If there are a couple of defining factors in the difference between a woman's probiotic needs and a man's, it's how the microbiota impacts urogenital health.*
The gut microbiome impacts the overall well-being of both men and women. It acts as a neuro-signaler, an immune-response regulator on a local level and systemic level, and it helps with digestion and nutrient absorption. However, women also have a bacterial microbiome in the vagina and uterus, which makes their probiotic needs slightly different than that of men.
Balance for Vaginal and Urogenital Health
Women tend to be more prone to urogenital imbalances, a challenge that seems even more prevalent today.
This could be due to contemporary lifestyle stressors, dietary changes, and other factors. Millions of women suffer from urogenital challenges that often become a recurring cycle, usually due to bacterial overgrowth or other imbalances.
A healthy vagina has a wide range of microbes, up to 50 species. The most common ones – just like in the GI tract – are varying strains of Lactobacilli. And just like in the gut, they play a critical role in vaginal health.*
In general, a healthy vaginal microbiota plays a protective role against pathogenic microorganisms. The natural vaginal microbiota helps to limit the adhesion of invading microbes and keeps conditions for normal bacteria and fungi in check by preventing overgrowth.
Microbes such as Candida albicans and G. vaginalis exist naturally in the vagina. In the case of G. vaginalis, it exists in 14 to 69 percent of women without causing any issues whatsoever. However, they should not be in a dominant state. When an overgrowth of these bacteria or fungus occurs, women start to experience vaginal discomfort and other issues. Remember, it's all about balance. A healthy, balanced vaginal microbiota should be fairly Lactobacilli-dominant so that other microbes don't have the space or ability to colonize in full.
pH Balanced for Her
The vaginal microbiota also helps with pH balance. In an optimal situation, the vagina should be relatively acidic. Optimal pH levels tend to be around 3.8 and 4.5. The acidity itself helps to keep excessive amounts of fungal microbes and bacteria at bay because it's not a hospitable environment for overgrowth.
One of the main byproducts of Lactobacilli is lactic acid. So, when the Lactobacilli population gets depleted, for whatever reason, pH levels can neutralize quite a bit, creating an environment that's more hospitable for yeast, G. vaginalis, and Escherichia coli. For this reason, L. acidophilus is one of the most highly-researched Lactobacillus strains when it comes to vaginal health. After all, it's right in the name lactic acid. L. acidophilus can appear in epithelial cells, producing peroxide, which helps reduce biofilm formation in the vagina.
When looking for a high-quality probiotic for vaginal health that also supports a balanced GI microbiome, there are a few strains that you should look for. A combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains is ideal for striking a balance between the beneficial bacterias in the vagina and other microbes as well as support gastrointestinal health.*
Look for probiotic combinations containing these strains for optimal urogenital balance:
The most researched strains found beneficial for vaginal and urogenital health are L. acidophilus, L. reuteri, and L. rhamnosus.* But L. plantarum is a prime strain for uterine health as well.*
Probiotics are not a treatment for vaginal complications and a healthcare practitioner should be consulted if any occur. However, probiotics can help to keep things balanced upstream in the female body before challenges occur.* As with other areas related to nutrition and diet, it's best to start with whole foods, and in this case, those that are rich in probiotics. But when needed, supplementation can help maintain a healthy balance of the microbiota.*