Friendly bacteria and the menopause

Menopause brings with it a number of changes to our bodies, most of which are associated with the reduction in oestrogen production that occurs at this time.

Many of these changes are directly linked to a healthy balance of friendly bacteria both in the gut and in the genito-urinary tract.

menopause-blog

The vaginal flora

Healthy vaginal microflora (primarly Lactobacilli species) play an important role in supporting vaginal health, helping to keep the genitourinary tract slightly acidic to protect against pathogens and infections.

As oestrogen levels fall during menopause however, the levels of Lactobacilli bacteria in the vagina are depleted, potentially allowing increases in harmful bacteria. A study of pre- and post-menopausal women found no Lactobacillus species in half of the menopausal women and those women with these strains had much smaller amounts than the non-menopausal women[1]. As a result, post-menopausal women are more prone to genito-urinary infections, including UTIs and fungal infection.

This loss of Lactobacillus has also been associated with vaginal atrophy and dryness and the consumption of lactobacillus bacteria may help to maintain the bacterial balance in the vagina and to alleviate some of these symptoms.

The gut flora

A number of other key menopausal symptoms may also be supported by a healthy gut microbiota.

For example, maintaining a balance of friendly bacteria in the gut has been shown to support the gut-brain axis through bi-directional communication, thus helping to improve mood and sleep. Similarly, as our gut bacteria help with metabolising and recycling hormones, they can help to support hormonal balance.

Finally, one of the key symptoms of menopause is abdominal weight gain and research is increasingly linking the diversity and composition of our gut bacteria to weight and showing how friendly bacteria supplements may help with weight loss.

[1] Brotman RM et al 2014 Association between the vaginal microbiota, menopause status and signs of vulvovaginal atrophy. Menopause 21(5):450-458