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What You Need To Know About The Gut-Hormone Connection

Acne, unmanageable PMS, hair loss, infertility… Do any of these resonate with you? If so, did you know that your hormones could be responsible? An imbalance in your hormones could lead to several health issues- mild and severe.

If you are struggling with a hormonal imbalance, the solution to fix them may lie within your gut. Yes, your gut! More and more research is showing that there is a gut-hormone connection, meaning that your gut can influence your hormones and vise versa.

How Does Gut Health Affect Hormones?

Our gut consists of trillions of bacteria. You actually have more bacteria than human cells! There's a mixture of good and bad bacteria living together. This environment that they create is called your microbiome. The gut microbiome of a healthy person looks much different compared to a person who has health issues like Crohn's or emotional disorders. In healthy individuals, the beneficial bacteria override the harmful ones. Whereas in unhealthy guts, the bad "bugs" flourish and overtake the good bugs.

The good bacteria play a role in supporting healthy digestion, your immune system, metabolism, neuroendocrine system, absorbing nutrients, producing vitamins and…. You guessed it, HORMONES! When your microbiome becomes imbalanced (known as dysbiosis), that's when we see issues arise, including hormonal imbalances.

Hormones Produced In The Gut

Cells of your gut's mucosal lining create and secrete hormones that play a role in your metabolic processes, including insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, appetite, and fat storage. Bacteria in the gut, however, can influence when these hormones are released. Having a healthy microbiome helps regulate these hormones so that your body can have a healthy metabolism.

The gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that help the brain regulate processes and play a role in memory, mood, and learning. Serotonin, also known as the "happy hormone," is produced in the gut. In fact, more than 90% of the body's serotonin is produced here! Other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and GABA, are created here as well.

As stated above, depending on the type of bacteria that resides in your gut (beneficial or harmful), it can influence certain hormones that can determine your mood and even behavior! This may be the reason why many people who struggle with depression and anxiety have dysbiosis, and why they see their mental health issues improve once they focus on gut health.

Can Your Gut Health Affect Your Menstrual Cycle?

Since your gut can influence your hormones, it can absolutely affect your menstrual cycle! Your menstrual cycle is determined by your hormones after all. If you have a healthy gut, you have healthy hormones and a healthy menstrual cycle!

Gut Health and Estrogen

More recent studies have shown that your gut bacteria play a role in regulating circulating estrogen levels. More specifically, your estrobolome, which is a collection of bacteria in your gut that process and eliminate estrogen from the body. When your gut is healthy, the microbes can produce just the right amount of the enzyme, beta-glucuronidase, to maintain estrogen homeostasis. However, when your gut microbiome is imbalanced or has a lower microbial diversity, it can alter beta-glucuronidase levels, leading to low or excess free estrogen levels.

High estrogen can lead to estrogen dominance, which can be expressed as weight gain, insomnia, headaches, thyroid issues, depression, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, memory issues, low libido (sex drive), and even breast cancer.

What Are The Signs Of An Unhealthy Gut?

If you're thinking, "Okay, Dr. Smithers, I get the importance of having a healthy gut, but how do I know if my gut is healthy or not?" Well, first, here are some signs that something is up with your gut health.

  • Bloating and gas

  • Headaches

  • Migraines

  • Acne or other skin issues like rosacea or eczema

  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation (or both)

  • IBS

  • Brain fog

  • Frequent yeast infections

  • Always getting sick

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Difficulty losing weight

However, these symptoms could be the cause of many other underlying conditions. Therefore, the best way to know if your microbiome is balanced (healthy) or not is by using lab testing and analysis. I use a couple of different tests with my patients, including stool, blood, and saliva tests. These check for an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria, food sensitivities that could be causing inflammation and impacting your gut, and toxin exposure that could affect your gut.

Ways to Improve Your Gut To Improve Your Hormones

Enhance Food Diversity

You'll want to eat as many organic fruits and vegetables as possible. These provide healthy bacteria to your gut. Each kind of food contains different strains of bugs. It's recommended to eat at least 30 different types of food each week! Time to get cooking and be creative!

Things to Avoid

You want to limit the consumption of processed foods, sugars, and bad fats because this help populate the bad bacteria in your gut. You also want to limit or avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol can alter your estrobolome and increase free estrogen in your body.

Do Probiotics Affect Hormones?

Since probiotics increase the good bacteria in your gut, it can, therefore, affect how hormones are regulated and the production of certain hormones. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus supplementation was shown to decrease beta-glucuronidase activity, leading to lower levels of free estrogen.

Calm Down, and Breathe

Reducing your stress can help keep your gut healthy. Stress can cause dysbiosis, leading to hormone imbalance and its consequences. Try practicing yoga, meditating, or try breathing exercising. Headspace and the Calm app are good tools for beginners trying to manage stress.

Need Help With Your Hormones?

If you want to optimize your gut health and balance your hormones the natural way, please contact Naturopathic Doctor and Hormone Specialist, Dr. Jillian Smithers. She's currently accepting new patients in our Mill Towne Center office located in Tempe, AZ. Make an appointment to optimize your health and get back to feeling like yourself again!

Keep an eye out for her Hormone Reset Bootcamp online course coming soon. Through a series of modules, Dr. Smithers will teach you how to track your menstrual cycle, uncover hormone imbalances, and regulate & optimize your hormones. Sign up to make sure you're the first to know when it launches!

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