Gut health is all the rage at the moment… and for a good reason! What is happening (or not happening) in your gut has the ability to affect your entire body, including your hormones.
Good health really does start in the gut. Optimising your gut health is key, but what exactly does poor gut health look like?
Signs and symptoms that you may have poor gut function include:
- Abdominal pain
- Flatulence or gassiness
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Undigested food or mucus in your stools
- Food intolerances
There are a few important processes going on in your gut that directly impact your hormonal balance. So let’s jump straight in…
Ways that oestrogen is affected by poor gut health
Once ‘deactivated’ by the liver, oestrogen is sent off to be excreted through your bowel. However, without fibre to bind to and carry it out, oestrogen can be reabsorbed and recirculated throughout your body. This can lead to oestrogen dominance and symptoms such as breast tenderness, PMS, heavy periods and fluid retention. Foods that are high in fibre include brown rice, cabbage, carrots, brussels sprouts, psyllium husk, fruits, legumes, seeds and vegetables.
Another factor that influences your oestrogen balance is your microbiome or, more specifically, your oestrobolome. The microbes that make up your oestrobolome are responsible for metabolising oestrogen in the gut. These microbes produce an enzyme that has the ability to ‘reactivate’ oestrogen, which can then be recirculated throughout your body. When your microbiome is balanced, the oestrobolome maintains oestrogen homeostasis. However, if you are experiencing dysbiosis and an unbalanced oestrobolome, excess amounts of this enzyme are produced, allowing excess oestrogen to be reactivated and recirculated. This can lead to symptoms of oestrogen dominance.
Serotonin and poor gut health
Poor gut health also affects your body’s ability to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter (also considered a brain hormone) that regulates your mood and appetite. About 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut, so it’s easy to see why poor gut health can lead to low moods and poor appetite! Serotonin is also influenced by your oestrogen levels. When oestrogen is at its highest, it acts to increase serotonin levels and the number of serotonin receptors within the brain. To make sense of all that – your oestrogen levels are highest at ovulation and drop low before your period. So it makes sense that your mood would reduce and your hunger levels would increase right before your period, when both oestrogen and serotonin levels are low. If you have oestrogen dominance, the fall from ovulation to your period for oestrogen is even further and steeper, which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety as well as cravings and insatiable hunger.
So, now that you know some of the ways that poor gut health can impact on your hormonal balance, what can you do about it? Here are a few ways that you can improve your hormonal balance by supporting your gut health.
Increase your fibre intake:
- Increase intake gradually over several weeks
- Drink two litres of water per day to soften the fibre
- Eat a variety of fibre-rich foods
- Include a source of fibre with every meal
Support a healthy microbiome:
- Increase your fibre intake, especially insoluble (prebiotic) fibre as this acts as nourishment for your microbes. Think oats, barley, apples, citrus fruits, psyllium husk, legumes, seeds and vegetables
- Include a range of fermented (probiotic) foods in your diet such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yoghurt, tempeh, miso and pickled vegetables
- Eat a diverse range of foods
- Reduce your consumption of inflammatory foods and drinks such as refined sugar, vegetable oils and alcohol
Bonus tip! Reduce your stress levels:
- Stress causes digestion to slow down through activation of your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and can lead to hormonal imbalances
- Practice deep belly breathing to switch to your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest)
- Consume calming herbal teas such as chamomile or lemon balm
- Take 15 minutes at the end of each day to wind down and relax – take a bath, listen to a meditation, go for a slow walk or practise some yoga
The above advice is general in nature, and will not work for everyone as everyone is different! If you suspect you have poor gut health or hormonal imbalances, seeking help from a qualified practitioner is always recommended.
Interested in studying naturopathy? Find out more about our Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) here.
Teah is a qualified naturopath with a passion for helping women to heal. She is the founder of Tiny House Herbals, where she facilitates women's health and wellbeing programs aimed at educating and empowering women to take charge of their health. She is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni.
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