Probiotics & Menopause Symptoms like Hot Flushes, Weight Gain, Depression & Osteoporosis
Tuesday, 15 June, 2021

Probiotics & Menopause Symptoms like Hot Flushes, Weight Gain, Depression & Osteoporosis

The menopause process brings with it complex hormonal changes that result in a wide range of symptoms — 34 of them, in fact.

From hot flushes to weight gain and leg pain to vaginal atrophy, many women are naturally interested to learn of ways to manage, treat or alleviate some of the more uncomfortable symptoms of the menopause.

There are many helpful lifestyle changes we can make to help, with the diet playing a central role. Probiotics, in particular — ‘friendly’ live microorganisms that convey health benefits — have attracted growing interest from nutritionists and menopause experts.

Can the power of probiotics help women experiencing some of the more common, uncomfortable symptoms of the menopause? To understand how probiotics may be able to help, let’s firstly explore the relationship between the menopause and our microbiome.

The menopause, oestrogen & our microbiome

Everyone has a microbiome — a term describing the collective populations of microorganisms within our bodies. These colonies of bacteria, yeasts, viruses and fungi are considered an organ in their own right.

The human microbiome consists of well over 10 trillion of these microbial cells, residing primarily in the gut, the mouth as well as, for women, the vagina. A microbiota is a community of these microorganisms.

In recent years, it’s become no secret that a healthy microbiome is very important for good health. The right composition of microbiota, particularly within our gut, has a major impact on the maintenance of good health, as well as the development and treatment of many different types of disease. There is a tremendous amount of information attesting to the power of a healthy microbiome.

Interestingly, there is believed to be an interrelationship between the menopause and the microbiome. Our gut microbiota is known to regulate levels of oestrogen, a key hormone that declines in production during the menopause.

According to research, this female sex hormone also influences the composition of microbiota in the gut. A lack of oestrogen causes the relationship between the gut microbiota and oestrogen to be restructured.

Therefore, there’s a growing argument that managing our microbiome takes on added importance during the menopause process and beyond. One key tool for helping to keep these populations of microorganisms healthy and balanced are probiotics.

Certain strains of probiotics are known to have beneficial effects on human health; these ‘good’ live bacteria benefit our microbiome’s composition. What is the evidence pointing towards their potential benefits for menopausal symptoms?

How can probiotics help with menopause symptoms?

The role of probiotics and their precise mechanism in promoting human health is still a matter of ongoing research, but there is a growing body of evidence attesting to their beneficial effects for women experiencing menopause symptoms.

Can probiotics help with menopause osteoporosis?

Around half of all women over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis, becoming more susceptible during the menopause due to a lack of oestrogen. It is one of the most bothersome and prevalent diseases associated with this stage of a woman’s life, often drastically affecting quality of life; research suggests that the menopause speeds up bone loss to 2–5% per year.

Intriguingly, the gut microbiome is closely related to bone health, with Lactobacillus probiotics shown to play a role in attenuating related symptoms.

Can probiotics help with menopause weight loss?

Finding it slightly more challenging to maintain your usual weight? You’re certainly not alone.

Compared to premenopausal women, postmenopausal women are more likely to have increased total fat levels and decreased lean mass. Obesity affects over six in 10 postmenopausal women and is associated with metabolic dysfunction, an increased risk of insulin resistance as well as type 2 diabetes.

In addition to watching our diets and establishing a regular exercise routine, it has more recently been suggested that the microbiome could play a role in menopause weight management.

In fact, researchers have claimed that the ‘relationship between the gut microbiota and a lack of oestrogen is likely responsible for weight gain and lipid deposition during menopause’.

The precise nature of this relationship is not yet fully understood, but many studies have pointed towards the beneficial effects of the Lactobacillus family of bacteria on menopause weight gain.

By improving the health of your gut lining, certain strains of probiotics are thought to reduce systemic inflammation, protecting against obesity and other diseases. A recent review of well-designed studies also suggested that probiotics can help you to lose weight and lower your body fat percentage.

Probiotics have also been credited with helping to diminish the effects of weight gain. B. lactis is a probiotic strain that has been found to promote proper immune system function; immunological problems are a common consequence of menopause weight gain.

Can probiotics help with menopause hot flushes and night sweats?

With over three quarters of women reporting them, hot flushes and night sweats are perhaps the quintessential symptom associated with the menopause.

Whilst hormone replacement therapy is the go-to treatment for these vasomotor symptoms, there is some evidence to suggest that the consumption of probiotics, particularly strains of Lactobacillus, can mitigate these symptoms by supporting a healthy microbiome.

  • In one study of women between 40 and 60, supplementation with Lactobacillus acidophilus alleviated menopause symptoms and ‘improved quality of life’. Interestingly, the authors noted that this strain also helped women with fatigue, vaginal dryness and nervousness — all commonly-reported menopause symptoms.
  • In another report, probiotics, when used in conjunction with red clover extract, were shown to be ‘effective’ in reducing reported menopausal vasomotor symptoms.

Can probiotics help with menopause low mood?

The gut and the brain are intimately connected through the vagus nerve, the longest in the body. The relationship between the two has been described as the gut-brain axis.

The gut has even been called the ‘second brain’, responsible for producing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. In fact, 95% of serotonin is produced in the intestine, a key hormone that stabilises our mood and contributes to our sense of wellbeing.

It’s a two-way thing, of course — whenever you’re nervous or stressed, you’ll tend to feel it in your gut!

Now, many women of menopause age will attest to stubborn mood swings. There is plenty of research suggesting that by establishing a good balance of bacteria in our gut, we facilitate positive communications between our gut and our brain, helping to improve symptoms of low mood, depression or anxiety.

  • Summarising a comprehensive review of existing studies on probiotics, anxiety and depression, ‘all demonstrated significant improvements’ compared to no treatment or placebo.
  • One major study has shown that a probiotic mixture containing Lactobacillus bacteria — consumed for six weeks — significantly improved’ mood state and sleep quality, as well as reducing anger and fatigue. These findings led the authors to state that ‘probiotics administration may improve psychological well-being by ameliorating aspects of mood and sleep quality’.
  • Another study noted that the evidence for probiotics alleviating depressive symptoms is ‘compelling’ — particularly relating to Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains — but called for further research.

Although there are a lack of studies directly focused on menopausal women and mood swings, the amelioration of these symptoms in multiple clinical studies may be of interest.

Can probiotics help with vaginal atrophy & dryness?

If you’re entering the menopause and things are feeling a bit drier than they used to down there, it’s not just you.

Interestingly, there is emerging evidence that probiotics can help with vaginal atrophy and dryness. Considering that the vagina has its own microbiome, this possibly shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Again, it’s Lactobacillus to the rescue.

Lactobacillus probiotics strains were credited with ‘positively altering the vaginal microflora’, ‘preventing vaginal infections in postmenopausal women with absent or decreased estrogen’ — although there are further calls for research on the action responsible for this.

Can probiotics help with hormonal balance?

Our gut bacteria play a role in breaking down and removing hormones from your blood — dubbed the ‘oestrogen-gut microbiome axis’. The authors of one study have reported that a diverse, balanced microbiome can alleviate some hormonally-influenced conditions, although the precise power of probiotics over our hormones is acknowledged as relatively unexplored.

Can probiotics help with menopause bloating?

Almost all menopausal women have been there — the crippling tummy ache, eye-watering abdominal pain and seemingly unexplainable bloating. Digestive problems are a very common symptom of the menopause process.

There is not a great deal of research exploring the strict link between menopausal bloating and probiotics, but there is a strong body of evidence to suggest that these supplements can improve general IBS symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence.

  • In one study, a multi-strain probiotic supplement was found to improve IBS symptoms. In another, probiotics were shown to reduce the pain severity scores for people suffering from abdominal pain and bloating.
  • In a review of all current studies on the relationship between probiotics and IBS symptoms, seven studies were found that supplementation ‘significantly improved symptoms compared to a placebo’, with four studies not noting any big improvements.

It is understood that by modifying our intestinal microbiota, probiotics may be able to alter the fermentation processes of our colon, lessening these adverse symptoms.

Can probiotics help boost general immunity after menopause?

In one study of adults who had contracted a common cold four times in a year, probiotics ‘significantly reduced the incidence of upper respiratory infection’ and flu-like symptoms compared to a placebo group. The authors concluded that probiotics boosted the immune system and represented a safe, effective way of fighting the common cold and influenza-like symptoms.

The precise mechanism of probiotics is yet to be fully understood, but they have been labelled ‘promising’ in helping to ‘prevent or delay some age-associated diseases by improving the immune response’. Also, in a review of studies, probiotics were described as a ‘novel approach for both disease prevention and treatment’, showing promise for further developing health benefits.

So, whilst probiotics have been shown to convey benefits to human immune health, there is a shortage of research directly exploring the link between probiotics and immunity in menopausal and post-menopausal women.

So, what’s the verdict? Can probiotics help with my menopause symptoms?

The direct relationship between probiotics and the relief of menopausal symptoms is still a matter of ongoing research. However, an authoritative scientific review has suggested that the use of probiotics ‘may constitute an important therapeutic strategy’ for menopausal women.

Probiotics are known to affect many physiological functions and outcomes, with this blog touching on the growing body of clinical evidence to suggest that they can help alleviate some of the key symptoms associated with the menopause.

Probiotics containing Lactobacillus, in particular, have attracted a lot of attention for their role in appearing to diminish mood swings, osteoporosis, weight gain, bloating and hot flushes.

More broadly, research about probiotics and their benefits to human health — and the mechanism of probiotics — is moving onto the next stage.

At Inspired Health, we’re delighted to offer a leading range of probiotic dietary supplements to help with gut health and digestion.

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