The Gut-Hormone Connection
Written By Jess Mullins
What if we were to tell you that the health of our gut microbiome plays an important role in the balance of our sex hormones and menstrual cycles.
Your wellbeing relies on your hormones to act in balance with one another, much like instruments in an orchestra. Each one is vital in creating the masterpiece, but not one can do it alone. Each must play its own part for the success of the show. When existing in harmony, hormones perform beautifully balanced melodies that ebb and flow throughout our day, creating the dynamic and distinctive song of our bodies and minds. However, if one hormone is out of tune, overpowering or absent, the delicate balance of the symphony is disrupted. Balance is essential.
If hormones play the tune, who conducts the orchestra?
Hormones may play the music, but the gut microbiome conducts the orchestra. Studies show that our gut has an important role in regulating hormones. When the gut is healthy, it does it’s job well and balanced wellbeing is maintained. But, when there is an imbalance in the gut, known as dysbiosis, it cannot regulate and function as it should. When the conductor falters, the symphony struggles and problems arise.
Estrogen, Liver and the Estrobolome
Let’s zone in on one hormone in particular: Estrogen. Estrogen is one of the hormones in the female reproductive system. For all to go well as the month unfolds, it must remain in rhythm with a range of other hormones.
The primary source of estrogen comes from our ovaries. It circulates through the body via the bloodstream as a functional, active, hormone until it eventually arrives at the liver where it becomes inactivated. Estrogen then enters the digestive tract in its inactive form.
Within the gut, there are specific microbes collectively known as the “Estrobolome,” which produce an enzyme called beta- glucuronidase. This unique enzyme is able to revert estrogen to its active form. In a healthy, balanced gut, the estrobolome produces the ideal amount of beta-glucuronidase to maintain homeostasis (balance) in the body. Only the necessary amount of estrogen is reverted back to active form to be reabsorbed, while the majority remains in its inactive form as it exits the body through excretion.
However, when there is gut dysbiosis, the story changes. The estrobolome instead produces either too much or too little beta-glucuronidase, resulting in either a deficiency or an excess of active form estrogen. Let’s take a look at what happens when estrogen is high, known as estrogen dominance.
What happens when we have too much estrogen?
Unfortunately, Estrogen dominance symptoms such as PMS, menorrhagia (long or heavy periods), cramps, weight gain, breast tenderness and abdominal bloating, are just the tip of the iceberg. Studies also show that an imbalance in the Estrobolome (excess or deficient beta-glucuronidase production), may also play a role in metabolic syndrome, obesity, estrogen-related cancers, endometriosis, cardiovascular disease and cognitive function. Not a very nice line-up!
How can we support our estrobolome and promote hormone balance?
Thankfully, there are a number of ways we can help restore our microbes and our hormone balance in the body. Here are a few to get you started:
Increase Fiber intake
A healthy gut is key to a balanced estrobolome. Many studies have examined how fiber affects our hormones. Fiber-rich foods help balance levels of good bacteria in our bodies that can lower estrogen levels. Good sources of fiber include artichokes, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, leeks and asparagus.
Leave the sugar out
Unlike fiber, sugar can lead to dysbiosis and inflammation (5). Craving something sweet? Reach for a yummy fruit or a few dates and leave the processed sugar out.
Choose a few Cruciferous Vegetables
Do you know that broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage and bok choy have in common? Other than being delicious and nutritious, they also all contain a compound that helps detoxify estrogen (2,3).
Eat fermentable foods
Fermentable foods are rich in good microbes. A diverse microbiota is a happy one! A few options to add to your grocery list are kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir.
Reduce Alcohol consumption
Not only does alcohol negatively impact our gut microbiota (4), it also puts strain on our liver- the organ in charge of deactivating circulating estrogens. Consider adding a fizzy glass of kombucha or sparkling lemon water to your evening ritual and save the alcohol for special occasions.
De-stress and decompress
Of course, stress and cortisol make an appearance as well. Stress and gut health go hand-in-hand so it’s no surprise that when it comes to improving one, the other must be addressed as well. Consider creating a self-care ritual, make time for a nature walk, practice yoga or settle in for a calming meditation session. Remember to take time for yourself!