The microbiome of the human body contains many different types of bacteria. Some of these bacteria are helpful, and others are harmful. A healthy balance of good and bad bacteria is essential to keep your body working as it should. While people of all genders and ages will benefit from probiotics, there are a few reasons women might need them a little bit more than other people.
What Is a Probiotic?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can benefit the bacterial balance of the body. They're the good bacteria that should ideally outnumber the bad bacteria. Probiotics are safe for most people to use daily, and they sometimes take a few weeks to produce noticeable benefits. You need good bacteria to colonize inside your gut, creating something like a beneficial army that will grow to outnumber the harmful bacteria.
Although there is limited data about the role of probiotics in our digestive system, many studies show that people experience positive effects on their digestive health when they use probiotics. Probiotics are commonly used to treat recurring digestive issues, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, bloating, and digestive discomfort.
What Is the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?
Probiotics and prebiotics team up. Prebiotics are a natural fiber that naturally occurs in plant-based foods. When you eat them, you're feeding the beneficial live microorganisms in your gut. The probiotics break down the prebiotics to release short-chain fatty acids that give the prebiotics the energy they need to do their jobs. Many probiotic supplements also contain prebiotics to give their effects a little boost.
Eating plant-based foods high in healthy fiber can also help your probiotics work better. Chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, peas, asparagus, wheat, and oats are all hearty sources of prebiotic fiber. Incorporate more of them into your diet to encourage your beneficial gut bacteria to thrive.
Why Do Women Need Probiotics?
Compared to men, women are more likely to have digestive problems and suffer from acid reflux. They are also more likely to experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), urinary tract infections, and constipation. Women also experience higher levels of stress, which affects their gut bacteria and immune system. Taking probiotics on a regular basis can help women keep their gut bacteria balanced and improve their overall health.
In addition to being beneficial for digestive issues, the health benefits of probiotics also extend to the reproductive system. Studies have shown that probiotics can improve the microbiome of the vagina. Around 40% of women deal with a UTI each year, and some strains of probiotic bacteria may support bacterial balance within the urinary tract and support overall vaginal health. Probiotic supplements can also help soothe discomfort from yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and other vaginal infections.
Probiotics work by increasing the number of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria help to aid digestion and absorption of nutrients. They also push out undesirable bacteria, thereby restoring the body's balance. Taking probiotics can help support the digestive system and other important processes that help promote women’s health.
Are Probiotics Just as Valuable to Children?
Probiotics have the potential to be beneficial to everyone. Although adult women are more likely to encounter some of the issues probiotics can help their bodies resolve, many children also benefit from proactive measures to protect their gut health.
How Much Probiotic Does a Woman Need?
There is no single optimal amount of probiotics for a healthy gut. Depending on your purpose for taking the supplement, you may need more or less. The recommended dosage for general health is 10 to 50 billion CFUs. CFUs, or colony forming units, refer to the number of live probiotic bacteria that can form a colony.
It's okay to start with a lower dosage of probiotics and see how your body reacts. It will take up to three full weeks to notice an improvement in how your digestive system works. You can also use this time to monitor for mild side effects, like diarrhea or abdominal cramping.
What matters most is that you're consistent with your probiotic use. When you stop taking probiotics, your gut microbiome will return to the way it was before you started using them. Except for antibiotic-related diarrhea, any digestive discomfort or symptoms your probiotics eased are likely to return when your gut stops receiving live probiotic bacteria.
Are Probiotics Safe To Use?
Probiotics are generally safe when taken as directed. Some people might experience mild side effects, like diarrhea. If you experience side effects, stop taking probiotics. The side effects will usually discontinue on their own after your body flushes out the probiotic bacteria.
How Should You Use Probiotic Supplements?
You can use one probiotic supplement every day to support your gut flora. They should be eaten alongside foods that contain fiber. This will ensure that the body absorbs them in an effective way. In addition, they should be taken in a food or drink that contains fat because probiotics are fat soluble. They need fat to be properly absorbed by the body. It's always wise to choose healthy fats, like the fats that naturally occur in foods like nuts or avocados.
Many probiotic supplements include different strains of live bacteria. These probiotic strains can include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
What Foods Are High in Probiotics?
Probiotics can be found in a variety of fermented or cultured foods. These foods have been prepared in a way that allows good bacteria to grow and thrive. This often makes food taste sour or tangy, but in some cases, you can enjoy probiotic foods as a sweet treat.
Yogurt and Kefir
One of the most commonly consumed probiotic foods is dairy yogurt. Yogurt is inexpensive, versatile, and accessible. Most people like it, and it's easy to incorporate into a daily meal plan.
Plant-based yogurts aren't made from fermented dairy products, which you'll want to keep in mind if you plan to use yogurt as a probiotic food. Look for products with a "live and active cultures" label on the packaging to ensure the yogurt you're getting contains probiotics.
If you avoid dairy products because you're lactose intolerant, yogurt might still work for you. Fermented milk products like yogurt and kefir contain substantially less lactose than whole milk. The probiotic bacteria break down the lactose in the yogurt, giving it a head start for your digestive system. Your body won't have to contend with nearly as much lactose. If your lactose intolerance is mild, there's a good chance you won't experience any side effects when you eat yogurt or kefir.
Fun fact: many frozen yogurts also contain live and active cultures. If you usually enjoy a scoop of ice cream for dessert, swap it out for a lower-sugar variety of frozen yogurt. Ice cream and frozen yogurt have very similar flavors and textures, but only frozen yogurt will give you a probiotic boost.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Another great source of probiotics is sauerkraut. Make sure to buy sauerkraut with "live and active cultures" because pasteurization kills active bacteria. Most stores sell probiotic sauerkraut in the refrigerated section next to the produce. It usually comes in resealable recyclable plastic jars or bags.
You can also try kimchi, a Korean dish similar to sauerkraut. Kimchi is made of fermented vegetables, with cabbage being the focal point. It's rich in vitamins and slightly spicy. It adds a lot of flavor to a dish. You can add kimchi to easy dishes like instant ramen to bump up the flavor profile and nutritional content. You'll find it next to the refrigerated sauerkraut at the grocery store.
Fermented or Pickled Vegetables
Probiotics are also found in fermented vegetables. Foods like pickled cucumbers and pickled beets are slightly fermented. If you're not keen on the idea of foods like sauerkraut or kimchi, pickles can act as a stand-in. Just be mindful of the sodium content. One of the main purposes of probiotics is to reduce bloating, and high-sodium foods cause the body to hold onto water. Stick to low-sodium varieties of pickled vegetables.
Kombucha is a popular probiotic wellness drink. It’s a fermented tea that contains live beneficial bacteria. Some people say that kombucha is an acquired taste. Try one and see if you like it before stocking your fridge.
Supporting Your Family’s Gut Health
Probiotics are important for women, but they’re also important for men and children. Everyone in your family has a digestive system, and it’s important to keep that system healthy. If you’re making positive changes to your diet and taking a proactive approach to your gut health, extend the same kindness to your family.
Hiya’s children’s daily probiotic supplement contains 10 billion CFU of live beneficial bacteria and prebiotic fiber to give those bacteria a boost. Hiya is made with children in mind, but there’s no reason why every member of your household couldn’t use it. Keep everyone’s gut healthy with Hiya.