Kari Raman is a licensed pharmacist
Many of the patients who come into the pharmacy to ask about probiotics are women. You may be thinking as a woman, what can probiotics do for me? There are the universal benefits as mentioned in my previous articles like, improving digestion and restoring normal flora, improving bowel problems (such as diarrhea and irritable bowel), lactose intolerance and possibly eczema, plus many more.
However, there are a few benefits that probiotics help with that are specific to women. Some of the benefits that probiotics targeted towards women help with are, vaginal bacterial, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections.
Be patient with probiotics
One other item to realize is that it can take a while for probiotics to actually start to work, assuming that you’ve got a strain that is going to work for your body and condition. Read more on my article about “how long probiotics take to work.”
How can probiotics help UTIs
How can probiotics improve vaginal infections and UTIs? Research suggests that they can help with vaginal infections and UTIs by improving vaginal normal flora which ultimately increases the number of beneficial bacteria, decreases the number of harmful bacteria, and maintains a healthy pH in the vagina. Lactobacillus in particular assists with supporting a healthy pH in the vagina because it produces lactic acid which consequently creates hydrogen peroxide. This provides better balance and stability of the vaginal normal flora.
Which probiotics have been shown to help prevent UTIs?
I’m really happy with the research on Lactobacillus bacteria helping prevent UTIs. In this meta-analysis published in a medical journal dedicated to urology, the researchers looked at a number of studies that showed how various Lactobacillus strains showed significant promise in preventing UTIs. Another study in then medical journal Drugs (as a pharmacist, I do love that journal, lol) found two of the same strains of probiotics were helpful, “Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14 (previously called L. fermentum RC-14) seemed to be the most effective among the studied lactobacilli for the prevention of UTIs.” (Note that the “L.” stands for Lactobacillus you can read about how bacteria species are named in my probiotic species article.) Another strain mentioned in both articles is Lactobacillus crispatus CTV-05.
Although probiotics supplements have been found to help improve the normal flora of the vagina, you should talk with your doctor if you have a bacterial vaginal infection, UTI, or complicated yeast infection. In many cases you may need an antibiotic or other antimicrobial to treat these issues, so it is recommended to refer to your physician if you think you have one of these issues. Also keep in mind, as I mentioned before, if you have an altered immune system from taking certain types of medications, have cancer, HIV/AIDS, or transplants make sure to talk to your doctor before taking a supplement. That is a rule for all women! (and men.)
What can probiotics do for women taking antibiotics or antimicrobials?
That being said, taking antibiotics or other antimicrobials can further disrupt your the normal flora in your gut (which can lead to bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc.) and probiotics can be beneficial to maintain a healthy balance. Probiotics can help your body maintain its normal flora and possibly improve your body’s ability to fight off infections by improving the immune response when taking antimicrobials and antibiotics. If you do decide to take a probiotic when on another treatment for an infection, it is best to wait one to two hours after taking the treatment medication. Waiting 1 to 2 hours before taking a probiotic will increase the chances of the beneficial bacteria from the probiotic to reach the stomach alive and not be ‘killed’ by the antibiotic or antimicrobial.
Should I take a probiotic for vaginal health?
There are many benefits of probiotics for women’s health, specifically supporting the health of the vagina. For healthy women, they can be a good choice in assisting with maintaining the normal flora in the vagina by increasing good bacteria, decreasing bad bacteria, and keeping the vaginal pH in the appropriate range.
I would recommend using a probiotic to maintain a healthy vagina for many, otherwise healthy women. However, if you have an altered immune system from taking certain types of medications, have cancer, HIV/AIDS, or an organ transplant make sure to talk to your doctor before taking a probiotic. Therefore, if taken correctly probiotics can be beneficial for women in promoting vaginal health.