The digestive system is connected to every other system in the body. When we are working on optimizing our digestion, this means more than just keeping our gut happy. Digestive health is inherently linked to our overall health and hormone balance, estrogen in particular.
Our gut microbes and the estrobolome
Our gut microbiome, the collection of trillions of microbes that live in our gastrointestinal tract, has far reaching impacts on our health such as
- influencing our mood
- absorption of nutrients
- vital role in the immune system
- production and regulation of neurotransmitters and hormones
To add to the list of amazing functions of our microbiome, we also have a collection of bacteria in our gut with the ability to metabolise and modulate the circulating estrogen in the body. This collection is called the estrobolome. The bacteria in our gut and the estrobolome affect our estrogen levels and has influences on weight, mood, menstrual cycles, heart and bone health and more.
The liver metabolises estrogen and sends conjugated estrogen to the bile which is excreted in the gut. These gut microbes produce the enzyme beta glucuronidase which is responsible for changing estrogen to its active form. Estrogen levels are increased and reabsorbed by the gut, sent into the bloodstream and then binds to estrogen receptor sites in the body and produce hormonal physiological processes.
In other words, the more beta glucuronidase is produced the less estrogen is excreted from the body through stool and urine and so more remains in the body to be recirculated and have influence on various physiological processes.
A healthy gut microbiome is essential for optimal hormonal balance
A healthy microbiome with diverse bacteria produces optimal levels of beta glucuronidase and minimises the reabsorption of estrogen and allows for the safe removal via stool and urine. A happy microbiome is essential for hormone balance. Dysbiosis of the digestive system, meaning there is an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria, or a reduction in the diversity of the bacteria in the microbiome can lead to more or less production of this enzyme, which means it can lead to increased or decreased levels of estrogen in the body.
Some signs of estrogen imbalance include:
- heavy, light or irregular periods
- painful periods
- bloating and digestive upset
- premenstrual symptoms
- weight gain
- libido changes
- changes in mood
- polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- breast tenderness or fibrocystic breasts
Keep those bowels moving
When estrogen is eliminated through the bowels and urine this is phase 3 of detoxification. It is a very important step because if the bowels are not moving well and there is constipation or sluggishness of the bowels, then this can also lead to hormonal imbalances. Having a bowel movement at least once per day is the goal to ensure excess hormones are leaving the body. If you are experiencing constipation speak to your healthcare professional to get to the root cause and get some relief.
Tips to improve gut health and hormonal balance
Hormone balancing diet
Diet impacts the diversity of our gut microbes and therefore impacts our estrobolome and hormones. Foods that support this are
- Probiotic foods that includes fermented foods such as kimchi, pickled vegetables, miso, kefir
- Prebiotic foods which are high in fiber and feed our good bacteria such as garlic, leeks, asparagus, dandelion greens, chicory, green bananas
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts help to detoxify hormones including estrogen and provide an abundance of fiber for our microbiome
- Array of fruit and vegetables and whole foods that are high in fiber such as nuts, legumes. Grapefruit, oranges and apples are beneficial for hormone detoxification as well
Physical activity is a great way to aid in our body’s natural detoxification processes. It also helps to manage stress which is needed to keeping our hormones balanced. Exercise balances circulating levels of estrogen in both the short-term and long-term so know that you are doing wonders for your hormones when you are moving your body
Be mindful of your exposure to toxins
Xenoestrogens are synthetic compounds found in plastics, pesticides and fragrances to name a few. They are hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen in the body and can alter the microbiome.
- Minimize use of plastics especially when heated such as food containers and plastic water bottles
- Eat organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible
- Read the ingredients of your personal care items and avoid parabens and fragrances
If you are struggling with symptoms of hormonal imbalance and confused about the next step to take to find a solution, you are not alone. Speak to a naturopathic doctor that will take into account oof unique needs and create a strategic plan to get you being the best version of yourself.
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References: PMID: 28778332, PMID: 26541144, PMID: 31636122
Dr. Ramlal believes that we can all be the best version of ourselves and this starts with taking care of our health. We are worthy of having the life we want and doing all the amazing things we want to do. She is passionate about looking at the bigger picture of the factors that shape our health and curating strategies to help others reach their greatest potential.
Dr. Ramlal has a strong belief in creating a space to cultivate growth, awareness and fostering the mind-body connection to nourish the foundations of health.
As a clinician, her area of focus is helping those with digestive concerns such as irritable bowel syndrome, break free from the constraints of diarrhea, bloating and constipation that are keeping them from living and feeling their best.