Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed. They can help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut when taken regularly. Many women take probiotics for digestive and vaginal health. But how long should you take probiotics to reap the benefits?
When are probiotics beneficial for women?
Here are some of the main reasons women may want to take a probiotic supplement:
- Digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation
- Vaginal health – preventing or treating bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections
- Urinary tract infections
- To support the immune system
- Skin conditions like acne, eczema or rashes
- Mood disorders like anxiety and depression
Research shows probiotics can be helpful for many of these health concerns. But it’s important to take them consistently and for long enough to allow the gut microbiome time to change and benefit your body.
How long does it take probiotics to work?
It typically takes 2-4 weeks of consistent probiotic use to start experiencing the benefits. Some studies have found positive effects in as little as 2 weeks, while others show it can take closer to 2 months.
This is because when you first start taking a probiotic, the bacterial strains need to pass through your stomach acid and colonize your gut. Over several weeks, the probiotic bacteria should multiply and begin to make positive changes to the microflora environment of your digestive system.
What is the ideal length of probiotic use?
Most experts recommend taking probiotics continuously for at least 1-2 months to allow time for your gut microbiome to be repopulated. After this initial period, you may only need to take probiotics periodically for maintenance.
Some people find taking probiotics daily works best for them long-term. Others get good results taking probiotics a few times a week or cycling them by taking them for 1 month on, 1 month off.
For specific conditions like antibiotic use or traveling, you may need to take probiotics for the duration of antibiotics and for 2+ weeks after. When traveling, starting probiotics 2 weeks before and continuing while abroad can help prevent traveler’s diarrhea.
Taking probiotics for 1-2 months is recommended when:
- You’re looking to reset your gut microbiome
- Experiencing digestive discomfort or diarrhea
- Have a vaginal infection or frequent UTIs
- Starting a new probiotic supplement
- Traveling abroad
Longer term or maintenance probiotic use for 3-6+ months may be beneficial for:
- Ongoing gut health and regularity
- Preventing vaginal and urinary tract infections
- Supporting immunity
- Helping manage anxiety, depression or mood
- Improving skin conditions like acne, eczema
Are there downsides to long-term probiotic use?
For most healthy individuals, probiotics are very safe for long-term use. But some people may experience bloating, gas or mild stomach upset when first starting probiotics.
Consult your doctor before taking any new supplement if you have:
- A compromised immune system
- A serious underlying health condition
- Are critically ill or in the ICU
Rare side effects that have been reported in some studies include infections and sepsis. However, this mainly occurred in severely ill hospital patients.
Tips for getting the most benefits from probiotics
- Choose a quality probiotic with research backing its effectiveness
- Start with the recommended dosage, then adjust as needed
- Take your probiotic consistently, at the same time each day
- Store your probiotic correctly and check the expiry date
- Pair probiotics with prebiotics like bananas, onions, garlic, apples
- Limit intake of sugar, excess fat, processed foods
- Stay hydrated and active to support gut motility
Most experts suggest taking probiotics continuously for 1-2 months when you first start out. This allows time for the probiotics to fully proliferate and make positive changes to your gut flora. After this initial period, you can adjust based on your needs and take them daily, a few times a week, or monthly.
Probiotics are very safe for long-term use for most people. Just be sure to choose a high quality probiotic, follow dosage guidelines, store them properly, and pair them with a healthy lifestyle.