More and more medical research emerges annually suggesting the beneficial effects of probiotics, but there are so many different strains and products that it can be confusing to consumers. Additionally, men and women may have different probiotic needs.
In this article, we’ll review the medical research on probiotics for women and recommend a few brands which meet our standards. We’ll explain the criteria we use to evaluate probiotic supplements which can hopefully help consumers make similar evaluations of their own in the future.
Medical Research on Probiotics for Women
While both sexes have similar probiotic needs for the most part, there is some research suggesting that differential treatment may lead to favorable health outcomes. A medical review published in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology in 2017 examined the development of probiotics specifically for women’s health.
The researchers found that a species of probiotics called Lactobacillus “could be a protective factor in healthy women.” This type of probiotic colonizes both the gut and the vagina, and is associated with lower urinary tract infection (UTI) risk in women. Lactobacillus bacteria also help promote integrity of the gut barrier.
A medical trial published in 2006 found that a commercial probiotic called VSL #3 was effective in reducing the incidence of bacterial vaginosis (BV) because it suppressed the growth of a pathogenic type of bacteria. Both of the above-referenced studies suggest that oral intake of probiotics may cause favorable changes to vaginal microflora, which is a term that refers to the bacterial cultures that inhabit the vagina.
The benefit of probiotics for women isn’t solely related to vaginal health. An extensive medical review documented the many health benefits of probiotics (and prebiotics) for women. Not only can probiotics prove effective therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and constipation in women, they also are documented to promote bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Since women are at significantly higher risk than men for osteoporosis due to lower average bone density, these are important findings.
What Matters When Choosing a Probiotic Supplement
Most of the criteria that we use to evaluate products are similar across different product categories. As we referenced in our recent review of the best protein powder, the most important criteria is a clean formulation.
This means an ingredients list with effective ingredients at effective doses, without harmful filler ingredients like added sugar or artificial sweeteners. If you’re paying for an expensive health supplement, it’s illogical to choose one with flavor enhancers that are unhealthy in our opinion.
Price is obviously an important consideration, especially since many probiotic products are expensive. When we compare the price between products, we use price per serving as the metric to standardize comparison, because raw price isn’t valuable since serving sizes per product vary.
Product certifications and research backing are secondary considerations. They’re beneficial, but not absolutely necessary in our opinion. Product certifications can help ensure the integrity of a product, because the certifying agency will test the product for label accuracy and/or contaminants.
Research backing refers to medical research on the specific product. If a probiotic supplement is proven to be effective in a clinical trial published in a medical journal, we would recommend that product over a similar product without such research backing, all other things being equal. Research backing is the only way to determine if a product is proven to work on average.
Best Overall Probiotic for Women - Ritual Synbiotic+
We recommend a brand called Ritual Synbiotic+ as our top overall pick for probiotics for women. It has a clean formulation, reasonable price and great branding.
This product passes the clean formulation test because it has effective ingredients at effective doses without any harmful filler ingredients. The core active ingredient is a probiotic blend containing a Lactobacillus strain. As we documented in the Medical Research section, this is an effective choice for a probiotic for women. The probiotic blend contains 11 billion colony-forming units (CFUs), which is an effective dose. We found that a minimum of 10 billion CFUs is a medically-backed dose in our Floraspring reviews article.
Synbiotic+ also contains a prebiotic blend and an active ingredient called tributyrin which has been found in medical studies to have favorable effects on inflammatory and metabolic pathways.
The price of Synbiotic+ is $50 and it contains 30 servings, which equates to a per-serving price of $1.67. It’s worth noting that probiotics don’t have to be taken daily, so consumers could take the pill once every other day if they’re on a tight budget, to reduce the recurring cost.
This probiotic is apparently backed by some medical research, but we don’t put much weight into these results because Ritual doesn’t publish the full data set, just the favorable results. The company claims this product was tested in partnership with a research firm in Belgium, and that it was found to increase diversity in the microbiome and increase the growth of beneficial bacteria.
This test result is better than nothing, but we recommend that manufacturers publish the full study if they’re going to highlight favorable results.
Best Research-Backed Probiotic for Women - VSL #3
VSL #3 is one of the most well-studied dietary supplements available, not just in the probiotic category but overall. Searching “VSL 3” into the largest medical database in the U.S. called PubMed returns over 700 results. Not many probiotics are backed by as much legitimate medical research as this product.
VSL #3 has a clean formulation: the only active ingredients include a probiotic blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. The inactive ingredients are all safe and non-toxic excipients such as cornstarch and stearic acid.
The dose of VSL #3 is well above the minimum effective range of 10 billion CFU. One capsule contains 112.5 billion CFU. The high dose is why this product is typically used to treat health conditions and not for general maintenance. As medical research proves, therapeutic doses of probiotics above the standard range may be effective for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and antibiotic associated diarrhea.
The price of VSL #3 is high, as would be expected for a specialty product with so much research backing. It currently costs $71.02 for a 30 capsule bottle plus shipping. This equates to a minimum $2.37 per single capsule, but the price per serving could be much higher for patients with specific medical conditions. VSL #3’s usage instructions indicate that patients with gut conditions may need to take up to 16 caps per day.
VSL #3 doesn’t appear to have any product certifications, but it doesn’t need to when it has so much research backing. If a product is directly proven to be effective by multiple research studies, there isn’t as much benefit to a third-party stamp of efficacy or safety in our opinion.
Best Probiotic for Menopausal Women - Provitalize
Provitalize is one of the few probiotic supplements targeted to menopausal women. Ironically we reviewed this product poorly in our Provitalize reviews article for the brand’s weight loss claims (which we don’t believe are accurate). However we would recommend it as a general probiotic for menopausal women.
This product has a clean formulation. Its probiotic blend contains three separate strains at a combined dose of 68.2 billion CFU, which we’ve already established to be an effective dose. One of the species of probiotics used (L. gasseri) has been shown in a 2021 animal study to alleviate postmenopausal symptoms.
For menopausal relief specifically, two ingredients seem to be effective choices. Turmeric extract is included at a dose of 350 milligrams (mg), and black pepper extract is included at a dose of 3 mg.
Medical research proves that black pepper extract increases bioavailability of curcumin (the predominant chemical compound in turmeric extract) by up to 2000%. And early research suggests that curcumin may alleviate menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and anxiety.
There are no harmful filler ingredients in Provitalize.
The price of Provitalize at the time of writing is $44.10 for 30 servings, which equates to $1.47 per serving.
This product does not provide any relevant certifications or funded clinical trials.
Cheapest Probiotic for Women - GenWell Probiotics
GenWell makes a probiotic supplement that’s extremely affordable. This isn’t a well-known brand, but it’s rare to find a probiotic supplement that’s both affordable and well-formulated, so this product makes a great option for women shopping for a probiotic on a budget.
GenWell’s Women’s Multi-Strain Probiotic passes our standard for clean formulation, because it only contains one active ingredient: a Probiotic Blend providing 50 billion CFU, which is an effective dose. The only additive ingredients are standard excipients necessary for encapsulation such as magnesium stearate; all of them are safe and non-toxic.
This probiotic does contain the Lactobacillus species of bacteria found to be particularly beneficial for women.
Where this product really stands out is on price. It currently costs $10.99 for 60 capsules on Amazon, which equates to only $0.18 per serving. That’s over 6x cheaper than any other product we’ve reviewed in this article.
GenWell’s probiotic doesn’t have any product certifications or research backing, but it would be hard to expect that at this price point.
Best Probiotic Gummies for Women - Llama Naturals
Llama Naturals makes the only probiotic gummies we’ve found to have a clean formulation. The vast majority of probiotic gummies we came across in our research contained added sugar, and we don’t recommend any health supplements containing added cane sugar. We believe it’s illogical to take a health supplement, especially a probiotic, containing added sugar, since we know that processed sugar is disruptive to the microbiome.
Llama Naturals probiotic gummies have an interesting formulation. They use whole fruits rather than processed cane sugar to add sweetness: ingredients like organic mangoes and organic baobab. The probiotics contain 5 billion CFU of two different strains, so they’re a lower dose than the probiotics listed above.
5 billion CFU is adequate for general health maintenance, but is likely not a high enough dose to treat specific disease states (remember VSL #3 contains over 100 billion CFU). Gummy probiotics are always lower-dosed, just due to the format of the product. To make them tasty and give them their texture, other active ingredients need to be used whereas a capsule can just contain probiotics alone.
Llama Naturals is reasonably priced: a jar costs $24.95 (and they offer 10% off for subscription purchases), and contains 30 servings. That equates to a per-serving price of $0.83.
This probiotic does have a product certification: USDA Organic. It doesn’t have any funded clinical trials or research backing.
Best Probiotic Powder for Women - Renew Life
Some consumers prefer powders to capsules because of their convenience. They can be mixed into a drink to mask the taste, and they’re easier to consume. Renew Life makes a probiotic powder that we would recommend for women.
This product has a simple and clean formulation: a probiotic blend containing 20 billion CFU, which includes the Lactobacillus species. It also contains 4 grams (g) of prebiotics from two different sources. Prebiotics help stimulate growth of existing probiotic cultures which have successfully colonized the gut.
Like Llama Naturals, this product is USDA Organic but does not have any specific research backing proving efficacy.
Renew Life probiotic powder costs $35.99 and contains 30 servings, which equates to a per-serving cost of $1.20.