A woman’s digestive tract is more than the sum of its parts. There are so many factors that contribute to it being able to transform a salad into energy that there is simply no way to describe them all in this piece. Suffice to say that one of the most important components of the digestive tract is gut flora. That is, the billions of infinitesimally tiny microbes that ensure the environment of the digestive tract is healthy and well-balanced so that it can go about its job in an efficient and effective manner.
Today, these gut flora are known collectively as “probiotics”. Probiotics can help a woman fend off osteoporosis, balance her hormone levels, prevent reflux, enhance cardiovascular health, prevent vaginal infections and, well, you get the picture. They’re important.
Here are the best probiotics for women on the market today.
1. NatureWise Probiotics for Women
NatureWise Probiotics for Women feature a wealth of probiotics that directly address a woman’s needs. It’s rich in lactobacillus acidophilus which helps balance pH levels and promote vaginal health. In addition, it features cranberry and a special type of simple sugar called D mannose which has shown promise as a treatment for UTIs (1).
These probiotic supplement capsules are also time released so they distribute their 6 billion live CFUs over the course of 10 hours. This negates the need for having 10 or 20 billion or even more CFUs in a single capsule. There are only a handful of probiotic supplements on the market that provide time release capsules. These are the best of them in our estimation.
2. Renew Life Ultimate Flora Probiotic
Renew Life provides a rich tapestry of probiotic strains in their Ultimate Flora Probiotic. Each addresses a different aspect of the gut microbiome (2). In addition, they provide what they call their ‘lactobacillus formula’ that improves vaginal health by promoting pH balance.
Renew Life Probiotics are known for their purity and potency and are some of the most popular probiotics on the market today. And speaking of potency, they provide 25 billion CFUs per tablet with lactobacillus constituting some 80% of the total. The rest is a potent stew of 9 different research supported bacterial strains that are sure to restore order to your digestive tract. And just as a bit of icing on the cake they’re also gluten, soy and dairy free.
3. Garden of Life Raw Probiotics for Women
Garden of Life have a long history of producing high-quality dietary supplements of every type. So it’s no surprise that they would wade into the probiotic market and equally unsurprising that their Raw Probiotics for Women would be so potent and effective. In fact, with 85 billion Colony Forming Units (CFUs) per capsule it’s among the most potent you’ll find anywhere.
It’s also one of the few probiotic supplements that include vitamins and minerals in their formulation. We’re not terribly impressed by the vitamins and minerals, because if the probiotic is doing its job you probably won’t need them. But the 33 different probiotic strains have every aspect of gut health covered. And the sheer size of the dose means no corner of your digestive tract is left untouched.
4. Culturelle Digestive Health Probiotics
Culturelle Women’s provide 15 billion CFUs per capsule and are specifically formulated to promote the development of a healthy gut microbiome in women. This women’s supplement features numerous probiotic bacterial strains that address everything from pH balance to hormone regulation to enhanced cardiovascular health.
There are no superfluous vitamins or minerals, no animal byproducts used to produce the bacterial strains and no dairy. Culturelle features 5 scientifically researched bacterial strains. It is particularly rich in beneficial lactobacillus acidophilus that helps maintain vaginal health. If you’re looking for a simple, effective women’s probiotic supplement you’d be hard pressed to find better.
5. Nature’s Way Fortify Women’s Probiotic
Nature’s Way Fortify Women’s Probiotics feature an intense dose of 50 billion CFUs per capsule. There are 11 different bacterial strains at work in this supplement. But by far the most numerous are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
Lactobacillus, of course, is essential for maintaining proper pH levels while the lesser known bifidobacterium is known to play a vital role in the development and maintenance of the immune system (3). The importance of immune system health cannot be overstated. And Nature’s Way Fortify Women’s Probiotic is one of the few that puts such welcome emphasis on promoting immune system health.
6. Probonix Probiotics for Women
Probonix provides a dozen different probiotic bacterial strains designed to re-establish a healthy gut microbiome and fend off conditions like IBS, yeast infections, UTIs, osteoporosis and more. It provides more than a half dozen lactobacilli strains for vaginal and urinary tract health. And those live cultures are treated with a unique coating process that enables them to handle the acidic environment of the gut.
This is the only probiotic liquid on our list. As such there are no worries about animal byproducts being used in capsule generation. Also, this probiotic formula doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Finally, there are no GMOs, dairy, soy or gluten. And because it’s placed on or under the tongue it gets to work fast.
7. Hyperbiotics Pro-Women
Hyperbiotics Pro-Woman tablets are time-released to spread their benefits evenly over 8 – 10 hours. As a result, the probiotic dose here is a seemingly modest 5 billion CFUs. When compared to the 20, 50 or even 85 billion CFUs of some other brands it may appear that you’re being shortchanged. You’re not.
That’s because the time release factor really does make an enormous difference. Enabling you to enjoy the same benefits at the lower dose level. Why more producers don’t go the time-release route is an open question. But we always appreciate when we encounter it.
8. Vitamin Bounty Probiotic & Prebiotic for Women
Vitamin Bounty Probiotic & Prebiotic for Women is one of two dual action supplements on our list. It features half a dozen probiotic strains totalling 10 billion CFUs, as well as prebiotics such as ashwagandha root and cranberry intended to lay the groundwork for the probiotics to do their job.
This supplement focuses on promoting and maintaining women’s digestive and immune system health as well as vaginal and thyroid health. It’s produced in the US in a Good Manufacturing Practices facility and is free of soy, gluten and GMOs.
9. Garden of Life Doctor-Formulated Probiotics
Garden of Life makes a second appearance on our best probiotics for women list with their outstanding Doctor Formulated Probiotics. This is a potent supplement featuring 50 billion CFUs of mostly lactobacillus and bifidobacterium that promote microbiome balance and immune system health. Garden of Life Doctor-Formulated Probiotics are free of soy, dairy and gluten and do not use animal byproducts in the production of their capsules.
They’re also free of the largely unnecessary vitamins and minerals in the other GoL probiotic on our list. What you get instead are capsules focused on the job at hand with plenty of L Reuteri and L Fermentum to bolster vaginal health as well.
10. vH essentials Probiotics with Prebiotics
The final entry on our list of best probiotics is this outstanding value from vH essentials. It features both probiotics and complementary prebiotics. Just to be clear, prebiotics do not always need to be included in order for probiotics to do their job. It depends entirely on the state of a woman’s digestive tract. Some will be lacking both. And that is who vH essentials Prebiotics and Probiotics is made for.
The CFU dose here is a very modest 1 billion units. Which is also an indication that this is not a supplement for those women with severe imbalances in their digestive tract. It’s more a common sense supplement for the essentially healthy woman who wants to make sure she stays that way.
What Are Probiotics?
There’s good bacteria and bad bacteria. Probiotics are good bacteria that live in your digestive tract where they help create a balanced environment. This well-balanced environment enables your body to process the food you eat in a more effective and efficient manner. As a result more beneficial nutrients are available and this bolsters your overall health in myriad ways which we’ll get into shortly. That well-balanced gut environment is also key to helping fend off disease (4). A common mistake people make is confusing probiotics with prebiotics (5). While the two types of bacteria do complement each other prebiotics can be thought of as a “primer coat” that lays the groundwork for the probiotics.
What Benefits do Probiotics Provide Women?
As we mentioned above probiotics provide numerous benefits regardless of how you obtain them. Those benefits include:
- Better digestive efficiency – The amount of nutrients the average woman passes unprocessed from her body is pretty substantial. If all of these nutrients were made available to her instead it is likely she would not have to eat as much. She would also be far less likely of ever developing serious vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies. Gut bacteria play a key role in regulating both nutrient absorption and bowel movements. Probiotic supplements are the best way to improve both these metabolic functions. And the good news is they are affordable and readily available.
- Enhanced immune system function – The immune system is what protects us from the hazards of the microbial and chemical realms. Without it we simply wouldn’t survive. The stronger the immune system the more problems your body will be able to fight off without having to seek medical assistance. Among other things (6) beneficial bacteria complement immune system function by preventing poisons and microbes from leaving the intestines and invading the rest of the body.
- The anti-antibiotics – The most common reason women lose the beneficial bacteria in their gut is the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics have saved countless millions of people since their introduction but they should never be utilized unless absolutely necessary. Worldwide overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the emergence of antibiotic resistance microbes that pose a major threat to global health (7). And, getting back to the original point, antibiotic overuse is also responsible for killing off beneficial intestinal bacteria. Probiotic supplements can help restore those lost bacterial strains.
- Improved cardiovascular health – Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death worldwide (8). A large percentage of heart attacks and other heart-related ailments can be traced to the presence of excessive levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. Probiotics have demonstrated an ability to help lower cholesterol levels (9). In so doing they help to clear out arteries and reduce strain on the heart muscle. That in turn means a healthier heart pumping larger quantities of blood as well as better nutrient and oxygen distribution.
- Stronger bones – Women more so than men tend to suffer from bone loss as they age. This is particularly true of women over 50. 80% of all cases of osteoporosis in the US occur in women and this is not a new trend. The greater nutrient absorption that results from probiotic supplementation can help build stronger bones that are less susceptible to breaking.
- Hormone regulation – There is a well-known connection between the health of the gut microbiome and hormone regulation in women (10). This relationship has far reaching implications that run the gamut from fighting tumor development to bolstering breast health and alleviating the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause and perimenopause. These facts point to the importance of probiotic supplementation for all women.
- Maintaining proper pH balance – Of the myriad factors that determine gut health one that is often overlooked is pH balance. But out of balance pH levels are a major causative factor in the development of digestive problems and can also lead to vaginal infections. Probiotic supplements help balance pH levels in the gut thereby helping to fend off yeast infections, acid reflux (as we’ll see in a moment) and more. The best probiotic for this purpose is L Acidophilus.
- Preventing acid reflux – Acid reflux (11) is a particularly nasty affliction whereby stomach acid enters the esophagus causing heartburn, pain and in many cases, a feeling that the person is suffocating. There are many prescription treatments for acid reflux but in some cases it can be prevented, or at least, mitigated to some extent by probiotic supplementation. But when it comes to alleviating digestive disorders probiotics don’t stop there. They’re also used to help treat or prevent diarrhea, IBS, ulcers and more.
I Eat Yogurt, Why Do I Need Probiotics?
A lot of women who get L acidophilus (12) from yogurt are under the impression that they don’t need probiotic supplements. While eating yogurt is always a good idea for women not all brands of yogurt contain this important probiotic. And among the ones that do not all contain the most effective strain of L acidophilus. In addition, different brands of yogurt that contain L acidophilus contain different amounts. As such, even women who are eating a brand of yogurt with the most effective strain of L acidophilus may not be getting enough. The bottom line is that supplementing with probiotics is a common sense way to ensure you’re getting the good bacteria your body needs.
What to Look for in a Probiotic for Women
- CFUs – CFU stands for “Colony Forming Units”. This is the system used to measure the amount of probiotics in a particular supplement. The FDA does not provide any specific guidelines when it comes to how many CFUs is enough or too many. But a general rule of thumb in this case is that more is better. To a point. Once you get past some 20 billion CFUs it’s possible you’re talking about too many (13). Most supplements contain less than 10 billion CFUs. If you really want to take more than that you should probably discuss it with your doctor to be sure your efforts to prevent a bacterial balance don’t actually worsen your current imbalance.
- Is it formulated for women? – Women have very specific needs regarding pH levels in their digestive tract. If these levels become unbalanced a woman can become susceptible to urinary tract infections and vaginal infections. Probiotics for men typically won’t have the same formulation as those for women. When it comes to probiotics for women look for lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus rhamnosus (14) and/or lactobacillus reuteri (15).
- Other ingredients – Unlike many other supplements probiotics are not typically partnered with various vitamins and minerals. If they do their job they will help your body get all the nutrients it needs from the food you’re eating. If you have special dietary needs, however, you will want to be careful. For instance, if you are vegan make sure any capsule is not fashioned from animal byproducts. Or, if you are lactose intolerant, check to see if any probiotics in the supplement are derived from dairy products.
- Expiration date – As unsettling as it may be for some people to consider, probiotics are living things. But they’re not going to live forever in the sealed confines of the capsule or bottle. This means you need to be careful to check the expiration date on your probiotics. Most probiotic supplements (not all) will expire approximately a year after the date of production. So how long they last after you purchase them will depend entirely on how long they sat on the shelf before you bought them. In addition, some probiotics require refrigeration. Failing to honor this requirement will result in the supplement being rendered useless in a matter of weeks.
- Acid resistance – If your probiotic supplement doesn’t seem to be paying any dividends it might be a type that is susceptible to various digestive acids. Digestive acids are extremely powerful and not all bacteria are able to survive exposure to them. Typically bacteria derived from intestinal sources are better able to withstand the onslaught of digestive acids (16). In addition, various dairy products are sometimes used as a buffer to protect probiotics from acidic degradation. These two facts should be red flags for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. Those women should take extra precautions to determine whether the probiotic they wish to take is actually safe for them. That said, if you are not vegan or lactose intolerant but your probiotic seems ineffective it may be you need to look for a more acid-resistant brand.
Do Probiotics Always Need to be Refrigerated?
As we touched on above some probiotics will need to be refrigerated while others will not. It’s important that you know which type of probiotic supplement you’re dealing with. Because if you leave a supplement out that should be refrigerated it will be practically useless in about 10 days and completely useless in about 3 weeks. As a general rule then, if you are unsure which type of probiotic you’re dealing with put it in the refrigerator just to be safe. It can’t hurt the supplement and it may save it from being ruined.
The Bottom Line
It’s crucial for women to glean proper nutrition from the food they eat in order to stave off the myriad potential health issues we discussed above. Probiotic supplements are a great way for them to do that. Just remember that not all probiotics are created equal.
Not all provide the probiotic cultures necessary to promote bone health and not all provide the lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus rhamnosus or lactobacillus reuteri that are important for maintaining proper pH balance and preventing UTIs and vaginal infections. Therefore, it’s important to choose your probiotic supplement carefully to find the one that will best fit your needs.