From promoting heart health to boosting your mood, the best probiotics for women can help you feel your best
Prioritising gut health and ensuring our microbiome (the collection of good bacteria in your gut) is thriving is a concept that’s at the forefront of the health industry currently. And unlike the infamous fad diets of the past (lemonade diet, anyone?), eating with your gut health in mind has been proven to benefit overall health and wellbeing.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you and your digestive system. While a healthy, diverse diet full of fresh and whole foods should take centre stage, probiotic supplements can help to further restore balance in your gut.
“Research indicates that supplementing with live bacteria may improve bone health and density, improve stress resilience, help to regulate metabolism and weight, protect heart health and support immunity,” says Andrea Burton, technical advisor at Bio-Kult. It’s even thought that probiotics can help boost your mood; it’s estimated that 90% of serotonin, the so-called “happy hormone”, is made in your digestive tract.
Choosing a probiotic supplement can be tricky, with the market saturated with so many formulas. To help make it easier, we’ve sourced the best probiotics for women in various forms and gathered advice from the pros on what to look for when shopping around for the best probiotic for you.
How to choose the best probiotics for women for you
What are the benefits of probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are of benefit to your digestive system. Found naturally in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, kimchi, sourdough bread and some cheese, they can also be taken in supplement form.
In addition to aiding digestion, balancing the gut and helping those serotonin levels, Burton explains that a probiotic supplement is especially beneficial for women, especially as hormonal changes can disrupt our gut bacteria and cause gynaecological issues such as thrush and urinary tract infections.
“Throughout a woman’s life, fluctuations in hormones are expected, either as a result of menopause, the use of hormone replacement therapy or the oral contraceptive pill,” says Burton. “These fluctuations in hormones may initiate changes in the gut microbiota, which is thought to influence hormonal and microbial changes in other body systems, such as the urogenital system. This can be an issue for some women since dysbiosis (an imbalance of microbes) of the gut has been attributed to bacterial vaginosis, vulvovaginal candidiasis (thrush) and urinary tract infections.”
Women are also far more likely to suffer with digestion issues such as IBS than men. “Irritable bowel syndrome is reported to be more common in women, with a female-to-male ratio of 2–2.5:1 in terms of those who seek medical care. Women IBS patients have also been reported to feel more fatigue, depression, anxiety and lower quality of life than men IBS patients. Dysbiosis is commonly observed in IBS sufferers and live bacteria supplements have shown promise for reducing symptom severity.”
Should women be taking probiotics daily?
It might be that you don’t need a probiotic supplement. However, with busy lives often resulting in poor diet, or certain medications – antibiotics, for example, which can kill healthy bacteria during use – impacting the gut, supplementation could boost the good bugs in your digestive tract to promote overall well-being.
“Bacteria in supplements and fermented foods are generally transient in nature,” says Burton. “Some of the ingested bacteria may persist in the gut lining in the short term, but the majority exert a positive effect as they move through the gut, before being excreted via the stool.
“Since many people no longer have exposure to a variety of microorganisms from the natural environment, and many aspects of modern life – such as medications, stress, toxins and pollutants, poor diet, lack of sleep and so on – have been shown to have a negative impact on gut bacteria levels, regular intake of a probiotic may be beneficial (alongside diet and lifestyle changes) to maintain balanced gut flora and to support our digestive and immune systems.”
What should I look out for when buying a probiotic supplement?
With so many products on the market, choosing live bacteria supplements can often be confusing. Looking at companies’ manufacturing practices and clinical evidence may be more important than choosing between capsules, powders, liquids, or strength and number of strains. Burton shares her top tips for choosing a probiotic supplement:
- Probiotic vs prebiotic – If you’re experiencing digestion problems, it may be worth sticking to probiotics initially. “Choosing a probiotic product because it contains additional ingredients, such as prebiotics, may not always be best. People with a sensitive digestive system may not tolerate prebiotics very well, but may benefit from using a probiotic. Species of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are more efficient at fermenting prebiotics compared to other, less beneficial bacteria (and produce far less gas). Having said that, combination products containing both probiotics and prebiotics (known as synbiotics) may cause digestive discomfort until levels of the beneficial bugs are increased.”
- Health claims – “Currently, there are no authorised health claims relating to probiotics/live bacteria supplements,” says Burton. “This isn’t necessarily related to the efficacy of such supplements, but is more a reflection of the complexity of the field of microbiology, which does not easily fit into the current linear regulatory landscape. For example, probiotic effects are often strain-specific, and different species/strains may have different benefits in different conditions and/or patient populations.”
- Manufacturing – Read the labels of the products you’re considering, especially in relation to the ingredients for the live bacteria contained within. Burton explains that there are three names given to a bacterial ingredient: the genera or genus is the first (for example, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Streptococcus), but sometimes these are shortened to just the first letter of the genus name. Then it should state the species (such as acidophilus or bifidum), and finally the strain, such as PXN 35 or PXN 21 (these are usually denoted by letters and/or numbers). “Detail is important here since each part of the name gives identifying information that’s used in scientific research,” Burton tells us.
- Supplement type – A common concern in relation to the supplement type is the ability of the bacteria to survive stomach acid and reach the intestines and colon where they exert their positive effects. Delivery mechanisms such as enteric-coated capsules or cryoprotectants (where a protective coating is applied to the bacteria themselves) that ensure that viable bacteria reach the intestines are required. “Don’t be afraid to contact probiotic manufacturers to request evidence that shows their products have the ability to survive stomach acid,” advises Burton.
- Strength – There are many different live bacteria supplements on the market at a wide range of strengths or CFUs (colony forming units), from 100 million to 900 billion CFUs per day. “Currently, there’s limited evidence to confirm a ‘dose-response relationship’, therefore firm conclusions can’t yet be made as to which CFU is ideal,” says Burton. “High strength isn’t always better – a 2016 systematic review by the British Dietetic Association suggested that the majority of IBS trials demonstrating clinical efficacy use CFU counts below 10 billion a day. So look for high-quality live bacteria supplements and the product as a whole, with evidence of viability [and] clinical efficacy, choosing strength and strain according to your needs.”
- Clinical research – The gold standard of evidence for efficacy of a product is clinical trials conducted in humans, showing significant positive outcomes. “Following the evidence of clinical trials when choosing a product is one of the best ways to ensure that you’re obtaining effective ingredients,” says Burton. “This information isn’t always prominently displayed, however, and the reason for this originates from the regulatory restrictions in health claims. As such, get in touch with manufacturers or health practitioners if you’d like to know more about a particular product in relation to its scientific evidence.”
The best probiotics for women to buy in 2023
1. Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formulation: Best probiotics overall
Price: £11 | Buy now from Boots
Backed by numerous scientific studies, Biokult boasts 14 strains of live bacteria that have been proven to survive the high acidity of the stomach acid. Diverse strains of bacteria are said to be more reflective of our exposure in nature and are associated with increased health benefits.
Despite the affordable price point, each capsule contains two billion micro-organisms that complement the existing gut flora naturally present in a healthy person’s digestive system. Aside from brilliant anecdotes of everything from reduced bloating to increased energy, customers welcomed the fact that the tablets were small and easy to swallow (tablet-phobes will be pleased to learn that they can be sprinkled on food, too). What’s more, they don’t need to be stored in the fridge and you only need one capsule a day.
For the impressive ingredients list and proven claims, Bio-Kult is perfect for anyone starting their journey into gut health.
Key details – Active ingredients: 14 strains of live bacteria, including Lactobacillus casei PXN 37, Lactobacillus plantarum PXN 47, Lactobacillus rhamnosus PXN 54, Bacillus subtilis PXN 21, Bifidobacterium bifidum PXN 23; Type: Capsules; Size: 30 capsules, 1–2 per day
2. Symprove Daily Food Supplement: Best probiotic drink for women
Price: £79 | Buy now from Symprove
Symprove is a once-daily probiotic liquid that has many celebrity fans, including Jessie J, Millie Mackintosh and Deliciously Ella’s Ella Mills. And this liquid formula’s superpower is that it doesn’t trigger digestion, so allows four strains of live bacteria to survive, thrive and get to work in the gut.
Designed to be taken as a 12-week programme, to allow your body to adjust, each 70ml daily dose contains more than 10 billion live bacteria that will continually work to nourish the bacteria already present in your gut microbiome. Available in three flavours, we found the Strawberry & Raspberry variant to have a sour, acidic taste. Not to the extent it’s a dealbreaker, though, since the aftertaste fades quickly and you sort of get used to it. Symprove is also vegan-friendly; it’s both dairy- and gluten-free.
Vigorously tested and presenting an innovative concept, Symprove definitely isn’t cheap: a four-week supply will set you back £79, or you can opt for the full 12-week package and get “four weeks free” for £150. However, if you’re looking for a health overhaul and you can afford it, a Symprove 12-week plan may be just what you need to feel your best.
Key details – Active ingredients: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum; Type: Water-based; Size: 500ml bottle
3. Garden of Life Raw Microbiome Vaginal Care: Best probiotics for vaginal health
Price: £42 | Buy now from Garden of Life
To boost both gut and vagina wellbeing, Garden of Life’s dedicated probiotic is created with Bulgarian yoghurt concentrate, wild European kefir grains, scobies and 38 clinically studied microbiome strains, including Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Regular use is said to support vaginal health and help with general discomfort and dryness. The supplement has been rated five stars online from many relieved women, with some stating that it was “the only remedy that worked” when suffering from recurrent thrush and/or UTIs.
At £42 for 30 capsules – a month’s supply – it’s pretty expensive, but for a bespoke blend of hardworking bacteria designed for women’s needs, it really is the best of the bunch.
Key features – Active ingredients: 38 strains of live bacteria, including Bifidobacterium lactis BL818, Lactobacillus acidophilus (SD-5212), Lactobacillus reuteri (SD-1357) and Lactobacillus rhamnosus (SD-5217); Type: Capsules; Size: 30 capsules, 1 per day
4. Wild Dose A Dose for Bloating: Best probiotics for bloating
Price: £10 | Buy now from Wild Dose
For anyone who often suffers bloating or feels gassy, we love this take-it-when-you-need-it probiotic supplement that’s specifically targeted for uncomfortable tummies. Each tablet is packed with 1 billion probiotics, six digestive enzymes and seven plant extracts, all working in synergy to quickly combat the multiple causes of bloating.
The three strains of probiotics included have been clinically proven to be both IBS and sensitive-tummy friendly. The digestive enzymes are designed to break down undigested food in the gut that causes bloating. Once ingested, the tablets take around an hour to get to work and for the uncomfortable symptoms to pass.
With many rave reviews, customers hailed the supplement as a cure to their years of struggling with painful bloating. Some marvelled at how much lighter they felt, while others reported finally having a flat stomach again. At £10 for 20 capsules (or £8.50 for subscribers), they really are worth a try.
Key features – Active ingredients: Probiotic blend (Lactobacillus acidophilus and three strains of Bifido Bifidum); Type: Capsules; Size: 20 capsules, 2 when needed
5. Holland & Barrett Live Friendly Bacteria Chewable Tablets: Best probiotics for those on a budget
Price: £7 | Buy now from Holland & Barrett
For a daily probiotic supplement that won’t cost the earth, we love Holland & Barrett’s budget-friendly offering. The tablets are strawberry-flavoured and chewable, making them ideal for those with difficulty swallowing capsules; the delicious taste means you’re less likely to forget to take them, too.
They contain the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus, which helps to treat bacterial vaginosis and digestive disorders, promoting the growth of good bacteria alongside. Providing more than 1 billion bacterial cultures per dose, the tablets also contain the strain Bifidobacterium BB-12, which naturally aids digestion.
The bottle comes with 60 capsules, which is enough to last you two months. The tablets are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, and are a great place to start in your probiotic journey.
Key features – Active ingredients: Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium BB-12, Type: Chewable tablets; Size: 60 capsules, 1 per day
6. Inessa Advanced Biotic Complex: Best probiotics for digestive issues
Price: £39 | Buy now from Inessa Wellness
Developed specifically for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (IBD), Inessa’s Advanced Biotic Complex is our favourite for soothing sore tummies.
Hailed as “life-changing” in hundreds of online reviews, the formula contains 50 billion live organisms from seven science-backed probiotic strains. This includes 5 billion powerful saccharomyces boulardii cultures that have been proven to alleviate different types of diarrhoea. These capsules are also said to speed recovery after a bout of food poisoning or a tummy bug.
Cleverly, the one-a-day capsules use time-release technology to ensure they’re far more likely to reach the gut and help your microbiome restore and, ultimately, thrive. They’re definitely not the cheapest here, but they’re a sure-fire winner for all those who suffer digestive discomfort.
Key features – Active ingredients: Seven bacteria strains including 5 billion powerful saccharomyces boulardii cultures; Type: Capsules; Size: 30 capsules, 1 per day
7. JSHealth Protein + Probiotics: Best probiotics with protein
Price: £32 | Buy now from JSHealth
This easily digested protein supplement with the addition of probiotics is a great option for anyone wanting to up their protein intake while also helping their digestive health. The formula is extra creamy, even when mixed with water, and tastes delicious.
The protein powder contains the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, which helps prevent gastro-intestinal infections and diarrhoea, and can even stimulate the immune response to prevent certain allergic symptoms.
Available in four delicious flavours, including Cinnamon Scroll and Chocolate Brownie, the formula is vegan, and is free of added sugars and artificial sweeteners. It’s great for anyone who finds that regular protein powders leave them with tummy discomfort, or for those looking for a different (and tasty) way to take their probiotics.
Key features – Active ingredients: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG; Type: Protein powder; Size: 450g protein powder, 1 or more per day