The Gut and Vaginal Microbiome: How Can Probiotics Help Women Over 50?
Monday, 28 June, 2021

The Gut and Vaginal Microbiome: How Can Probiotics Help Women Over 50?

As we get a little bit older, the important bacteria within our gut and vagina change. What’s the importance of the microbiome for older women, and which probiotics are best for giving it a helping hand?

Evidence from a number of clinical trials shows that probiotics may be able to help women over 50 to treat a number of common age-related health issues by rebalancing the gut and vaginal microflora.

The gut and vagina microbiome and its significance for women over 50

The human body is home to trillions of microbial cells. These complex communities of bacteria, viruses, protists, archaea and fungi — collectively known as the human microbiome — thrive in our bodies’ areas of warmth: primarily the gut, but also mouth and vagina.

These organisms play a hugely significant role in human health.

In the gut, too much ‘bad’ bacteria is associated with immune issues, digestion problems, weight gain, tiredness, skin irritation and even low mood. In the vagina, an imbalance can lead to uncomfortable vaginal health troubles like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis (BV).

How the human microbiome develops as we age

The development of the human microbiome begins as soon as a baby leaves the uterus, fluctuating continuously during different stages of life. Ageing has a strong relationship with the human microbiome; our microbial composition deviates most strongly during infancy and older age.

A healthy, balanced microbiome is key for people of all ages, but can take on added importance for women aged over 50. A number of age-associated changes in our gut microbiota occur, with our immune health becoming more unstable.

The composition of the microbiome in older people has been shown to be reduced in beneficial (and enriched in pro-inflammatory) microbes.

Gender and the human microbiome

There has been significant interest in whether there are sexual differences when it comes to the microbiome. Although some studies have indicated this to be the case, other research isn’t so clear — it’s mainly thought that age, diet and race (as well as things like antibiotic use and stress) are the key factors, not gender.

However, being aged over 50 is associated with the onset of the menopause, a stage of a woman’s life known to impact the composition of cells in our gut and vagina. Oral, vaginal and gut microbiota are regulated by oestrogen levels, which decline significantly as a result of the menopause.

As oestrogen secretion declines, so do levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria, something responsible for a number of age-related diseases during the menopause, including obesity.

Probiotics are usually defined as ‘friendly’ live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit. The most commonly-researched and promoted types of probiotic bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. They are commonly taken as dietary supplements or consumed through food like yoghurt.

Paying more attention to our gut microbiome’s composition is a good thing at any age, but research does seem to indicate that it has added significance for those of us aged over 50. Can probiotics help in this regard?

How can probiotics help with vaginal health for women over 50 and older women?

There is a strong relationship between the menopause and the vaginal microbiome. Declining levels of oestrogen result in depleted levels of beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria, creating an imbalance in the vaginal microflora.

This means that women over 50 are more likely to suffer from vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis and vulvovaginal candidiasis, and are also more prone to vaginal atrophy and dryness.

Can probiotics help women aged over 50 with their vaginal health?

We’ve written in more detail about the vaginal microbiome, probiotics and how they can help with vaginal health for women of all ages.

How can probiotics help with digestive health for women over 50 and older women?

There are two stages in our lives when our immune health is known to be at its weakest or most unstable — when we’re little and as we start to get a bit older.

Age-related changes in our microbiota have been implicated in greater gut permeability (leaky gut) and increased risk of gastrointestinal and digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and food intolerances.

Compared to young people, older people are also known to have less short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the intestine. This is associated with increased susceptibility to digestive problems like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

So, probiotics to the rescue? Clinical research tends not to focus exclusively on older women, but still provides a helpful insight into the usefulness of probiotics for digestive health.

Can probiotics help women over 50 with their digestion?

The significance of probiotic therapy specifically for the digestive health of older women is an area of ongoing research. We’ve written in more detail about the importance of the gut microbiome, touching on different types of beneficial probiotic bacteria for digestive health.

How can probiotics help boost the immune system for women over 50 and older women?

As we get older, numbers of Bifidobacterium in our body decrease and this correlates with age-associated inflammation in the body and susceptibility to certain pathogens.

Bifidobacterium are one of a number of types of bacteria that help to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) within the body. SCFAs provide energy and stimulation to our immune cells, regulating our immune response.

Can probiotics help women over 50 with their immunity?

The mechanism of probiotics in boosting immune health in older people is yet to be fully understood, but they have been shown to be completely safe and even highly effective in a number of promising clinical trials.

Should women over 50 take probiotics?

Our microbiota change throughout our lives, deviating particularly as we get older. There is growing evidence attesting to the health benefits of probiotics for women over 50; those containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria are the most well researched for attenuating a number of menopause symptoms and age-related health issues.

Indeed, science increasingly suggests that supplementing with probiotics can be beneficial for people of all ages and genders. However, considering the relationship between ageing, the menopause and our gut microbiome, it may be seen to have added significance for older women.

Researchers expect studies to gather pace in coming years with the development of new strategies for using probiotics to manage age-related health problems.

At Inspired Health, we help men and women of all ages to live happier, healthier lives. Explore our leading range of probiotics for gut health and digestion.

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