Urinary tract infections are one of the primary reasons women turn to probiotics, but our report today will explore other applications, including boosting immunity, helping emotions, preventing high blood pressure, and reducing recurrent vaginal infections. Like our recent article on men and probiotics, this article focuses on specific ways that probiotic supplementation can benefit women. If you think probiotics are only included in yogurt for their taste, you will want to read the rest of the story here.
While probiotics are commonly thought of to help gastrointestinal issues, they are beneficial for a number of other things as well. In fact, Dr. Julia Chen wrote in the Huffington Post (October 3, 2012) about a patient who came to her for gastrointestinal issues. After supplementing with probiotics, the woman discovered that not only had her original issues been improved, she also suffered from far fewer colds than normal – a tribute to the effectiveness of probiotics to raise immune levels.
Those Crazy Emotions
Guess what, research says that taking probiotics can help improve your mood! No, seriously. Although the connection had previously been demonstrated in rats, the UCLA’s School of Medicine conducted research on women by giving probiotics and conducting MRIs. The results showed that the areas of the brain associated with pain and emotion showed less activity, while decision-making regions demonstrated greater activity. According to researchers, this effect indicates probiotics can improve women’s moods.
Bacterial Vaginosis and other Vaginal Infections
One of the most common infections of the vagina in women, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is said to effect women of any age. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the cause of this condition is unknown, and can occur in any woman, even those who have never been sexually active. An interesting point for the study of probiotics is the fact that the CDC also states that BV is, by definition, an imbalance of the bacterial flora in the vagina, when the “bad” bacteria outnumbers the “good” bacteria. According to Dr. Donald Brown on the Naturopathic Doctor News & Review website, the vagina is normally inhabited by a number of good bacteria, including L. crispatus, L. iners, L. jensenii and L. gasseri. Dr. Brown further explained that there are three primary functions of these (and other) Lactobacillus species in the vagina:
- Hindering pathogenic bacteria from binding to the vaginal tissue
- Producing lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, two substances which may inhibit the growth of “bad” bacteria
- Modulate the immunity of epithelial tissue
These findings suggest that probiotic supplementation may prevent the development, not just of bacterial vaginosis, but other infections of the vagina as well. In fact, a study reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (Vol. 203, Issue 2) revealed that vaginal probiotic use decreased the frequency of BV. Research published in MedGenMed (2004; 6(1): 49) elaborated on the importance of vaginal flora, and suggested the insertion of probiotic capsules in the vagina to help restore healthy bacterial flora, followed by regular oral supplementation.
Women’s Worst Enemy: Urinary Tract Infections
Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) are something that many women deal with. This recurrence often starts a vicious cycle of repeated antibiotic use. Unfortunately, more antibiotics mean fewer beneficial bacteria in both the digestive system, and the vagina. The disruption of vaginal flora can cause the UTI cycle to become worse. However, new research by the University of Washington gave promising results for the use of probiotics. In the study, women were given probiotic-filled suppositories which were inserted into the vagina. Those who received the probiotic showed a lower recurrence than those receiving the placebo. And although places like Harvard Medical School still say there is not enough research to prove that probiotics can effectively prevent UTIs, the growing body of research combine with a good dose of common sense seems to indicate that it makes sense for women to supplement with probiotics. If women with UTIs and vaginal infections consistently show disrupted levels of good bacteria, does it not make sense to introduce that good bacteria back into their systems? In fact, the Nutrition in Clinical Care, a publication by Tuft University stated, “Given that depleted vaginal lactobacilli and recurrent infection is associated with increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and preterm labor, multiple antibiotic resistance, and significant reduction in quality of life, the need for probiotic therapeutics has never been greater (2002, Jan-Feb; 5(1):3-8).”
Yeast Infections (Candida)
Another of women’s chief curses, Candida is often triggered by taking antibiotics. This recurring theme of so many women’s diseases continues to point to the idea that replacing good bacteria in the body through probiotic supplementation is essential. In fact, a study done on children and published in Critical Care Medicine (2013, Feb; 41(2): 565-72), revealed a direct correlation of probiotic supplementation and reduced occurrences of Candida overgrowth after antibiotic treatment. The Journal of Biomedical Science (2012, 19:84) affirms the role of probiotics to combat Candida albicans, showing that probiotics reduce the inflammation in the vagina caused by the yeast infection.
Hypertension in Women over 50
As women’s body’s age, their hormonal balance shifts. This phenomenon can produce a number of unpleasant side effects. One often overlooked side effect of the hormonal change in older women is hypertension. Hormone replacement therapy is often prescribed to help counter the blood pressure raising effects of the loss of estrogen after menopause. A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Science (2009, September) revealed that probiotics have a powerful influence on post-menopausal hypertension, by making the phytoestrogens found in plants such as soy, usable to the body as a natural hormone replacement therapy. So, women around the age of menopause could include both probiotics and plant-based phytoestrogens in their daily routine in order gain the benefits of hypertension prevention.