What is the Gut-Hormone Connection?
Gut Health and Hormones- are they interlinked? Recent studies have reported that the state of your gut has a definite impact on your hormone levels.
The strength of your immune system is largely determined by the healthy state of your gut. The immune system doesn’t just ward off colds and flu; it’s the gatekeeper for overall health.
The state of gut health affects almost every process in the human body. An unhealthy gut causes hormonal disruptions and chronic inflammation which can precede serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
What is the “Gut”?
The collection of bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, that regulate physiology and metabolism, is referred to as the gut microbiome or microbiota. The microbiome contains beneficial or good bacteria and pathogenic or bad bacteria. An imbalance between the two types of microbes, an increase in bad bacteria or a decrease in good bacteria can cause a microbial imbalance, known as dysbiosis.
Every system in the human body is connected and the gut and is intrinsically linked to overall health and hormone balance. Functions of the gut include absorbing and processing nutrients, immune defence against harmful agents, and the synthesis and regulation of neurotransmitters and hormones. Dysbiosis can lead to inflammation and hormonal disturbances, resulting in multiple health issues.
Causes and Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
The gut lining is permeable which is how nutrients from food can pass through to the rest of the body. If we eat healthy and fibrous foods and practice good lifestyle habits, the gut microbiome does its job effectively. However, factors such as eating processed, sugary, and highly refined foods, consuming alcohol, excessive antibiotic use, not managing stress well, inadequate sleep, and sedentary lifestyles can cause microbial dysbiosis in the gut.
Over time, an unhealthy gut does not absorb nutrients efficiently and can leak toxins and harmful bacteria into the body, known as “leaky gut” or endotoxemia. Antibiotics can throw off the microbiome balance since they do not discriminate against beneficial versus harmful bacteria and kill everything, particularly when used often or for a prolonged period.
Chronic gut issues often present with symptoms or conditions such as:
- Constipation/Diarrhea or alternating bouts of both
- Acid Reflux and heartburn
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Sugar Craving
- Food sensitivity
- Skin irritation/rashes/Acne/Eczema
- Memory issues/brain fog/concentration difficulties
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Vitamin D3 deficiency
- Autoimmune conditions
- Hormonal imbalance
- Bad breath (halitosis)
Chronic Dysbiosis can lead to fatty liver disease, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, type-2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, and other autoimmune disorders. complications can lead to life-threatening diseases such as cardiovascular illness and cancer.
Maintaining Good Gut Health and Hormonal Balance
When gut health is not optimal, hormones become imbalanced. Recent studies have reported that the gut microflora plays a vital role in regulating estrogen levels. Unfriendly bacteria produce beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme which re-activates estrogen in the gut, which then re-enters your body and causes excessive estrogen levels.
Poor gut health enhances the risk of estrogen-associated diseases such as uterine fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and breast cancer, in addition to altering libido, mood, weight, and the menstrual cycle.
It has been proved that 95% of serotonin is produced and stored in the gut. Therefore, individuals with poor gut health often experience feelings of anxiety and depression.
An imbalanced gut microbiome can result in reduced secretion of thyroxine, a hormone produced by the thyroid gland, this condition is known as hypothyroidism. Thyroxine helps manage body temperature, muscle strength, mood, and weight. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, hair loss, chronic fatigue, and constipation.
Insulin is partially regulated by Lactobacillus reuteri, a gut microbe. With inflammation being a key symptom of an imbalanced gut, a deficiency of this good bacteria makes it even worse.
Vitamin D3, which is a precursor hormone, is not absorbed well by the body in the case of poor gut health. This vitamin is vital to health on many levels and chronic deficiencies can reduce bone density, resulting in fractures.
Adrenaline and cortisol are hormones released by the body in response to stress. Under stress, digestive muscles contract, leading to cramps, constipation, and bloating. Moreover, it can decrease blood flow to the digestive tract and result in gut inflammation. Chronic stress can upset the gut microbial balance and increase the risk of digestive issues including inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
How to Improve Gut Health to improve hormonal balance?
- Eat a plant-based, nutrient-rich, and anti-inflammatory diet to boost gut health and regulate hormonal levels. A low glycaemic index diet which contains a diverse range of vegetables, fruit, and fibre, including apples, bananas, leafy greens, and carrots, high in phytonutrients – the ‘rainbow plate’ – can increase gut microbial diversity.
- Consume probiotics regularly. Probiotics contain living, healthy bacteria, and ingesting them through food or drink immediately improves the balance of friendly flora. These are found in foods like sauerkraut, yoghurt, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir. You can also take probiotic supplements. Not only do probiotics increase good bacteria numbers, but they also help prevent bad bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall.
- Feed good bacteria by eating prebiotic-rich foods. Fruits and fibrous vegetables are the best sources of prebiotics, including asparagus, green bananas, pistachios, onions, garlic, quinoa, oats, chia seeds, and millet.
- Eliminate fried, junk foods, sugars, and carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, and pasta to prevent an increase in blood sugars, reduce inflammation, and restore gut health.
- Limit your intake of high-fat dairy products and processed and red meat.
- Consume antibiotics only when required. Antibiotics can throw your gut flora out of balance since they do not differentiate the good and bad when killing bacteria. Take a probiotic with your antibiotic to help restore gut health and double up on probiotics as soon as you complete your antibiotic course.
- Eliminate sugars and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which can stimulate the growth of bad bacteria in your gut. Sugar-dense foods promote insulin resistance, reduce leptin production, and worsen gut health.
- Regularly consume polyphenols, plant compounds found in green tea, red wine, olive oil, and dark chocolate, since they stimulate the digestive system.
- Maintain good hydration. Water benefits the gut lining and helps keep balance.
- Find ways to reduce stress, methods may include meditation, reading books, getting a massage, going for a walk, taking bike rides, and getting sufficient sleep.
- Engage in physical activity. Exercise can enhance liver detoxification, and lower progesterone, estrogen, and stress hormone levels, which may help relieve your abdominal symptoms. Physical activity can also help manage weight and blood sugar.
The Bottom Line
Poor gut health can result in hormonal imbalance, altering thyroxine, serotonin, insulin, estrogen and progesterone levels. Attaining optimum gut health is important to ensure proper functioning of the body and adequate growth and development of individuals.
There are several ways to improve gut health, such as improving dietary quality, being physically active, managing stress, and consuming medication, depending on the cause of your symptoms. However, if you still have concerns related to hormonal levels and their effects, you must consult a healthcare professional.