The Connection Between Your Gut Health and Your Hormones
Did you know that the state of your gut health affects almost every physiological process in your body? An unhealthy gut causes hormonal disruptions and chronic inflammation which can precede serious conditions such as diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s. If your gut health hasn’t been at the top of your priority list, it might just jump to first place after you’re done reading.
What exactly is the gut and what does it consist of?
When referring to your gut, we’re talking about your entire digestive tract from your mouth all the way down through your colon. It covers your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. That’s a lot of organs! Your digestive tract contains some 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells—these are referred to as the gut microbiome.
Your gut is responsible for taking in and processing nutrients and defending against harmful agents. It’s also made up of several different types of bacteria; good, and bad, as well as viral, fungal, and other microbes. We would not be able to survive without the microbiome.
If you have chronic gut issues, this is a list of some of the conditions and/or symptoms you may experience.
- Diarrhea/Constipation or alternating bouts of both
- Acid reflux
- Food sensitivities
- Sugar cravings
- Skin rashes/Eczema
- Depression/Low mood
- Brain fog/Memory issues
- Vitamin D3 deficiency
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Autoimmune disorders
- Compromised immune system
- Hormonal imbalances
- Chronic inflammation
- “Leaky gut” syndrome
The link between gut microbiome health and hormones
There is a clear link between the health of your gut microbiome and your hormones. If you have an unhealthy gut, it can lead to hormonal imbalance. There is new research showing that the gut microbiome plays a big role in estrogen regulation. These studies indicate that poor gut health increases the risk of estrogen-related conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, and even breast cancer. If you’re experiencing any of these conditions, or other symptoms of hormonal imbalance, looking at the state of your gut health might be a good place to start.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the gut’s ability to regulate estrogen. There is a collection of bacteria in the gut called the estrobolome. Its job is to metabolize and modulate the body’s circulating estrogen. When you have a healthy gut microbiome, the estrobolome produces optimal levels of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase—too much of this enzyme can cause an imbalance of estrogen levels.
As the liver metabolizes estrogen, this conjugated estrogen is delivered to the bile for excretion into the gut. When the estrobolome is healthy, estrogen reabsorption is minimized which allows for the safe removal of it as waste in stool and urine, ensuring hormone balance. If beta-glucuronidase production is too high, estrogen is reactivated in the gut and released into the bloodstream causing estrogen dominance.
Signs of estrogen dominance:
- Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Metabolic syndrome
- Estrogen-related cancers (breast and prostate)
- Mood disturbance
- Heart disease
What about period poops?
We’re going to do a deep dive on this subject, but here’s a quick snapshot. Right before and during the first few days of your period, there is an increase in prostaglandin production. This stimulates muscle contraction in the uterus, to help expel the blood and endometrial tissue, but it may also cause contractions in the intestines and bowels.
Right before your cycle, in the luteal phase, progesterone is at its highest which can make constipation worse, especially for those with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, endometriosis, fibroids, and ovarian cysts. So if you experience your digestive tract seeming to battle with itself around this time, know that it’s completely normal, and you’re not alone.
Why gut health is so important and how you can improve yours
If you want to keep your hormones in balance, you’ll need to optimize your gut health. Your gut microbiome has many functions, so it’s crucial to keep it happy and healthy. The gut microbiome:
- Aids in the synthesis and regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters
- Facilitates absorption of macro and micronutrients
- Has an essential role in the immune system
- Contributes to the regulation of estrogen levels in the body
Lifestyle Changes You Can Implement to Improve Gut Health and Balance Hormones
- Eat a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet. Include foods such as tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, and fruits.
- Consume pre- and probiotics regularly. You can get these through your food or through supplements. Prebiotic foods are typically high in fiber—apples, bananas, berries, flaxseed, green veggies, oats, and soybeans to name a few. Probiotic foods are live yeasts and good bacteria—yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and kefir. We’ve just launched our Pre+ Probiotic for Women supplement! The prebiotic blend uses psyllium husks and acacia gum, and our probiotic blend is formulated with Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Lactobacillus Plantarum. We’ve also included ginger to help lower inflammation levels in the intestines and ease an upset stomach.
- Cut out sugars, simple carbs, and trans fats. These can have a negative impact on gut health. This can be overwhelming to think about for some, so if that’s you, try taking it slow and eliminating one category at a time. And don’t berate yourself if you have some of these foods occasionally. Just try not to make it the bulk of your diet.
- Take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. Antibiotics don’t discriminate when killing off bacteria, which means your good bacteria gets the torch too. Always take a probiotic along with your antibiotic and double up on them when you’re through with your antibiotics to help restore gut health.
- Cut out artificial sweeteners. Studies show that sweeteners like aspartame stimulate the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. Again, if you let some slip in on occasion, don’t beat yourself up. Try and steer clear of them as much as you can though.
- Consume polyphenols regularly. Polyphenols are plant compounds found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, and olive oil and help stimulate the digestive system. They’re also the key ingredient in our Urinary Tract Cleanse & Protect! You can support gut and bladder health at the same time!
- Drink that water! Water is an overall good thing to be consuming, but it also benefits the lining of the gut and helps keep it balanced.
- Be aware of and reduce exposure to environmental toxins. This one can be tough because some of it is completely out of your control, especially if you live with others who aren’t on the same page as you. Estrogens can be obtained from the environment, phytoestrogens from plants such as soya, tofu, and tempeh, or synthetically manufactured Xenoestrogens. They are found in common household products like fragrances, pesticides, and plastics. It’s best to tackle this one room at a time, or as you run out of products. Don’t throw everything away and start over! That can be not only overwhelming but also a financial burden. It’s also important to keep in mind that some of these environmental toxins will be outside of your control, so take a deep breath, and know that everything you are doing is enough.
- Cut back on alcohol consumption. This is another tough one. We live in a society where alcohol is not only freely available, to those of the proper age, but socially acceptable. You’re actually more likely to get questions and weird stares if you choose not to drink. Alcohol can have a negative impact on the gut microbiome and the liver’s ability to detoxify circulating estrogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. If you choose to indulge, be mindful of safe drinking levels, take days off, and avoid binge drinking.
- Add in some exercise. Exercising is an excellent way to support the detoxification that happens in the liver and regular, moderate-intensity exercise can lower levels of circulating estrogens. Aim for activities that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system—the body’s rest and digest mode. Think low-impact, moderate to low-intensity things that won’t raise your cortisol levels too high.
Achieving gut health means supporting overall health and hormone balance. Most of the work you can do to encourage a healthy gut is small, simple lifestyle changes that take little effort and incur a minimal cost.