Which Probiotics Actually Boost Gut Health? An MD Explains

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As someone deeply steeped in the wellness space, understanding the best probiotics for women is one of the few things that still remains a mystery. Lymphatic drainage? Got it. Balancing my blood sugar? You bet. I’ve even cracked the code on the perfect proportions of protein in my diet. But when it comes to understanding the best probiotics for women, I still find myself with a good many questions.

Through influencer testimonials and splashy ads, you’ve likely heard the ever-ambiguous touting of “gut health” thrown around. But… what does that mean? And does it go beyond the occasional (or not-so) bloating episode that all the “hot” girls claim to experience online?

With these questions in mind, it’s time for an expert to set the record straight. Because even if we’re taking our probiotics every day—and can feel their supposed benefits—I’m sure we’re all craving some clarity as to how they impact our bodies. And of course, whether or not we’re taking the best probiotics we can be.

Featured image from our interview with Janessa Leoné by Teal Thomsen.

Woman journaling about best probiotics for women.

The Best Probiotics for Women: An Expert’s Insight

As it turns out, the benefits of probiotics for women go way beyond the gut. For answers and insights, I spoke with Dr. Barry Peskin, obstetrician-gynecologist and Medical Advisor for Happy V. With everything from increasing fertility to improving skin, probiotics are worth the hype. Below, we get into the nitty-gritty of all things probiotics for women. From who should take them to side effects to understanding the difference among prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics (you know you’re curious)—consider this your one-stop shop to all things probiotics.

Plus, keep scrolling for the best probiotics for women our editors swear by. We’re sharing the pros and cons of our favorite brands—and we’re not shying away from sharing our true experiences. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know, you can trust: it’s right here.

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Dr. Barry Peskin

Dr. Barry Peskin is an obstetrician-gynecologist in Coral Springs, Florida and is affiliated with Cleveland Clinic Hospital. He completed his obstetrics and gynecology residency at Hillbrow Hospital in Johannesburg, and an obstetrics and gynecology residency, including one year as Chief Resident, at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Cleveland. He received his medical degree from University of the Witwatersrand and has been in practice for more than 20 years.

Woman portioning supplements

How Probiotics Benefit Women’s Health

Probiotics are supplements that contain some of the types of good bacteria that live and thrive in your bowel. They’re important for women for several reasons. They can help to:

Improve gut health. Probiotics can help keep the gut microbiome healthy, which can improve digestion, reduce bloating and gas, and boost the immune system.

Improve vaginal health. Probiotics can help to prevent yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and other vaginal infections.

Increase fertility. Probiotics may help to increase fertility by improving the health of the uterus and fallopian tubes.

Reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases. Probiotics may help reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Women are two to six times more likely to experience irritable bowel syndrome than men, with inflammatory bowel disease being diagnosed at a rate of 2:1 in women compared with men.

Improve skin health. Probiotics may help to improve skin health by reducing inflammation and acne.

Increase energy levels. Probiotics may help to increase energy levels by improving digestion and nutrient absorption.

Reduce stress levels. Probiotics may help to reduce stress levels by reducing cortisol levels.

Women talking and laughing

How to Know if You Should Be Taking Probiotics

Not everyone needs to be taking a probiotic. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can be found in some foods and supplements. While they can help improve gut health and vaginal health, probiotics are not necessary for everyone.

There are a few groups of people who may benefit from taking probiotics, including:

  • People who are taking antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut. Probiotics can help restore the balance of bacteria in the gut after taking antibiotics.
  • People with digestive problems. Probiotics can help to improve digestion and reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other digestive problems.
  • People with vaginal infections. Probiotics can help to prevent and treat yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
  • People with immune system disorders. Probiotics may help to boost the immune system and fight off infection.
Pregnant woman opening refrigerator.

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics vs. Postbiotics

Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics are all important for gut health. They work together to create a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.

  • Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that feed probiotics. They are found in many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Probiotics are live bacteria that are good for your health. They are found in some foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, and they can also be taken as supplements.
  • Postbiotics are the byproducts of probiotics. They are produced when probiotics break down food and other substances in the gut. Postbiotics can have a number of health benefits, including improving digestion, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation.
Colorful smoothies

The Best Probiotic Strains for Women

There are several different strains of probiotics that are beneficial for women. Some of the most common strains include:

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 and Lactobacillus reuteri HR7. These two strains are specifically designed to support vaginal health. They can help to prevent and treat yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and other vaginal infections.
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus LA-14. This strain is a general-purpose probiotic that can help improve gut health. It can help improve digestion, reduce bloating and gas, and boost the immune system.
  • Bifidobacterium lactis HN019. This strain is also a general-purpose probiotic that can help improve gut health. It can help to improve digestion, reduce bloating and gas, and boost the immune system.

Colony-Forming Units (CFUs)

Colony-forming units are used to estimate the number of viable cells of bacteria or fungi in a sample. This is done by plating the sample on a growth medium and counting the number of colonies that form. A colony is a group of cells that have grown together and formed a visible mass. The number of CFUs in a sample can be used to determine the concentration of bacteria or fungi in the sample.

Potential Side Effects of Taking Probiotics

Probiotics are generally considered safe for most people. However, there are some potential side effects, including:

  • Gas, bloating, and diarrhea. These are the most common side effects of probiotics and usually go away on their own within a few days.
  • Allergic reactions. In rare cases, probiotics can cause allergic reactions, such as hives, itching, and swelling of the tongue or throat.
  • Severe infections. In people with weakened immune systems, probiotics can potentially cause severe infections.
Camille Styles drinking tea.

The Best Probiotics for Women—Tested By Our Editors

Just Thrive Probiotic

Recommended by Edie, Wellness Editor

I don’t take a probiotic, but if I did, I would take Just Thrive! It’s what I recommend to my clients who need digestive support. It’s spore-based, meaning that it actually makes its way to your digestive tract— where it’s needed. As nourishing as probiotics can be, their journey to the intestines can be rough (especially as they pass through the stomach). Way too many probiotics die off before they get to the gut. *Note: I don’t take a probiotic because I eat a lot of fermented foods.

  • Type: Capsule
  • Colony Forming Units: 3 billion cells
  • Dosage: 1 capsule per day
  • Certified: Gluten-free, dairy-free, GMO-free

Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic

Recommended by Suruchi, Food Editor

I’ve been taking Seed for about three years now, and while many other supplements and greens-type powders have come and gone in my life, this is the one thing that has remained a constant. It took a while for me to notice any difference when I started taking it in terms of digestion, but after a few weeks, I started noticing an improvement in digestion and regularity. Three years later, the benefits have continued and Seed is a part of my everyday morning routine.

Pros: As Edie mentioned, a lot of probiotics don’t even make it to the gut, but Seed is designed to get where it needs to go. Their 2-in-1 nested capsule safeguards viability through digestion for delivery of an average of 100% of the probiotic starting dose to your colon.

Cons: At $50 a month, it is an added expense, but I find it has been worth it for my health. However, they’ve launched a six-month supply program instead of monthly shipments. It’s not only better for sustainability but also saves you about $90 a year!

  • Type: Capsule
  • Colony Forming Units: 53.6 Billion AFU
  • Dosage: 2 capsules daily
  • Certified: Vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, shellfish-free, sesame-free, glyphosate/AMPA-free, corn-free, no binders, no preservatives

Ora Trust Your Gut High Potency Probiotic & Prebiotic

Recommended by Casey, Editorial Intern

For almost two years, I was on antibiotics almost every month for what we thought to be recurrent tonsilitis. (Surprise! It was an auto-inflammatory disorder.) These antibiotics took a toll on my gut health, and I decided to seek out a diet filled with fermented foods and plenty of fruits and veggies. My GP recommended Trust Your Gut, and I’ve been taking it for around a year and a half now. Since I integrated it into my daily routine, I experience very few moments with an upset stomach and my bloating has decreased tenfold.

Pros: This probiotic doesn’t need to be refrigerated and contains 11 clinically-studied and acid-resistant strains.

Cons: It’s a bit on the pricey side (as many probiotics are), which is really the only downside I’ve experienced with this product. 

  • Type: Capsules
  • Colony Forming Units: 52 Billion CFU
  • Dosage: 1 capsule at night and 1 capsule in the morning 
  • Certified: Gluten-free, dairy-free, GMO-free, soy-free, and vegan

Happy V Prebiotic + Probiotic

Recommended by Isabelle, Managing Editor

TMI, but here we go: after three months of getting my period for five days a week, every week, I was finally able to schedule an appointment with my gynecologist. And… turns out your girl had her first yeast infection. (Hooray!) Because the prescribed medication would have interacted with other prescriptions I’m taking, I was at a loss for what to do. But then Happy V entered the chat—and my period has thankfully returned to normal.

While this prebiotic and probiotic is specifically intended to improve vaginal health, it also supports gut and immune health. Because I wasn’t expecting anything different, I wasn’t surprised when I found that I didn’t notice the positive effects of taking these supplements until about a month later. (According to reviewers of other products, there are different probiotics that produce results faster.) However, several months in, I’m happy to report that my period has returned to normal and I haven’t experienced any sniffles/illness since the holidays.

Pros: Doctor-formulated, 100% natural, subscription option, recyclable packaging, more affordable than other options

Cons: Results took about a month to notice

  • Type: Capsules
  • Colony Forming Units: 20 Billion
  • Dosage: 2 capsules daily
  • Certified: Vegan, non-GMO

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