By Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
We spend a lot of time and money avoiding bacteria which can make us sick. However, there are certain bacteria that our bodies require to keep everything working smoothly. These “good” bacteria are called probiotics and are found in your mouth, gut, urinary tract, vagina, skin, and lungs. Importantly, probiotics are critical in maintaining gut health, immune function, and inflammation control1. So, are there benefits of probiotics for those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)? Absolutely.
What is a probiotic?
Probiotics are “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”2. These live bacteria and yeasts are necessary for your body to function. They can be consumed in certain foods as well as in supplement form. Species of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are most used as probiotics; however, the yeast Saccharomyces and some E. coli and Bacillus species are also used. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB), including species of Lactobacillus, which have been used for preservation of food by fermentation for thousands of years, can serve a dual function by acting as agents of food fermentation and potentially imparting health benefits. Good sources of probiotic-rich foods are sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and pickles.
What do probiotics do?
Increasing evidence shows that the activity of probiotic bacteria in the human GI tract plays a role in the dietary management of certain diseases. Probiotics not only help maintain normal function of the gut mucosa, but also protect mucosa from injurious factors such as toxins, allergens and pathogens5. The intestine is naturally colonized by more than 400 different bacterial species. 40 of these are predominant. In the colon, bacteria reach a concentration of 1010 – 1012 per ml of fecal contents. It has now been scientifically proven that the intestinal microflora, and in particular Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, play a significant role in your health by affecting the PH of the intestine which helps to heal the colon wall and serves to prevent contamination by potential pathogens.
Each probiotic utilizes its own mechanism and thus, delivers a unique benefit. For example, those with nonspecific mechanisms discourage the growth of pathogenic microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract. Some species-specific mechanisms work on vitamin synthesis, gut barrier reinforcement, bile salt metabolism, enzymatic activity, and toxin neutralization. Some rarer strain-specific mechanisms boost cytokine production, immunomodulation, and has effects on the endocrine and nervous systems3.
Probiotics have been used for thousands of years, but recent research has proven their effectiveness on conditions such as4:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- H. pylori (the cause of ulcers)
- vaginal infections
- urinary tract infections
- recurrence of bladder cancer
- infection of the digestive tract caused by Clostridium difficile
According to the Cleveland Clinic, probiotics can also help your body:
- digest food
- keep bad bacteria from getting out of control and making you sick
- create vitamins
- support the cells that line your gut to prevent bad bacteria that you may have consumed (through food or drinks) from entering your blood
- breakdown and absorb medications
3 Benefits of Probiotics for PCOS
For those of us with PCOS, there are specific benefits of probiotics.
Gut Health & Immune System
Studies show promising results in managing common gut issues in part with probiotics. Probiotics may reduce incidence and duration of antibiotic-related diarrhea especially in infants and children. Conversely, probiotics may help resolve constipation by slowing transit time through the bowel and softening stools.
Most importantly, probiotics support overall gut health by keeping the walls of your gut strong and less penetrable. This serves to boost your immune response and reduce systemic inflammation. Dr. Fiona McCulloch explains, “Directly beneath the small intestinal epithelial cells lies one of the largest concentrations of lymphoid tissue (immune tissue) in the entire body, known as the GALT (Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue). This is where immature cells of the immune system grow and mature. As such, when particles such as foods, environmental toxins, and microbes are allowed to pass through the intestine freely as they do as a result of a “leaky gut”, the immune cells may not develop normally in response to these influences. It’s also clear that when particles come into direct contact with the immune cells, they activate the immune response, creating an inflammatory state in the body.” Whereas inflammation is at the root of many PCOS symptoms, keeping it at bay is a priority.
Blood Sugar and Insulin resistance
A quality probiotic can help balance blood sugar and reduce insulin resistance. Research indicates that having a relatively low diversity in the gut microbiome is correlated with higher overall inflammation, as well as greater insulin resistance and other markers of metabolic diseases. Chronic gut inflammation alone also promotes insulin resistance. In addition, your microbiome affects weight. Studies show that low bacterial richness in the gut is associated with higher body fat, insulin resistance, and inflammation, compared to those with higher bacterial richness. This means having fewer numbers and variety of bacteria in the gut can lead to obesity. Probiotics can help that. They may be especially potent in managing blood sugar when combined with cinnamon.
The vagina is much like the intestine in that it requires a fine balance. As Harvard researchers recently explained, “the system can be thrown out of balance by a number of factors, including antibiotics, spermicides, and birth control pills4.” Whereas birth control pills and other pharmaceuticals are commonly prescribed to those with PCOS, this can have a serious impact. Bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, and urinary tract infection are also vaginal conditions which may benefit from a healthy level of probiotics.
How to Get the Benefits of Probiotics for PCOS
Thousands of years of experience tells us that probiotics, whether from fermented foods, supplements, or both, are strong medicine.
Most commercially available probiotics contain between 1 to 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) per capsule. PCOS Diva Probiotic Spheres contain 5 billion CFU. Yogurt, a common source of probiotics for many Americans, contains less than 2 billion CFU per serving.
Yeast based probiotics are great for antibiotic associated diarrhea, and specific multi-strain probiotics are good for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Ulcerative Colitis. Some conditions may require very large doses. For Irritable Bowel Syndrome,112.5 billion per day is great to start. For Ulcerative Colitis, 450 billion per day is great and one can go up to 3600 billion per day if flaring. In these cases, consult your doctor.
Remember, supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Choose a probiotic that is third party certified so that you are certain it contains the ingredients listed on the label in the proper quantities and quality. The best quality probiotics are refrigerated even during shipping. PCOS Diva Probiotic Spheres meet all these requirements. For best results, rotate brands of probiotics every few months to ensure variety in your gut.
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.
- “Probiotics: What Is It, Benefits, Side Effects, Food & Types.” Cleveland Clinic, 3 Sept. 2020, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics.
- Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, Gibson GR, Merenstein DJ, Pot B, Morelli L, Canani RB, Flint HJ, Salminen S, Calder PC, Sanders ME. Expert consensus document. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014 Aug;11(8):506-14. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2014.66. Epub 2014 Jun 10. PMID: 24912386.
- “Office of Dietary Supplements – Probiotics.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 3 June 2020, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/#en1.
- Publishing, Harvard Health. “Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics.” Harvard Health, 13 Apr. 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics.
- Rao RK, Samak G. Protection and Restitution of Gut Barrier by Probiotics: Nutritional and Clinical Implications. Curr Nutr Food Sci. 2013;9(2):99-107. doi:10.2174/1573401311309020004