Can Probiotics Help Manage the Symptoms of Menopause?
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
The decrease in estrogen production during menopause can result in vasomotor symptoms. A study from 2017 suggests that probiotics, when combined with supplements like red clover, might have a positive impact on reducing vasomotor symptoms.
Enhancing Sleep Quality and Mood
It is believed that the communication between the gut and the brain, involving the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems, can influence one's mood. Mood changes, hot flashes, and night sweats, which are typical symptoms of menopause, can disrupt sleep. A review of studies from 2020 found a potential connection between probiotic bacteria and improvements in sleep quality and mood, particularly in individuals dealing with anxiety and depression.
The vagina serves as a protective barrier against harmful bacteria causing infections. Prior to menopause, estrogen encourages the presence of beneficial bacteria, Lactobacilli, in the vagina. Lactobacilli help maintain a lower vaginal pH level, reducing the risk of vaginal infections. However, the decrease in estrogen during menopause can lead to higher vaginal pH levels, making it easier for harmful bacteria like Enterobacter, Escherichia coli, Candida, and Gardnerella to thrive. It's believed that probiotics, either alone or in conjunction with antimicrobial treatments, may be beneficial in preventing vaginal infections and related symptoms like changes in vaginal discharge and unusual odors.
Estrogen plays a crucial role in preserving bone strength, and the decline in estrogen production during menopause increases the risk of osteoporosis. Several factors, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, and overall health, contribute to this risk. Globally, one in three women over the age of 50 is at risk of osteoporosis-related fractures. Limiting or discontinuing the use of tobacco products and taking calcium and vitamin D supplements may slow down bone loss. A review of studies from 2021 found that the incorporation of probiotics may enhance bone mineral density, particularly in the lumbar spine, in postmenopausal individuals.
Probiotic Side Effects to Be Aware Of
Probiotics can be consumed through fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, or in the form of probiotic supplements. Foods with naturally occurring probiotics are generally well-tolerated when consumed in moderation. While probiotic supplements may have a slightly higher likelihood of causing side effects, these effects are typically mild and tend to resolve within a few days to weeks. Starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it over time can help minimize the risk of side effects. Temporary side effects may include gas, bloating, constipation, increased thirst, and headache. If symptoms persist or worsen, it is advisable to discontinue probiotic use and consult a healthcare professional.
Recommended Probiotic Products
The consumption of probiotics may assist in alleviating menopausal symptoms by balancing the unique microbiome of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the body. Bifidobacterium animalis, naturally found in the colon, may help reduce abdominal fat, a significant factor associated with metabolic disorders. Lactobacillus gasseri, found naturally in the vagina, has shown effects on weight loss in rodent studies. Additionally, synbiotics, a combination of prebiotics and probiotics, may support weight management and have anti-inflammatory properties.
When selecting probiotic-containing foods like yogurt and kefir, it's important to look for products that specify the presence of live bacteria on the packaging. As of January 1, 2024, there are new regulations in place by the Food and Drug Administration for yogurt producers to list the quantity and status of bacteria in their products.
Probiotics have the potential to alleviate menopausal symptoms and aid in weight management. However, their effectiveness remains a subject of ongoing debate. More extensive research is needed to explore and establish the health benefits associated with probiotic use during the different phases of menopause.