The use of probiotics for women, especially women’s reproductive health is a fascinating topic.
Did you know that a woman’s entire reproductive system is alive with microorganisms? It was once thought that this ecosystem was limited to the vagina, leaving the upper areas sterile. But a recent study found bacteria inside the fallopian tubes and ovaries of 25 women, suggesting that there’s no sterile surface in the reproductive region after all.
What this means is that the microbiota (community of microscopic life inside the human body) is even more involved in female reproductive health than anyone previously thought. In fact, women’s reproductive microbiota might even play a role in conditions as high up (and serious) as ovarian cancer!
Emerging evidence suggests that women with ovarian cancer likely have different bacterial strains in their reproductive tract than women who don’t have cancer. Scientists (and geeks!) the world over now want to know if changes to the microbiota came before or after cancer!
Future studies will look to answer this question, as well as whether specific bacterial species could be used as early indicators that a woman has (or is going to get) ovarian cancer — a new, early diagnostic test! They’ll even look at the possibility of treating cancer with bacteria!
Whether it turns out the microbiota can predict, prevent, or cure ovarian cancer, or not, we are absolutely certain that the bacteria in your reproductive system are not just passengers along for the ride.
They act more like co-pilots, helping your body make important decisions.
In fact, the health — particularly, the immune health — of your genital tract depends on your body’s cells and microbiota working together perfectly.
Natural Microbiota and Women’s Reproductive Immunity
You have special cells that line your vagina called epithelial cells. These cells are the backbone of your reproductive immune system!
- create a physical barrier between you and the outside world
- talk to your immune cells, telling them when to attack
- make mucus that traps and kills dangerous bacteria and fungi and
- provide a home for your natural population of microbes to live on, which also help protect your reproductive tract.
Among the bacteria that like to team up with your epithelial cells, Lactobacillus species are thought to be particularly protective to the female reproductive tract.
There are a couple of reasons for this!
First, Lactobacillus bacteria make lots of natural acids, which kill off infectious bacteria before they can get anywhere near your skin.
Second, Lactobacillus species are excellent at out-competing other bacteria. See, all bacteria need to breathe, eat and reproduce if they’re going to survive. Lactobacillus are able to take up so much of the space and nutrients from their environment that there simply isn’t anything left for bad bacteria, and they can’t move in.
Third, Lactobacillus bacteria release antibiotic chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide, that can stop disease-causing bacteria from growing.
Combined, these three traits make Lactobacillus bacteria into some reproductive-protective powerhouses!
Probiotics for Common Female Reproductive Complaints
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Once you grasp the connection between the immune system and the microbiota, it’s one more small step to understand how probiotics influence a woman’s reproductive health.
When you take doses of live Lactobacillus bacteria (Lactobacillus-containing probiotics), they’re able to colonize your vagina. This increases the number of good bacteria and decreases the number of bad bacteria living there.
And this works even if the bad bacteria are already growing out of control — if you have an infection!
Of course, there are limitations to this — depending on your overall health, your immune status, your pregnancy status and the type of bacteria causing your infection, you may still need antibiotics — but studies so far show that probiotics may be effective in treating the following reproductive infections:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Urinary tract infections
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Pelvic inflammatory disorder
Let’s check each of these out in more detail!
Best Probiotic Species for Common Female Reproductive Complaints
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is usually caused by infection with Gardnerella vaginalis. This is one seriously unfriendly, very unneighbourly bacteria!
Once it sets up camp on your vaginal wall, it crowds out your healthy bacteria. Then it creates a film around itself that keeps medicine, immune cells and healthy bacteria away from its new home. In fact, all it lets in are other bad bacteria that have the same nefarious plan to take over your vaginal walls!
But there are a very few healthy bacteria that aren’t daunted by the slime. They can sneak past it and break it up! This lets other healthy bacteria move in and kick Gardnerella vaginalis and its buddies out!
Which species can kick those jerks out of your body? Lactobacillus reuteri and Lactobacillus iners.
If you struggle with BV infections, you should try to get your hands on a probiotic that contains these specific slim-fighting species! We’re a huge fan of Hyperbiotics Pro-15, which contains both of these BV-battling bad boys.
Urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs in a similar fashion to BV, whereby the normal healthy balance of microbes in your urogenital region is disturbed. Bad bacteria take over, but in this case it’s your urethra and bladder that’s infected, rather than your vagina.
There aren’t many scientific studies on the effectiveness of probiotics for UTI, yet. But so far it looks like Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 (previously called Lactobacillus fermentum) and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 are the specific strains that are most effective at bringing UTIs to heel.
If you’re one of the many, many women that experience chronic UTIs, giving a Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14– and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1-containing probiotic a shot may, finally, offer you some long-term relief!
Unfortunately, these exact strains aren’t super easy to find in probiotic form! One popular, customer-approved brand that does contain them both, though is RepHresh Pro-B Probiotic Feminine Supplement.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) is a term used to describe a variety of infections that are passed on through sexual contact. This includes genital herpes, AIDs (HIV), genital warts (HPV) and many other infections you definitely want to avoid.
Unfortunately, there have been few studies looking specifically at the role of probiotics in treating STIs. So we don’t know much about how effective they really are.
We do know, however, that having BV increases your risk of developing a STI. This is because, by definition, your reproductive microbiota is all out of whack when you have BV. And the unhealthier your microbiota, the more likely you are to get an infection — with any kind of bacteria.
So, it makes sense to think that probiotics could play a part in reducing your risk of developing a STI by helping you treat (or prevent new) BV, but it’s an area that needs more research.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection in your uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries. It usually occurs when sexually transmitted bacteria (usually Chlamydia or Neisseria (gonorrhea) bacteria) move from your vagina to your other reproductive organs.
Much like with uncomplicated STIs, we don’t have much research on the subject of using probiotics for pelvic inflammatory disease. One study, however, found that women with BV are at higher risk of developing PID than women who with a healthy vaginal microbiome.
This suggests that probiotics could play a part in the prevention and treatment of PID by helping you treat your BV and prevent STIs to begin with. We need more research, though, before we can get specific about which strains and doses are best for treating PID.
Take Home Message
Probiotics have some proven benefits for women’s health and many more that need to be studied further. They help restore a healthy microbial balance in your reproductive system, and may be able to help you prevent and treat infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections and pelvic inflammatory disease.