You may have seen a little word popping up on food and supplement labels lately: probiotic.
In my coaching I am most often asked about probiotics by clients who think it will help them lose a lot of weight fast.
Up front I will tell you this: probiotics are not a weight loss tool, nor are they proven to cause weight loss.
Probiotics for women are very important however, because probiotics positively affect digestion, hormone balance, mood balance, energy and more!
This is because probiotic foods are some of the best foods for gut health, and a healthy gut creates a healthy body.
At this point you’re probably interested but still have questions like “What’s gut health and what does that have to do with probiotics?”
Don’t worry because I’m about to take you through everything you need to know about female gut health and probiotics for women.
I hope that after reading this blog, you will feel more confident in assessing and addressing your own gut health by using probiotics and other health tools.
These are the questions about gut health and probiotics that I will be going over in this blog:
- What are prebiotics?
- What are probiotics?
- What does gut health mean?
- Why is gut health important for women?
- How can I improve my gut health?
- How often should I consume probiotics?
- Should I take probiotic supplements?
Because probiotics and gut health are only one component of a healthy lifestyle, I have linked more resources for you at the bottom of this article-check these out for more specific dietary and workout tips!
What are Prebiotics and Probiotics?
Okay so we cannot do a gut health and probiotic blog without at least mentioning prebiotics and prebiotic foods.
A prebiotic is a fiber that essentially acts as a food source for the probiotic bacteria.
Well-known prebiotic foods include garlic, onion, asparagus and legumes.
There is currently no official recommendation for prebiotic intake but I personally eat .5-1 servings of prebiotic foods 2-3 times a day.
Probiotics are microorganisms, or “good” bacteria that live within the gut to help with the digestion of food.
There are hundreds of different types of bacteria that are considered to be probiotics, some of the most common ones coming from the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains.
Probiotics are naturally occurring in fermented foods and each food will contain its own unique blend of bacterias.
Probiotic dosage is measured in CFUs or Colony Forming Units and about 10-20 CFUs a day is recommended.
When eating probiotic foods you may not have access to a reliable CFU measurement so my personal practice is simply to eat 2-3 full servings of probiotic foods a day (or 1 supplement).
What does gut health mean and why is it important?
What does it mean to have good gut health?
To have good gut health simply means that you have a balanced profile of good gut bacteria that permits healthy function of all other bodily systems.
A healthy gut is often characterized by what is not happening such as:
- Digestive/ intestinal issues
- Energy or mood fluctuations
- Stubborn fat storage
How does the gut affect physical health?
When we say “gut health” most people immediately think of “stomach issues” but the reality is that gut bacteria imbalance affects a woman’s entire body.
To give you a better idea of what this means, here are some physical symptoms that you can experience when the gut is not healthy:
- Chronic Constipation
- Diarrhea or IBS
- Reduced Immune Function
- Joint Inflammation
- Chronic Pain
- Disrupted Sleep
- Irregular Menstruation
- Hormone Imbalance
- Low Energy/ Chronic Fatigue
How does the gut affect mental health?
Because the health of the gut microbiome affects hormone and neuroreceptor production and balance, your gut health can also impact your mental health.
Here are some mental, emotional or psychological symptoms that you can experience as a result of imbalanced gut health:
- Brain Fog
- Inability to Focus
- Heightened Anxiety
- Mood Swings
- Low Motivation
- Loss of Memory
Keep in mind that all of these symptoms can be related with other disorders or diseases (not associated with the gut), but they are also known to be indicators of disrupted gut health.
This is typically the fat that sits between the hip bones, protrudes into a lower belly pooch and gets attemptedly tucked into pants or shapewear.
How Can I Eat to Improve My Gut Health?
Gut Health Basics
The Gut Health Basics for women are simple:
- Avoid eating too much food that kills off your healthy gut bacteria. This includes deep fried foods, high sugar foods and processed foods.
- Eat plenty of prebiotics, or foods that feed your healthy gut bacteria such as legumes and vegetables.
- Eat probiotic foods daily such as kimchi or greek yogurt.
Not only is it simple, but these are also recommendations you’ve probably heard to help reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more!
*Make sure to check out the related articles at the bottom to learn about food that kills healthy gut bacteria in women!*
Natural sources of prebiotics
Prebiotics are actually pretty easy to naturally source because it’s just fiber.
So almost any fruit, vegetable, grain or legume will have some prebiotic qualities to them, but there are some with more than others.
Here are the top 5 most recognized (and easy to implement) prebiotic foods:
Natural sources of probiotics
Probiotic foods are not as naturally occurring because they need to be fermented to help grow the bacteria that your gut will thrive on-sometimes cultures need to be added to the food to encourage the fermentation process.
As a result, most probiotic foods need to either be made (which will take some time and knowledge) or bought prepackaged.
Here are some of the most commonly used probiotic foods:
- Kefir and Buttermilk
- Greek Yogurt and Raw Cheese
- Miso, Tempeh and Fermented Soy
- Pickled Vegetables like Olives and Pepper
- Fermented Vegetables like Kimchi and Sauerkraut
Please be advised that making your own probiotic foods requires knowledge, care and attention.
You can grow bad bacteria as much as you can grow good bacteria so make sure you either buy from a trusted source or thoroughly educate yourself before attempting to make your own probiotics.
How Often Should I Consume Probiotics?
Testing the Gut Microbiome
If you want to know exactly what you need for balanced gut health, you’re going to want to have some testing done.
*This is going to be especially essential if you are showing medical symptoms of a stomach condition: please see your doctor.
Your doctor can refer you to a medical specialist who can perform the test for you and help you analyze and understand the results.
Alternatively, you can mail in an at-home gut health test such as the ones from Viome, which will require you to offer a blood and stool sample.
After a processing period you will receive a profile of your personal gut microbiome along with recommendations on how to improve it.
The validity of the at-home tests are still somewhat questionable so if you feel that you have a medical concern regarding your gut health, address it directly with a medical professional.
The recommended daily intake of probiotics for most adults is 10-20 CFUs a day.
CFUs are Colony Forming Units, the unit of measurement used for probiotics.
Unfortunately, most of us do not have access to accurate CFU measurements.
Instead, I personally consume 2-3 full servings of probiotic foods a day.
For example, if a serving of kimchi is 1 cup I would eat 2-3 cups of kimchi a day.
(Obviously, I would eat various types of probiotic foods instead of only kimchi, but this is simply an example.)
For some people, probiotic foods do not feel very helpful when eaten more than once a day.
Respect your body and what it is communicating with you and if you feel that something is wrong, reach out to your doctor.
What About Probiotic Supplements?
Types of supplements
Many products are being supplemented with probiotic cultures right now.
You can find protein powders and powdered green blends that include probiotics.
You will also see liquid beverages which contain probiotic cultures and are often marketed as “health shots”.
One of the most common ways (besides food) to supplement probiotics is in pill form, either as a part of a multivitamin or as its own stand alone supplement.
The effectiveness of dried, derived or pill-formed probiotic supplements can spark an argument, depending on who you talk to.
There are those that believe that a probiotic pill, once a day is all you need.
Some evidence has been proven that this will improve your gut health (depending on the brand and the person, of course) but other evidence has also brought forth the idea that there are more effective ways to improve gut health.
Others believe that only naturally-sourced, live probiotics (such as raw kombucha or sauerkraut) will enhance the microbiome of the gut because the bacteria are more alive and able to aid in digestion.
Studies have shown that live probiotic sources are more active and beneficial than dried probiotic sources, but does not negate positive effects from dry sources.
Personally, I combine my probiotic sources to include food and supplement-based probiotics.
I take a multivitamin with a probiotic in it every morning, drink probiotic greens mid-morning, have probiotic foods in my meals during the day and sometimes finish the evening with probiotic yogurt.
Talk to a doctor
Before making any changes to your diet, make sure to consult with your doctor, especially if you have a history of or are currently experiencing gastrointestinal distress.
What’s the takeaway?
While probiotics are not going to cause some magical weight loss results, there are still other magical qualities to adding probiotic ingredients to your food.
From your physical health to your mental health, probiotics and their effect on the microbiome of your stomach can be felt all around.
1-3 servings of probiotic foods or supplements each day will make a drastic difference in the way your body feels!
Here are some other Health & Fitness Articles you’ll enjoy:
- Learn more on my Eating for Gut Health Blog.
- De-Mystify the idea of Clean Eating with my blog that defines it and tells you how to eat clean.
- Check out my Spring Cleaning Blog to learn about dietary fasting and cleanses.
- Read about Female Hormone Health in fitness to make sure you are respecting your female body in your diet and in the gym!
- There’s magic in your food-access Eating for Energy to help you get through the day!
Remember: Probiotics are an important nutrient that help maintain internal balance and health of the body.
Taking the time to make sure you are implementing them appropriately will accelerate your health and fitness journey!
This article was written by Elexis Smolak CPT, CNC, WFS founder of Adapted Fitness and Integrative Health and Fitness Specialist for Women. Learn more or schedule a virtual coffee at AdaptedToYou.com