How Your Gut Health Affects Your Hormones
You are what they eat – or so they say. It’s obvious when something you eat doesn’t agree with your stomach, but how does the food you take in affect the rest of your body?
Gut and hormone health have been two of the hottest topics in health and wellness, but you might not realize how closely related they are. The food you eat impacts your hormonal health, and vice versa. Your gut health and hormones are closely linked, it’s time to find out how, as well as how to keep them both in balance.
The Magnificent Microbiome
You’re not alone. No really. Besides your DNA, bones, and blood, you are also host to trillions of microorganisms like fungi, bacteria, parasites, and viruses. While these can wreak havoc on your health when they’re out of balance, in general, they are necessary for a healthy human body.
Most of these microbes reside in the small and large intestines, making up the gut microbiome. Your microbiome is influenced by medications, genetics, the environment, and naturally – the food you eat. Every person’s microbiome is unique to them and helps to support everyday functions like immunity, mental health, and hormone regulation.
Hormones – Your Body’s Mail System
Just as important as gut health is your hormones. Hormones are the messengers of your endocrine system and are responsible for telling your body what to do and when.
They move through your blood to get to organs and tissues throughout the body and are essential for regulating sexual function and reproductive health, cognition and energy levels, metabolism, body temperature, and much more.
Hormones are secreted by glands throughout the body. When in balance, they help to maintain regular function and harmony in the body. When out of balance, however, it can lead to all sorts of disorders and illnesses. What’s something that can throw off hormonal regulation? You guessed it – gut health!
Sex Differences in the Microbiome
We’ve established that everyone’s microbiomes are unique. New research suggests that some of these variations are due to differences in sex hormones. A study by The University of Chicago found that non-obese diabetic male mice had higher levels of a variety of bacteria in their microbiome than the females.
Other research suggests that sex hormones impact the diversity of an individual’s microbiome. Progesterone is a hormone that plays a key role in female reproduction and may also promote the growth of Bacteroides species and Prevotella intermedius bacteria.
Although there have been limited human studies, some have shown that changes in oestrogen may impact the composition of the gut microbiome. Some of these have been done on pregnant females where researchers found a significant difference, especially in the third trimester when oestrogens are at their highest. Other research that supports these sex differences was done on post-menopausal females whose microbiomes were more similar to a male’s than a premenopausal female’s.
These findings help us understand how sex hormones can impact the microbiome, but how does the microbiome impact hormones?
How the Gut Influences Hormones
Β-glucuronidase is a type of enzyme that helps to break down carbohydrates in the body. The gut microbiome helps to produce it. This enzyme has also been shown to help increase the amount of oestrogen in the body which is essential for regulating menstruation, bone strength, pregnancy, and other essential functions. More research that supports the impact of gut health on oestrogen levels found that taking antibiotics can lead to a decline in levels of the hormone.
You’ve probably heard of the gut-brain connection, or axis. This refers to the connection between the microbiome and your central nervous system (CNS), but it also impacts hormones. Although scientists aren’t exactly sure of how it works, they know that the CNS and the endocrine system are directly linked. This means that whatever is happening in your gut can also impact your hormones.
The Gut and Reproductive Health Disorders
With the gut and your hormones being so closely linked it makes sense that an imbalance in the gut can contribute to certain reproductive health issues. One of these potential issues is ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is impacted by the environment, genetics, and lifestyle factors, but researchers have also found a direct link between oestrogen levels and this type of cancer. You’ve seen the influence of the microbiome on oestrogen levels so you can connect the dots and see how an imbalance in this hormone may increase someone’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.
The gut may also impact other reproductive health disorders like Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and postmenopausal osteoporosis. This has been supported by studies showing that people with PCOS have significantly lower diversity in their gut microbiome than those that don’t have it.
Balancing Your Gut and Hormones
If you want to feel your best and help prevent future reproductive health disorders, you can start by taking care of your gut. While the health of your microbiome and hormones are impacted by the environment and genetics, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help support them:
- Take probiotics to help promote the presence of good bacteria in your gut.
- Eat a high-fibre diet, with whole food sources like whole grains and veggies.
- Avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics, and take the time to repair your gut if you do need to take them.
- Manage stress levels through tools like meditation, physical activity, and spending time with loved ones.
We understand that sometimes your health is out of your control, but making tiny changes like these can be essential in preventing future issues. Your gut microbiome and hormonal health are directly linked, but you can take steps to help support them both, along with the rest of your body.
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.