References:

  1. Vyas, U. & Ranganathan, N. (2012). Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics: Gut and Beyond. Gastroenterology Research and Practice.
  2. Mei, Z., & Li, D. (2022). The role of probiotics in vaginal health. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, 12, 963868. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcimb.2022.963868
  3. Li, M., Wang, B., Zhang, M., Rantalainen, M., Wang, S., Zhou, H., Zhang, Y., Shen, J., Pang, X., Zhang, M., Wei, H., Chen, Y., Lu, H., Zuo, J., Su, M., Qiu, Y., Jia, W., Xiao, C., Smith, L. M., Yang, S., … Jia, W. (2008). Symbiotic gut microbes modulate human metabolic phenotypes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(6), 2117–2122. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0712038105
  4. Lee, Y. M., Yoon, S., & Kim, S. H. (2021). Probiotics in the Management of Gynecologic and Obstetric Infections: A Comprehensive Review. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, 11, 631972. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcimb.2021.631972
  5. Superti, F., & De Seta, F. (2020). Warding Off Recurrent Yeast and Bacterial Vaginal Infections: Lactoferrin and Lactobacilli. Microorganisms, 8(1), 130. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms8010130
  6. Grin, P. M., Kowalewska, P. M., Alhazzan, W., & Fox-Robichaud, A. E. (2013). Lactobacillus for preventing recurrent urinary tract infections in women: Meta-analysis. Canadian Journal of Urology, 20(1), 6607-6614. PMID: 23433130.
  7. Reid, G., & Bruce, A. W. (2003). Urogenital infections in women: Can probiotics help? Postgraduate Medical Journal, 79(934), 428. https://doi.org/10.1136/pmj.79.934.428

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