Probiotics are a type of microorganism that plays a crucial role in the health of the digestive tract. Probiotics for women also help maintain a healthy vaginal microbiome while reducing yeast infections and UTIs.
There are many probiotic supplements on the market today that claim to provide women with the specific probiotics they need to address their unique health concerns. We examined dozens of them and determined that the following represent the best probiotics for women of 2020.
1. 1MD Complete Probiotics
1MD Complete Probiotics provides an impressive 51 billion colony forming units (CFUs) in each capsule. The capsules are designed to resist the stomach’s inhospitable environment so that the various probiotic strains can make it to your digestive tract and work their microbial magic.
What we like: The 51 billion CFUs are drawn from 11 different strains of probiotics and address everything from nutrient absorption to vaginal health. This 1MD supplement is also free of gluten, soy, dairy, GMOs, and preservatives.
Flaws: They don’t work overnight, so patience is required.
2. Nature’s Way Fortify Women’s Probiotic
Nature’s Way Fortify is a probiotic supplement designed to meet the unique requirements of women. With nearly a dozen probiotic strains that bolster digestive efficiency and promote vaginal health, it’s the only probiotic supplement most women will ever need.
What we like: Nature’s Way provides 50 billion CFUs that cover the entire spectrum of probiotics essential to a woman’s health. The company does not hide anything behind a proprietary blend label, so you see precisely how much of what you are taking.
Flaws: Not the cheapest probiotic on the market. And if you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to take it with food.
3. Garden of Life Raw Probiotics for Women
If you are looking for a supplement that will provide a bushel full of CFUs, look no further than this one from Garden of Life. Each capsule delivers an astonishing 85 billion CFUs drawn from 32 different strains.
What we like: With 85 billion colony forming units per capsule and 32 probiotic strains, Garden of Life has you covered for any eventuality. Bolster your immune system and prevent recurrent UTIs with Raw Probiotics for Women from Garden of Life.
Flaws: Some customers claim it makes them feel a bit bloated.
4. Culturelle Daily Probiotic
If your probiotic needs are more modest, you should consider Culturelle Daily Probiotic. This is a good choice for women who are not bothered by any specific issue and want to ensure they stay that way.
What we like: With 10 billion CFUs per capsule, Culturelle will help repair any damage done by a course of antibiotics, help fend off yeast infections, and set things right if you should suffer a bout of travel-related diarrhea.
Flaws: If you are dealing with a serious nutritional shortfall, you may want something with a more significant load of CFUs.
5. Mama’s Select Probiotics for Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women
Mama’s Select Probiotics help pregnant and breastfeeding women strengthen their immune system and get their newborn’s digestive system off on the right foot. Each capsule contains 10 billion CFUs distributed among 9 different probiotic strains.
What we like: Mama’s Select can help pregnant women and new mothers deal with morning sickness, diarrhea, cramping, heartburn, constipation, and more. Most of these can be traced at least in part to imbalances in their digestive flora.
Flaws: You may have to take more than 1 capsule to enjoy the above benefits.
6. Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Complete
Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Complete takes a two-pronged approach to women’s digestive health. There are 25 billion CFUs drawn from a dozen probiotic species, and a base of chicory-derived inulin prebiotics to give those CFUs something to snack on.
What we like: Sometimes supplemental probiotics are hindered in their efforts by a lack of fuel. Klaire Labs addresses that possibility by providing a prebiotic base. Klaire Labs probiotics are also 3rd party tested and free of all common food allergens and GMOs.
Flaws: Many customers complain they do not come refrigerated. But the company states they do not need to be. Apparently, they do not state that clearly enough.
7. Jarrow Formulas Fem-Dophilus
Fem-Dophilus from Jarrow Formulas is specifically designed to address the vaginal microbiome. It contains two probiotic strains known to bolster urogenital health, prevent UTIs and treat yeast infections.
What we like: Fem-Dophilus contains lactobacillus rhamnosus and lactobacillus reuteri, both proven to promote a healthy vaginal environment and fend off problems associated with the urinary tract. Each capsule is coated to protect it from the harsh environment of the stomach.
Flaws: If you are suffering specific digestive issues, this may not be the best probiotic for you.
8. Renew Life Adult Probiotic
Renew Life Adult Probiotic contains 30 billion CFUs from 12 different probiotic strains that address everything from constipation to immune health while bolstering vaginal health and helping to prevent urinary tract infections.
What we like: Renew Life Adult Probiotic is formulated to address the needs of older individuals who often experience a progressive decline in digestive health. By restoring the vitality of the gut biome, it produces a cascade of effects that benefit the vaginal biome as well.
Flaws: Perhaps better at alleviating constipation than preventing or treating diarrhea.
9. Metagenics UltraFlora® Women’s
Like Jarrow Formulas Fem-Dophilus, Metagenics UltraFlora Women’s contains lactobacillus rhamnosus and lactobacillus reuteri that are both proven to bolster the health of the vaginal microbiome.
What we like: Metagenics UltraFlora provides the lactobacillus rhamnosus and lactobacillus reuteri needed to re-establish microbial balance in the vaginal microbiome and prevent recurring UTIs. If used during pregnancy they may also reduce the odds of premature birth.
Flaws: For more targeted help with digestive issues you may want to try a different probiotic supplement.
10. FloraFemme pH Balanced Vaginal Probiotic Suppositories
The last of our best probiotics for women are these pH Balanced Vaginal Probiotic Suppositories from FloraFemme. Each suppository contains 72 billion CFUs from 11 different strains formulated to address both vaginal and digestive issues.
What we like: The suppository method of delivery bypasses the sometimes lengthy digestive process. Another big advantage of this type of supplement is that you only need to use it once or twice per week rather than every day.
Flaws: When using it to address an existing infection, it may take some time to produce results.
Why do Women Need Probiotics?
There is no overestimating the value of a healthy digestive tract. The digestive tract is, after all, where the food you eat becomes the nutrients your body uses to fuel itself and perform all its metabolic functions. Any loss of efficiency in digestion and nutrient absorption will have far-reaching consequences for the entire body.
As we age, our digestive systems gradually succumb to constant use. The digestive system of a 50 year old woman bears little resemblance to that of her 20 year old self. Probiotic supplements can go a long way toward restoring a more efficient and effective microbiome in the gut and, by extension, a more efficient and effective vaginal microbiome as well.
Time is not the only culprit when it comes to a compromised digestive tract. Poor diet is another major contributor, as are antibiotics. Antibiotics are, in many ways, a kind of miracle drug. But they also have the unfortunate tendency to destroy healthy gut bacteria, in addition to the invasive bacteria they’re intended to kill. Taking probiotics during or after antibiotic therapy can help restore a proper balance of beneficial microbes in the gut.
How We Ranked
There are numerous strains of probiotics. Some are of limited value, but others play a key role in maintaining a healthy gut biome and a healthy vaginal biome. That healthy vaginal biome is something men don’t need to worry about.
So, when selecting candidates for our list, we concentrated on those probiotics that provide both the typical digestive benefits, and those known to provide protection against UTIs and yeast infections. In making these selections, we leaned heavily on the scientific data as expressed in various health studies.
Once we had a list of candidate probiotic supplements, we looked at other considerations, including the number of CFUs (colony forming units), whether the supplement burdened the user with unnecessary ingredients, whether the supplement was produced in an FDA-certified GMP facility, and the overall reputation of the manufacturer.
Probiotics for women promote a healthy gut. The primary benefit of taking probiotics, and the one that produces most of the other benefits, is that they promote and nurture a healthy gut environment. Probiotics ensure digestive enzymes have a safe environment to work in, they show unwanted bacteria, parasites and other pathogens the door, and they restore order to your waste disposal system, alleviating diarrhea and constipation.
Probiotics for women should be taken alongside antibiotics. Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since they became widely available after World War II. Since they were introduced, life expectancy in the US has increased from 47 years to nearly 79 years (1). If antibiotics have a downside, it’s that they can also destroy beneficial bacteria in your gut. Taking probiotics can help maintain a healthy gut environment during and after taking antibiotics.
Probiotics for women are good for your skin. Your skin is reliant on proper nutrition if it is to stay healthy. If your digestive tract is not working at full capacity, vital nutrients are not getting to the skin. As a result, it can become dry and sallow and susceptible to numerous skin problems such as eczema and acne. Probiotics ensure a healthy, vibrant microbiome on your gut, which helps ensure healthy, vibrant skin (2).
Probiotics for women support the vaginal biome. Women are 8 times more likely to suffer urinary tract infections than men (3). They are also susceptible to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and a host of other problems and issues. The microbiome of the vagina is a crucial line of defense against infection. But it is dependent on a healthy gut microbiome since that is where vital nutrients are absorbed, and the immune system is fed.
Probiotics for women can make up for nutritional deficiencies. Women often take vitamin and mineral supplements to make up for nutritional shortfalls. But in some cases, probiotics may be the better choice. Nutritional deficits often occur because the digestive system is not working at optimal efficiency. Probiotics can help restore optimal digestive efficiency and negate the need to take vitamin and mineral supplements.
Probiotics for women are good for your heart. Probiotics have demonstrated an ability to reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and perhaps even reduce blood pressure (4). Both of those are good news for your heart. In some cases, probiotics increase the level of good cholesterol, which balances out the bad cholesterol. But regardless of which road they take, the end result is a healthier heart.
Probiotics for women can restore hormonal balance. The beneficial flora in the gut has many jobs. One is to recycle estrogen, phytoestrogens (5), and thyroid hormones that they extract from food. This has the effect of, at least in part, restoring normal hormonal balance and reducing symptoms of menopause, perimenopause, and even premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This restored hormonal balance has the added effects of safeguarding breast and bone health.
Probiotics for women may help you manage your weight more effectively. Studies indicate that probiotics have a role to play in weight management. One such study found that the probiotic ‘lactobacillus gasseri’ was able to block fat absorption in a group of women on a weight loss diet (6). This enabled them to lose weight quicker than others in the study group who did not take probiotics.
Probiotics for women can recharge your digestive tract. The digestive tract is like any other compound system in that it begins to lose integrity over time. When a woman is in her teens and 20s her digestive system is typically at the peak of its efficiency. By the time they reach their 30s, 40s, and 50s, however, it has begun to suffer from decades of continuous operation. Probiotics can help rejuvenate a tired digestive tract and re-establish optimal effectiveness.
Probiotics for women may prevent UTIs. More than half of all women will experience a UTI during their lifetime. For many, UTIs will become a very unwelcome, recurring phenomenon. One of the reasons for this is an imbalance of digestive flora. The available scientific evidence suggests that probiotics may not be an effective treatment for active UTIs, but they may play a role in preventing UTIs from occurring (7).
Probiotics for women can treat diarrhea. While there is little evidence probiotics can be used to treat existing UTIs, there is ample evidence that demonstrates probiotics are an effective method of treating diarrhea. Especially diarrhea caused by antibiotic use (8). But the anti-diarrheal benefits of probiotics are not limited to antibiotic-induced diarrhea. Numerous studies (9) have demonstrated that probiotics can significantly shorten bouts of infectious diarrhea too.
Probiotics for women may enhance fertility. At least one animal studies suggest that the administration of probiotics to restore proper floral balance in the vaginal microbiome has the added effect of increasing fertility (10). While the study was conducted on mice, the results nonetheless suggest women attempting to conceive may experience a similar benefit. More study is needed, though, before we can know for sure.
Probiotics for women can bolster your immune system. A compromised digestive tract has a direct impact on immune system functionality. A large study conducted by the VA concluded that well-nourished patients have a much smaller chance of developing and succumbing to sepsis (11) than those not properly nourished (12). This clearly indicates that proper nourishment is vital to a robust immune system. Because probiotics enhance nutrient absorption, they act to fortify your immune system.
Probiotics for women keep you regular when traveling. Long-distance traveling puts a lot of stress on body and mind. That stress manifests in a variety of ways, including diarrhea and constipation. Bringing a probiotic with you when you travel is a good way to ensure your gut doesn’t become a victim of your adventures, and you don’t spend your entire trip in the bathroom.
Probiotics for women may bolster mental health. Every part of a person’s physiology affects every other part, either directly or indirectly. A recent series of studies have embraced this notion and examined the previously unexplored relationship between the gut and the brain. What researchers are finding is that probiotic supplementation seems to reduce the degree and frequency of negative thoughts in depressed individuals (13). That is particularly important for women, who are much more likely to experience depression than men (14).
Probiotics for women may prevent newborns from developing eczema. A child’s first exposure to probiotics comes from his or her mother. Initially in the womb, but afterward through ingestion of mother’s milk. Studies suggest that women who take probiotics during pregnancy and while breastfeeding reduce the chances of their newborn developing eczema (15).
Probiotics for women can help alleviate digestive disorders. There are, unfortunately, an array of digestive disorders that can befall the average woman. These include Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis, and more. For years, doctors have hypothesized that these conditions may result, at least in part, from an imbalance of digestive flora. Recent studies are now confirming this idea and suggesting that probiotic supplements may be an effective treatment (16).
Q: Why are probiotics important for women?
A: Probiotics are living organisms that are best known for their role in the digestive process. They thrive in the GI tract where they maintain a balanced microbiome, enable the work of digestive enzymes, and prevent the spread of pathogens. An unbalanced gut microbiome can lead to nutritional deficiencies. But more than that, it can create an unbalanced vaginal microbiome, which can lead to UTIs, yeast infections and more.
Q: How long does it take women to see benefits from probiotics?
A: How long it takes will depend in large part on what benefit you are hoping to enjoy. If a woman is chronically irregular or is often beset with diarrhea, she may start to see improvement in her situation in a matter of days. If, however, the hoped-for benefit is a stronger immune system, more robust vaginal health, or increased cardiovascular health, it may take months, and the effects will be subtle. Real, but subtle.
Q: Are probiotics and prebiotics the same thing?
A: No, probiotics and prebiotics are not the same thing. Probiotics are live bacteria that perform the important work of maintaining a healthy gut environment. Prebiotics (17) are a type of food probiotics thrive on. By consuming prebiotics, you are ensuring that the probiotics in your gut are well-nourished. By consuming probiotics, you are ensuring your gut is working at optimal efficiency. It is often a good idea to take both.
Q: What is the right way to store probiotics for women?
A: Probiotics are living things. As such, they need to be handled properly or they will die and become useless. Heat is the primary enemy of most probiotics. And not just the heat in your kitchen. They can also be compromised if they get too hot while being shipped. Also, because they are living organisms, they will eventually die, even if you keep the bottle in a cool place. So watch the expiration date and always purchase from a trusted online retailer.
Q: Can pregnant or nursing women take probiotics?
A: Scientific evidence strongly suggests that probiotic supplementation by the mother during pregnancy can lead to beneficial outcomes for the newborn (18). Children born to mothers who took probiotics during pregnancy show a general trend toward fewer allergies and more robust immune systems. That said, you should always consult your doctor before taking any supplement while pregnant.
Q: Should older women take probiotics?
A: Like everything else, the digestive system tends to wear with age. Because of this, it is generally a good idea for women over 50 to take probiotics. Not only will they benefit from a higher level of nutrition, but they may also become less prone to urinary tract infections. Also, while the frequency of yeast infections tends to decrease in postmenopausal women, the possibility is still there. Probiotics may help reduce that possibility (19).
Q: Will all women benefit from the same probiotics?
A: The fact that probiotic A works for your best friend does not mean it will provide you the same benefits they enjoy. Perhaps you have taken more antibiotics in recent years than them. Or they are heavier than you, or eat a fundamentally different diet. If you are to obtain the maximum benefit from your probiotic supplement, it is important you choose the right one for you. Which leads to our next question…
Q: Which probiotic strains are most beneficial for women?
A: Lactobacillus acidophilus provides overall support for the GI tract. If you have low pH concentrations in your intestines, lactobacillus plantarum might be a better choice for you. Lactobacillus rhamnosus can help relieve intestinal discomfort. While bifidobacterium lactis bolsters the immune system, and bifidobacterium brevis can be helpful in preventing UTIs and yeast infections.
Q: Can a woman overdose on probiotics?
A: Not in the sense that most women think of when they hear the word ‘overdose’. Too large a dose of probiotics will not make a woman pass out or deliver her to death’s door the way an overdose of opioids will. Instead, it might cause mild stomach upset or diarrhea. But for the most part, her body will simply ignore any surplus probiotics in the digestive tract, and she will eliminate them when she goes to the bathroom.
Q: Can probiotics help a woman lose weight?
A: The argument in support of probiotics for weight loss hinges on the fact that probiotics enable the body to glean greater nutritional value from food. As a result, the average women should not need to eat so much and, consequently, may lose weight. But even if probiotics make the digestive tract much more efficient at processing food, you will still need to do the hard work of changing what and how much you eat. If you don’t, weight loss is unlikely.
Q: Why are some probiotics for women coated?
A: Different strains of probiotics display different levels of resistance to stomach acid (20). Some are not able to survive the onslaught of stomach acid and will be rendered useless by the time they get to your intestinal tract. Supplements that contain these sensitive probiotics are often coated to ensure they pass through the stomach unharmed.
Q: Are there any women who should not take probiotics?
A: Probiotics are generally considered safe and effective for the vast majority of women. However, if you are currently taking blood thinners, are being treated for any type of gastrointestinal condition, or have recently undergone stomach or intestinal surgery, you should consult your doctor before taking probiotics.
Q: Do probiotics for women need to be refrigerated?
A: Probiotics are pretty tough customers (they have to be to survive in the digestive tract), but they are not invincible. Storing them in direct sunlight or in a consistently hot room can render them useless. It is recommended that you refrigerate them if possible. And if not, that you store them in a cool, dark place. Freeze-dried probiotics are an exception to the heat rule. But freeze-drying itself reduces potency to some degree (21).
Q: Do women who eat yogurt need to take probiotic supplements?
A: Yogurt contains some live cultures that provide some minimal benefits. But comparing yogurt to probiotics is like comparing ibuprofen to morphine. They exist on different levels of effectiveness. Probiotic supplements harness the power of specific strains of beneficial bacteria. They are also provided in much larger quantities then it would be possible to obtain from just eating yogurt.
Q: Do probiotics for women produce side effects?
A: On occasion probiotics may produce gas, or a mild upset stomach. These symptoms can usually be dealt with by simply scaling back the amount of probiotics you take. Or by switching to a different type of probiotic. Remember, different probiotics address different aspects of the digestive system and process. So, any side effects may be the result of not using the right probiotic for the job.
Q: Will antibiotics and probiotics interact poorly with one another?
A: No, antibiotics and probiotics will not interact poorly with one another. In fact, if you are taking or have just finished a course of antibiotics, you should consider taking probiotics to restore a healthy gut microbiome. Diarrhea is often caused when antibiotics disrupt the gut microbiome. Probiotics can prevent this from happening (22). Once the course of antibiotics is finished, probiotics can restore any damage they may have caused to digestive flora.
Q: Does a woman need to take probiotics for the rest of her life?
A: That will be up to the individual woman. But if a woman stops taking them, any benefits she enjoyed will disappear in a few weeks when her gut returns to its pre-supplement state. And it will return to its pre-supplement state. Because probiotics are not structural. They are transient, like gasoline in a car. They do not make permanent changes to a woman’s gut. They are introduced and used, and then you need to ‘refill the tank’, as it were.
Q: Can probiotics control diarrhea?
A: There are any number of causes for diarrhea (23), including the presence of foreign bacteria and digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few. Probiotics can restore the delicate balance of intestinal floral and, in doing so, reduce the chances of developing diarrhea. In some cases, probiotics simply crowd out invasive pathogens, which are then passed out of the body during elimination.
Q: Are probiotics and digestive enzymes the same thing?
A: Probiotics and digestive enzymes are not the same thing. Probiotics are live organisms whose primary job is to create and maintain a healthy environment for digestion to take place. Digestive enzymes are a type of protein that breaks food down and extracts nutrients. While not digestive enzymes per se, some probiotics do secrete them. And this is probably why the two are often mistaken for one another.
Probiotics for women provide a wealth of short and long-term benefits that transcend their seemingly humble nature. They enhance the efficiency of the digestive tract, increase nutrient absorption, strengthen the immune system, and potentially fend off numerous diseases.
Probiotics are good for your heart, good for your mind, good for keeping your hormones in balance and can prevent the scourge of recurrent urinary tract infections, among other things. Not all probiotic supplements are worth the investment, however.
The best probiotics are made by reputable manufacturers in FDA-certified facilities and will provide their benefits without burdening you with unwanted side effects. Use the above guide to determine which probiotics for women are right for you.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended probiotics for women, click here.