Probiotics are “good bacteria” that live in your stomach and digestive tract. Healthy levels of the right probiotic bacteria are linked to everything from good digestion to staying at a healthy weight.
Probiotics are one of the hottest topics in medical and nutritional research right now, in large part because the probiotic makeup of your “gut flora”–the bacteria that live in your digestive tract–seems intrinsically linked to your health.
Obese people have different gut bacteria than lean people, healthy people have different gut bacteria than sick people, and men have different gut bacteria than women.
This last point is worth considering: given that women face a number of health issues that men do not, it only makes sense that a woman would want to take a probiotic supplement that was specifically formulated for her biology if her goal is to stay healthy.
Some probiotic supplements are bound to work better for women than others. Our research team has evaluated and ranked the best probiotic supplements for women according to the latest research on optimal probiotic supplement formulation.
1. Garden of Life RAW Probiotics for Women
Garden of Life’s M.O. is providing supplements that derive their ingredients from natural ingredients, and their RAW Probiotics supplement for women is an excellent example of the strengths of this approach.
It includes an eye-popping 82 billion CFUs, and 32 different strains of probiotic bacteria. These come from fermented natural products such as kefir and yogurt; as a result, the bacterial biodiversity is large, and the supplement provides a tremendous amount of additional vitamins and minerals, making it our top choice.
2. Nature’s Way Fortify Women’s Probiotic
Nature’s Way provides a high dose of a broad spectrum of probiotic bacteria. The 50 billion CFUs are divided more or less evenly among lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains, with 30 billion and 20 billion CFUs each.
If you are really in to the science of probiotics, Nature’s Way even specifies the exact strain of each bacteria that it uses (e.g. lactobacillus acidophilus La-14), so you can cross-reference it with research to see what studies have supported these particular strains.
Thanks to the variety of probiotics and the high dosage, it’s a top pick.
3. Garden of Life Probiotic Once Daily Women’s
Garden of Life uses several different strains of both lactobacillus and bifidobacterium bacteria totalling 50 billion colony forming units (CFUs).
The lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strain varieties are two of the most-studied categories of probiotics. These are the strains that have been found to be effective at reducing gastrointestinal symptoms and improving health in scientific studies, and the wide variety of strains boosts the chance that you’ll have a healthy and diverse set of probiotic bacteria in your gut.
This supplement also includes some “pre-biotics” in the form of fibers and nutrients that the bacteria can consume to multiply.
4. RenewLife Women’s Care Ultimate Flora
With 10 probiotic bacteria strains and 25 billion CFUs, RenewLife has a solid women’s probiotic. The bacteria content is heavy on the lactobacillus varieties, which make up 22.5 of the 25 billion CFUs.
The balance is made up of bifidobacterium strains. Since the lactobacillus strains are the most-studied, this makes sense, and this probiotic is a strong choice if you want to stick with the best-researched types of bacteria.
Other supplements might be a better choice if you want to push the boundaries with a broader variety of beneficial bacteria.
5. NatureWise Women’s Care Time Release Probiotics
NatureWise offers a women’s probiotic that branches out a bit from the traditional bacterial strains. It includes less common strains like Streptococcus thermophilus, which has been researched for its anti-inflammatory properties and its use in diseases like ulcerative colitis.
NatureWise claims that the prebiotic ingredients and additional supplements (including cranberry extract) amplify the effect of the bacterial colonies, but there are only six billion CFUs actually included in each serving.
This is a good choice if you want to diversity your gut bacteria or try something different, but it may not be as useful if you need to repopulate your gut flora, for example if you’ve just gotten off antibiotics for an ear infection.
6. Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance
Culturelle provides a concentrated supply of just five probiotic bacterial, all of them variants of lactobacillus. The supplement delivers 15 billion total CFUs, so you know that the dosage of each probiotic is quite high.
If you’ve done your research and just want to deliver a large amount of lactobacillus bacteria, Culturelle is a good choice.
7. Vitamin Bounty Women’s Pro Daily
At 10 billion CFUs and five different probiotic strains, Vitamin Bounty is fairly middle of the road with their women’s probiotic. None of the bacterial strains are particularly innovative, though the presence of fructooligosaccharides (essentially bacteria probiotic food) as a prebiotic ingredient is good to see.
There are a few herbal ingredients, like ashwagandha root powder and cranberry extract, that may amplify the benefits of the probiotics, but it would be better if there were more colony forming units to begin with.
8. Hyperbiotics PRO-Women
Hyperbiotics PRO-Women is a probiotic supplement that provides a disappointingly low amount of bacteria, both in terms of variety and in terms of colony forming units. At only six strains of bacteria and 5 billion CFUs, the actual amount of each bacterial strain is fairly low.
On top of this, the bacteria included are all fairly common mainstay probiotics, meaning you can probably get a greater benefit from another probiotic supplement.
Without any innovative extra ingredients, it’s hard to recommend this supplement very highly.
9. Probiotic Pearls Women’s
Probiotic Pearls are well-selling, but compared to other probiotic supplements for women, the formulation seems weak.
The supplement only includes 1 billion CFUs of bacteria, and only includes three strains of probiotic bacteria, all of them varieties of lactobacillus.
While these specific strains have been studies for their health benefits, you might be better off with a larger dosage of probiotics from a different supplement.
10. vH Essentials Probiotics
vH Essentials Probiotics has a low dose of total bacterial content (only one billion CFUs), though this is distributed among only three probiotic bacteria strains.
While these strains are the most-studied bacteria for intestinal health, it would be more preferable if they were delivered at a higher dose, or if a greater variety of probiotics were present.
vH Essentials does include cranberry powder to amplify the efficacy of the bacteria, but when other supplements deliver up to fifty times as many bacteria, it’s hard for vH Essentials to compete.
Benefits and side effects of probiotics for women
A healthy population of gut bacteria is beneficial when it comes to digestive health, immune function, maintaining a healthy weight, and more.
Women can benefit in particular from the ability of probiotics to improve vaginal health and reduce the risk of yeast infections. The gut flora–the bacteria that live in your digestive tract–are increasingly becoming the focus of medical and nutritional research.
You actually carry more bacterial cells in your body than you do human cells, and because of this, many researchers feel that what’s known now about the benefits of probiotic bacteria is likely only the tip of the iceberg.
Probiotics can help improve digestive problems. The initial research on gut bacteria focused on digestive problems.
This makes sense, given that probiotic bacteria live in your digestive tract. According to a 2003 scientific article by researchers in France, probiotics improve digestive health by increasing the resilience of the intestinal wall to destructive agents, improving digestive mobility, and reduce disease-related changes to intestinal structure (1).
This means that probiotics can be helpful for conditions ranging from diarrhea to constipation to irritable bowel disease and ulcerative colitis. As just one example, a 2009 study showed that a probiotic preparation was able to induce remission in almost half of patients with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis (2).
Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are the probiotics with the strongest evidence supporting their use for digestive problems. These two families of bacteria contain many different strains, but a host of research supports their use.
A 2015 review article published in the journal Biomed Research International concluded that strong evidence supports the use of both lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains for a range of conditions related to inflammatory bowel disease.
As such, a tremendous amount of research has focused on specific strains of these two probiotic bacteria. Most of the science you’ll find–and most of the science cited here–looks at probiotic bacteria strains from these two families. This is not to say that other strains are not effective, though; the evidence likely just isn’t in yet.
Probiotics can help women treat or prevent yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Both of these infections are the result of harmful bacteria or fungi colonizing the urinary or genital tract, and what allows them to take hold and reproduce is often a lack of healthy bacteria that would otherwise crowd out the harmful pathogens that cause yeast and urinary tract infections.
According to a scientific article by two doctors at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, probiotic treatments are increasingly becoming an accepted method of treatment in women with genital or urinary tract infections (3).
So far, the probiotic strains that have been researched the most for this use are of the lactobacillus variety, which partly explains why many women’s probiotics focus especially heavily on these bacteria.
Probiotics can improve your immune function and even treat allergies. The research in this area is still in its infancy, but a slew of promising studies suggest that probiotic supplements boost the function of your immune system by increasing its ability to destroy harmful bacteria in your body.
Additional research suggests that probiotics may even be able to alleviate allergies by helping to focus your immune system on harmful compounds and not on allergens (4).
Probiotics are exceptionally safe, with virtually all gastroenterologists endorsing them as safe and effective treatments for digestive problems (5).
A scientific review published in 2006 by researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia specifically examined the risks associated with probiotic use, but identified only a few scenarios in which probiotics carry risks (6).
Specifically, the authors recommended care when probiotics were used in premature infants and people with compromised immune systems, such as recipients of organ transplants.
Outside of these individuals, the authors write, probiotics have an excellent safety profile.
As you might expect for a new frontier in medicine and nutrition, dosages in clinical trials of probiotics are all over the board.
There’s somewhat of a disconnect between the scientific studies that examine the medical benefit of probiotics and the supplements that are available on the market–most studies investigate one individual bacterial strain, while most probiotic supplements for women incorporate many different strains. Still, some rough guidelines can be drawn.
Almost all clinical studies use a daily dosage of at least 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs), and many use 50 to 100 CFUs per day.
The intervention periods are often long; most studies are 6 months or 12 months in duration. This indicates that it may take some time to see the full benefits of probiotics manifest themselves.
As such, aim for a high dosage of probiotics, and take them on a regular basis for at least a few months before making a decision on whether they are helpful.
Probiotic supplementation is a rapidly expanding field of medical and nutritional study. Probiotic supplements appear to help improve digestion, digestive tract health, and treat or prevent yeast and urinary tract infections in women.
A probiotic supplement may also boost the functioning of your immune system and could even alleviate allergies. With an excellent safety profile and no expected side effects in healthy adults, probiotics are one of the best supplement choices you can make for improving your overall health with little risk.
Look for a probiotic supplement that provides a large dosage of colony forming units: at least 10 billion CFUs is a good starting place.
If you are trying to treat a specific health problem with probiotics, make sure the bacterial strains in the supplement you buy match the strains used in medical research (so, for example, lactobacillus strains for treating and preventing urinary tract infections).