A funny thing happened this week: On the same day that I read an online article about a new study with the headline “Probiotics Are a Waste of Money for Healthy Adults” I received an email from a longtime Hormonology reader who takes probiotics (so-called “friendly” bacteria) to support her immune system and fend off yeast infections–and has had so much success, she asked me to look into whether there were any studies about probiotics and menstrual cycles so I could share the wonder of probiotics with other women.
So, which is it? Are probiotics a “waste of money” or do they really work?
First, let me address the article about the probiotic study. Every once in awhile, new research will pop up that appears to denounce multivitamins, supplements and other commonly used at-home natural health remedies. Then, you hear all about on websites and in the news is how you’re wasting your money and you should quit taking them pronto. But, generally speaking, these studies are far more nuanced than what the initial–and very loud–barrage of media pick up on. And the real study results often don’t say that the nutrient in question is entirely worthless and everyone should throw them out. And, it’s no different with this study, which didn’t suggest probiotics are completely worthless for “healthy” adults. If you’re interested in reading more about this, I think reporter Adi Medayang does a great job of detailing what this study really says for Nutraingredients (which is a useful website for discovering new studies about how various supplements and foods have health benefits, by the way).
Second, I’ve personally had the opportunity to report on probiotics dozens of times in health articles that I’ve written for women’s magazines. So, I’ve read the full studies myself and interviewed the study authors when available. To me, the science backing certain strains of probiotics delivering specific health benefits to a wide range of populations–including healthy people–is convincing.
Finally, I’ve taken probiotics for years–mainly as a result of reading the studies I’ve reported on and talking with the researchers. And, just like the Hormonology reader who wrote to me, they’ve helped me cut down on the number of colds I used to catch (I used to catch two to three colds per year and now I can’t even remember when I had a sniffle) and they help me dodge yeast infections (which, by the way, would motivate me to pay 1000 times more than what these inexpensive little suckers cost). Besides these annoying little problems, I would otherwise consider myself healthy: I have no serious conditions (knock on wood) and am taking no prescription medications, yet I derive a lot of benefit from probiotics.
Therefore, ultimately, I have to land on the side of probiotics working for a wide range of people–including those who consider themselves healthy.
And, honestly, since they don’t cost a lot and I’ve never heard of or read about someone having an adverse reaction to probiotics and there are no known complications when taken with other drugs, there seems to be little harm in trying them.
To that end, below is a round-up of just a few of the many study-proven ways that probiotics can help you out with cycle-related, and not so cycle-related, health woes in case you want to give them a try if you want to….
1. Reduce rumination
When you get stressed, does your brain start to churn over negative thoughts in an endless loop that you can’t stop? If so, you’re not alone. This is a common problem during our premenstrual week as estrogen drops, dragging down mood-moderating brain chemicals, reports the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Well, while it sounds too easy to work, taking a daily probiotic that contains two or more strains of acidophilus and bifidum bacteria (such as the one I take every day, which is American Health Acidophilus and Bifidum, available at Amazon.com) can help reduce the nonstop mental churning within four weeks.
How it works: Adding “good” bacteria to your gut is believed to help boost the production of certain compounds in your brain that manage moods (such as serotonin), decreasing unwanted repetitive thoughts, according to a study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. And, because each bacterial strain works differently, combining several strains is more effective than taking just one.
2. Cut back on colds
You probably already know that touching germy hotspots–like ATM buttons and shopping cart handles–can raise your risk of catching whatever cold virus is going around. And, this is especially true during ovulation when your immune system naturally weakens a bit and the mucus in your nose and mouth get thinner, allowing viruses an easier entrance to your body. But, exposure to a cold virus doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop cold symptoms. If you have a strong immune system, it can fight off and kill the viral invader. And now there’s one easy way to help your immune system do just this: Take probiotics! In a recent analysis of 12 studies, researchers concluded that taking probiotics daily reduced the frequency of colds in both adults and children.
How it works: Researchers believe that once probiotics reach the gut, they send immune-boosting messages to the body, making it more effective at fending off viruses. Look for a probiotic blend that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum (like the one suggested above).
3. Say sayanara to sore throats
Tend to get sore throats from throat infections? Try taking the probiotic Streptococcus salivarius K12 every day. One study found that doing so reduced the incidence of strep throat by about 80% and other sore throats by about 60% after 90 days, reports the journal Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy.
How it works: This particular probiotic adds two types of “good” bacteria to the throat that fend off the “bad” bacteria and viruses that cause sore throats. You can find it at SwansonVitamins.com.
4. Prevent yeast infections
Let’s face it–yeast infections are the stuff of every woman’s nightmare, torturing you at certain times in your cycle (most often right in the middle around ovulation or in the days leading up to your period) or punishing you after too many eclairs, mimosas or lattes, too much stress, from taking antibiotics or for seemingly no reason at all. Now what you’ve overheard in ladies’ locker rooms can be confirmed as true: Taking daily Lactobacillus acidophilus probiotics really can help prevent these itchy, burny, mood-ruining infections.
How it works: Lactobacillus acidophilus appears to reduce the adhesive ability of the candida albicans fungus so it can’t take hold and flourish in the vaginal tract.
5. Ease social anxiety
If you suffer from social anxiety, there’s a good chance it gets worse during your premenstrual week due to plunging estrogen. I wrote about one way to deal with it here. And if you tend to be a person who is more anxious in general, eating fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics–such as kefir and sauerkraut–may also help reduce your anxiety in social situations, suggests a preliminary study in Psychiatry Research.
How it works: Probiotics may have a calming effect in highly anxious individuals possibly by promoting the output of more anti-anxiety brain chemicals, such as GABA.