The Link Between Gut Health & Hormones Explained
What is gut health and why are we talking about it?
Gut health simply stated is the function and balance of bacteria and the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract. When we think of our gastrointestinal tract we think of symptoms such as an upset stomach, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation. What you may not know is that your gut health plays a role in the function of your immune system, your physical and mental health and yes, it plays a big role in your hormonal balance too! Every system in your body is connected and gut health is central to your overall health and hormone balance.
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiota is big deal! It is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes. There are over a thousand different species of bacteria within the gut microbiome, and it can weigh anywhere from two to five pounds. These microbes actually talk to your gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, enteric nervous system (the second brain), and your brain by sending signals and messengers to perform certain tasks in our body. These microbes play a bigger role in our health than you probably realize. We are given our microbiome by our mothers during birth and this unique collection of bacteria work to keep our health balanced throughout our lives.
The estrobolome, or the bridge between gut health and our hormones, is the name of the collection of bacteria in the gut that that are capable of metabolizing and modulating the body’s circulation estrogen. To put it simply, the gut microbiome plays a huge role in estrogen regulation.
It is a little complicated so let me try and explain….estrogen is primarily metabolized (or broken down) in the liver. (As a side note, this is why liver function is critical for hormone balance too!) As estrogen is metabolized and then circulated in the bile it comes in contact with the estrobolome (gut bacteria). These microbes then synthesize an enzyme, beta-glucuronidase which is responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrates, reabsorption of micronutrients and bilirubin, but more importantly they function to reabsorb estrogen and convert inactive estrogen into an active for to be used by the body. In essence, your gut microbiome along with good liver function is responsible for moving hormones out of your body and helping you detoxify.
An imbalance in the estrobolome can cause either a deficiency or an excess of this enzyme which then throws off the delicate balance of the hormones in your body. This “dysbiosis” creates symptoms of estrogen dominance or a deficiency.
Gut dysbiosis is when the good and bad bacteria within the gut microbiome become unbalanced and begins to manifest as gastrointestinal symptoms. Causes include a diet high in protein, sugar and food additives, alcohol consumption, smoking, poor dental hygiene, high levels of stress and anxiety, and medications such as antibiotics and birth control.
Symptoms you may experience include:
- Upset stomach
- Bad breath
How gut dysbiosis affects these hormonal imbalances:
Estrogen is metabolized in the gut and when the gut microbiome is out of balance, estrogen metabolism does not happen effectively which causes hormonal imbalances with serious complications. The same foods that can cause gut dysbiosis are also known to increase the risk of estrogen dominance due to their impact on the overall health of the gut as well as have a negative effect on the health and functioning of your liver.
When gut health is compromised estrogen goes back into the body causing:
- heavy periods
- And other symptoms of PMS
A diet high in the following can create dysbiosis leading to estrogen dominance (as well as having a negative impact on liver function):
- Red meat
- Processed foods
- Refined grains
- These dietary patterns are often also seen with risks of obesity and breast cancer
A change in dietary and lifestyle habits that include plants-based foods that are also high in fiber will decrease the risk of estrogen dominance. For instance, the Mediterranean diet decreases estrogen levels by 40% after 6 months in women with estrogen dominance. (Healthline, 2022)
A healthy gut can be of huge benefit to your hormone balance:
Hormones are actually little chemical messengers that have profound effects on your mental, physical, and emotional health. For instance, they play a major role in controlling your appetite, weight, and mood.
Estrogen dominance is when there is an overload of estrogen in the body due to the body not being able to excrete it correctly causing an imbalance relating the levels of progesterone in the body. Estrogen dominance can be seen in both men and women; here are some of the symptoms:
- Decreased sex drive
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Erectile dysfunction
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a diagnosis that affects the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. Two of the three diagnostic criteria are required to have PCOS:
- Cysts in ovaries
- High male hormones (androgens)
- Irregular/skipped periods
The lack of ovulation alters levels of estrogen, progesterone, FSH and LH. Progesterone levels are lower than usual, while androgen levels are higher than usual. PCOS causes many different effects in the body including:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Heart disease
- Endometrial cancer
70% of women with PCOS have yet to be diagnosed, and 70% of people with PCOS have insulin resistance related to the PCOS diagnosis before a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. Studies show that gut dysbiosis can lead to PCOS like symptoms because of the imbalance of the bacteria within the gut.
The status of gut health and hormones is inevitably intertwined, thanks to the estrobolome. Ensuring your gut remains healthy can promote hormonal balance and the benefits that it entails. Poor gut health translates directly to a variety of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cognitive dysfunction, and mental illness, apart from imbalanced hormones.
How can a registered dietitian help?
A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is the food and nutrition expert. Our expertise is to translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions on your plate that help you gain control of your health. We give you “a compassionate and personalized experience”, building a program for you not fitting you into “a diet”.
Medical nutrition therapy provided by an RDN is typically a covered benefit on your health insurance plan. There is no silver bullet for any one disease or for overall health, but remember nutrition is foundational to health and immunity. Don’t ever underestimate your power to transform and restore your health. Bon Appetit!
We also offer a hormone and gut health program to help you with these changes!
If you are interested in working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to improve your health, contact us at The Nutrition Professionals at 480-294-6543.