Gut health – and, in turn, probiotics for women – have grown to be quite the wellness obsession in recent years. And for good reason, mind you. “The term ‘gut health’ refers to the gut microbiome, which is the unique collection of a trillion or so microbes living in our gut,” explains Eve Kalinik, a nutritionist specialising in gut health and author of Happy Gut, Happy Mind. “It has a far-reaching influence over many systems in our body – including digestion and the absorption of nutrients from our food, as well as immunity and mood regulation.” In fact, it’s home to up to 80% of our immune system, and produces 95% of our happiness-boosting serotonin.
If you’re wondering where the best probiotics for women come into this, well, they’re here to help you swallow up all those nice benefits. For example, while research into the gut-brain connection is still in its early days, a recent study has found that these good bacteria-nurturing supplements could help ease mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It’s no wonder online searches for probiotics have spiked by 100% of late.
But while going with your gut feeling is handy in many walks of life – swiping right on dating apps, opting for a jazzy new hair shade – you need to take a bit more time when choosing which probiotic for women to add to your diet. Here’s everything you need to absorb in order to make an informed choice about taking probiotics – including, importantly, how to decode all that scientific spiel.
How do probiotics work?
These nifty little capsules sure pack a punch. “Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria which we can put inside our gut to help colonise the ‘good’ bacteria,” explains nutritionist Jenna Hope. “There is evidence which suggests probiotics may help to reduce skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, ease bowel conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS) and support mental wellbeing.”
Now, you don’t need probiotics to improve gut health. “Bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, which are some of the most commonly used strains in probiotics, provide similar benefits to probiotic-rich foods,” notes Jenna. These include fermented products like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, sourdough and kombucha.
Researchers have also found that a high-fibre diet – which includes plenty of fruit and veggies, as well as whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds – is likewise vital for a happy gut microbiome. But popping daily probiotics is that bit more convenient.
What are the signs you need probiotics?
An upset stomach, tiredness and weight changes can all point to an unhealthy gut – and numerous things can lead it to get there, including a lack of fibre in the diet, poor sleep, stress and medications like antibiotics. Eve points out that very few of us wouldn’t have at least one of these apply to us. “A good-quality probiotic supplement can help counterbalance these factors,” she explains. However, she insists they should not be treated as a miracle cure, and must always feature alongside a healthy, balanced diet.
If you’re unsure, it is worth getting personalised advice from a doctor. “Supplements should always be taken with caution because, in some instances, gut issues could be down to a more serious underlying condition,” warns Jenna. “In specific cases, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), probiotics may even worsen symptoms, while pregnant women and those on immunosuppressants should get the medical go-ahead.”
How do I choose the right probiotic?
Not all probiotics are created equal. “You want to look for one that has independent clinical trials to back up its claims, which most brands will proudly display these on their website,” says Eve. “Also, look out for whether it has at least a billion colony forming units (CFU), which refers to the number of alive and active microorganisms in one serving.”
It is also important, adds Eve, to follow the directions on the probiotic’s packaging of how and when to take them, as well as the best way to store them. Some should be taken with food, while others are better on an empty stomach, and you may need to keep them in the fridge. Finally, be patient. She reveals: “Many of them can take around three to six months to show an effect.” Now, let all that digest.