You are about to hear a lot about probiotics as key for managing menopause symptoms – how can they help? Nutritional therapist Joanna Lyall of Better Menopause explains

Written in partnership with The Better Menopause

In terms of nutritional menopause supplements, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to mood-enhancing, stress-relieving, de-bloating and sleep-boosting blends of herbs, superfoods and vitamins. But one type of ingredient that has so far remained under the radar for menopausal symptoms is probiotics.

And that’s a missed opportunity, says Joanna Lyall, who is a nutritional therapist and the CEO and founder of female empowerment platform The Better Menopause and its flagship supplement The Better Gut, £51.

The right blend of probiotics can be a game-changer for menopausal symptoms because, when our hormones change from the onset of the perimenopause, so do the bacteria in our gut – and they have a direct influence on how we feel. 

“The imbalances that hormonal upheaval causes in the gut are at the heart of many (peri)menopausal symptoms,” explains Joanna, “so it really is important to address this at the source.”

Joining forces with Joanna are Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones, former co-founders of Allbright (the women’s members’ club). It was Debbie's experience of ill health that became the initial spark for The Better Gut biotioc supplement. She found herself on large amounts of intravenous antibiotics, depleted of both her immunity and energy, and suffering from a bad gut. Her perimenopause was probably brought on faster and experienced more intensely, says Joanna.

She set about looking for a probiotic formulated for her and her life stage and found there wasn’t one. “Given that there are millions of bacteria options, with many researched and proven to work for very specific purposes  (we know for example that saccharomyces boulardii is of great help after illness or antibiotics), she always the entrepreneur, figured that a science-backed menopause probiotic was an obvious gap in the market,” says Joanna.

Image: Founders Anna Jones, Jo Lyall and Debbie Wosskow OBE

With six probiotic strains proven to tackle symptoms such as hot flushes, lack of sleep, mood, constipation and more, The Better Gut has been backed by menopause doctor Shahzadi Harper and is loved by menopause advocate and presenter Cherry Healey. It’s putting probiotics and gut health firmly on the map for (peri)menopause relief.

What are the benefits of probiotics in menopause and how do they work? Read on.

Why a menopause probiotic? What does the science say?

“There is a group of bacteria known as the estrobolome, that are disrupted by the change in oestrogen," explains Joanna. "This disruption is directly connected to all the (peri)menopausal symptoms we experience.

“We know 75 per cent of women are subjected to things like anxiety, sleep deprivation, weight gain and hot flushes, while a full 100 per cent will suffer from bone decline. So we started wondering whether there was something we could do to rebalance the gut and estrobolome to alleviate these symptoms."

Are there specific probiotic bacteria that help with menopause symptoms?

Yes! The Better Gut has six specific strains and they are backed by at least five clinical studies each.

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus: improve resilience to stress and anxiety. Helps to reduce vaginal dryness, inflammation and bloating
  • Bifidobacterium lactis: to reduce hot flushes and night sweats
  • Lactobacillus reuteri: to improve mood and sleep quality
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum: to improve bowel regularity and constipation
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus: to help prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections 
  • Lactobacillus Howaru: to support immunity, reduce inflammation and bloating

“As far as I’m concerned, I would treat the gut first when it comes to menopause symptoms,” says Joanna. “Then, I would see what problems are left and consider lifestyle and dietary changes and HRT. You might not need the latter at all or be able to take a lower dose. Although only oestrogen replacement will prevent menopause-related bone loss.”

What happens to the gut in menopause?

  • Fluctuating hormones cause fluctuating gut bacteria

“Because your hormones communicate with your gut and vice versa, your microbiome response can be different from day-to-day and your bacteria will fluctuate badly because of it,” says Joanna. “It means you can be deficient in important bacteria that help digestion, support stress response, keep your mood elevated, and so much more.”

  • You need help getting rid of old hormones

Your gut bacteria help either recycle or get rid of the old hormones you have used, such as oestrogen. But a gut that’s out of balance may struggle to remove old oestrogen effectively. “The right probiotic can help correct this, and is particularly helpful when you’re on HRT, which of course increases your oestrogen levels.”

  • You need the right bacteria to manage increased inflammation

The (peri)menopause with its oestrogen decline is a very pro-inflammatory period, says Joanna. Inflammation can cause many systemic diseases. Oestrogen keeps down inflammation, but of course, that’s in short supply in menopause.

“It’s probably why we feel so achy and tired, why we suffer from redness and rosacea and why our hair changes (as a result of inflamed follicles), says Joanna. “Calming inflammation with the right bacteria can reduce both these internal and visible symptoms, as well as improve vaginal dryness and reduce UTIs.”

What should you look for in a good menopause probiotic?

High strength: ideally 50 billion CFU (colony forming units)

Having 50 billion CFU (colony forming units) of probiotic cultures per dose (as in The Better Gut) work much faster than probiotics with a lower dose. “One or five billion CFU, could do for a child but are not effective doses for an adult,” says Joanna.

Most practitioners recommend a daily minimum dose of ten to 20 CFU for maintaining basic digestive health. A high dose will be reflected in the price, however, so expect to pay a bit more.

The right strains at effective doses

The blend and balance of different bacterial strains (every strain should be represented in its own optimal dose) is crucial for treating a specific issue, or issues in the case of menopause symptoms. The Better Gut has selected six key strains (as above) each with its own wealth of clinical proof.

To be fresh and stable

These bugs need to reach the gut alive. “The caps need to have a protective coating to survive the stomach acid,” says Joanna. “We also made sure every cap is vacuum-sealed. They come in a blister pack, like paracetamol does, to preserve freshness and stability in room temperatures.”

Why can’t I just eat fermented foods and prebiotics for gut health?

Some experts feel that the gut microbiome is so personal and ever-changing that it’s better to provide it with prebiotic foods, which help the right probiotic organisms for each individual gut to thrive. The problem with that, says Joanna, is that if you eat lots of fibrous prebiotic foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi, you’ll need the right enzymes in sufficient amounts to digest them, or you’ll get uncomfortably bloated. An already-compromised digestive system will lack these enzymes, so too many prebiotic foods will make matters worse instead of better.

This is compounded by the fact that in (peri)menopause, fluctuating oestrogen will disrupt the estrobolome and hamper your natural production and efficiency of digestive enzymes, It’s why enzyme-producing bacteria (lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) are included in The Better Gut to support healthy digestion gently, without bloating or pain.

When should you start taking it and how long til you notice a difference?

The Better Gut can be taken from the age of 35 onwards, or whenever you start to notice perimenopausal symptoms. Once you’ve reached the menopause, “acute symptoms such as hot flushes and anxiety will taper off twelve months after your last period,” says Joanna.“But you might still experience UTIs, dryness, or bad sleep. And if you want to support gastrointestinal, heart and brain health and protect your bones, just keep using it past the menopause.”

As for seeing results, Joanna says that relief of bloating and constipation is often reported in as little as three weeks. For any kind of hormone-related symptoms such as hot flushes and mood swings, “you should allow three cycles (months) of usage before you notice the difference.”

What’s been the number one difference that users of The Better Gut have reported?

“We get a lot of enthusiastic reports from women who’ve gone into early menopause after cancer: they often experience a huge difference in hot flushes after six weeks,” says Joanna. Most other users, she says, note that their anxiety and sleep has improved and say things like ‘I feel better – it’s like I’m finally myself again’.”

What about probiotics if you’re post-menopausal?

Will you need an even stronger probiotic after the menopause, when oestrogen levels will be at their lowest? Actually, you won’t, explains Joanna. Once you’re post-menopausal, you live with less oestrogen, and the body will adapt to that over the ten years or so that the perimenopausal period lasts. While the ovaries are no longer producing oestrogen (oestrodial), the body will still produce a different type of oestrogen, in lower amounts than pre-menopause. “Testosterone can be converted into oestrogen and oestrone (the predominant type of oestrogen after menopause) is produced by our adrenal glands and fat cells, the body will lay down extra fat cells to support this process.”

This happens mainly around your middle, resulting in the much-dreaded ‘menopause belly’: but at least there’s a positive reason for it.

“All of these processes can be supported with a good probiotic,” says Joanna. “We need to allow ourselves to make the menopause ‘journey’ a better process that protects our health. What we do for our health in mid-life really impacts how well we live in older age. That’s what every woman deserves - no more ‘put up and shut up’!

The Better Gut Probiotic Supplement, £51 for a four-week supply. For  20% off your first purchase use GTG20.