How Your Gut Health May Be at the Root of Your Hormone Imbalance

At some point in your life, you’ve probably lamented openly about your period woes – the gas, the bloating, the cramps, aches and pains, and more that come like clockwork. Not to mention the diarrhea. Yes, period diarrhea is a real and common phenomenon.

Gut Health and Hormone Imbalance

Like many people, you may not have thought much of it. “It’s just your hormones,” we’re told.

But what if your symptoms weren’t just related to your hormones? We tend to think of our hormones as separate from the rest of our body, including our digestive system and gut health. After all, we normally don’t see a gastroenterologist for reproductive issues.

Your body isn’t made up of compartments that do their own thing separately from one another. It’s a highly complex network in which parts interact with and influence one another. And researchers are learning that your gut health is actually intimately connected to your hormones – estrogen in particular – in what’s called the estrogen-gut microbiome axis.

So, how does your gut health affect your hormone balance? Read on to find out, plus how to improve your gut health to achieve better hormone balance.

What is the Endocrine System?

Before we dive into the estrogen-gut microbiome axis, let’s quickly discuss the endocrine system.

Your endocrine system is a network of small but mighty organs called glands that produce, secrete, store, and regulate your hormones. These glands include:

  • Hypothalamus
  • Thyroid gland
  • Pituitary gland
  • Pancreas
  • Ovaries (in women)
  • Testes (in men)
  • Adrenal
  • Thymus
  • Pineal gland
  • Parathyroid

Each gland produces different hormones that communicate with specific cells or tissues in your body. Together, your hormones coordinate various processes that ensure everything in your body runs smoothly – like your reproductive function.

Estrogens are hormones primarily known for their role in female sexual development. They also affect your neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, skeletal, and adipogenic systems.1

And while some people might think of estrogen as one hormone, it’s actually a group of hormones, which consists of 3 major forms:

  • Estrone (E1): The primary form produced postmenopause.
  • Estradiol (E2 or 17β-estradiol): A highly potent form of estrogen found during your reproductive or premenopausal years.
  • Estriol (E3): This form of estrogen is produced in large quantities by your placenta. Naturally, it plays a major role during pregnancy.2

Your estrogen levels fluctuate naturally all the time – throughout your menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and during your menopausal transition. But a pattern of high or low estrogen levels can lead to health problems, such as low sex drive, mood disorders, sleep problems, certain types of cancers, and more.

Less is known about how estrogens affect your gut health and vice versa. But thanks to an explosion of interest in gut health research in recent years, scientists are learning that gut health wields a major influence on estrogen levels.

What is the Estrogen-Gut Microbiome Axis?

Scientists believe each person harbors anywhere from 10 to 100 trillion microbial cells, with the primary residence being the gut. The term “gut microbiome,” then, refers to a community of microbes – bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. – that live in your digestive tract.

Don’t let the small size of these organisms fool you. They may make up only 0.3% of your overall body weight, but they have far-reaching, remarkable abilities that we’ve only begun to understand.3 What’s clear is that a healthy, diverse, and balanced gut microbiome composition is key to homeostasis, or optimal balance, in your body.4

So, what do we know about the relationship between estrogen and the gut microbiome, or the estrogen-gut microbiome axis?

We know estrogen can affect the gut microbiome and your intestinal lining. Current research suggests that estrogen may help prevent “leaky gut” – a condition in which proteins, bacteria, and toxins are able to enter your bloodstream through cracks or holes in your gut lining.5 Some believe a leaky gut is the root cause of many health problems, including digestive issues.

But the relationship between estrogen and your gut goes the other way around, too. Certain bacteria in your gut can secrete an enzyme called β-glucuronidase, which breaks down estrogens. These bacteria make up your estrobolome. Once in their active forms, estrogens are then reabsorbed by your gut and moved into your bloodstream and throughout your body.6

This means that your estrobolome plays an incredibly important role in keeping your estrogen levels at an optimal level.

Gut Dysbiosis

Dysbiosis – an imbalance in the gut microbiome – can quickly turn things sour by disrupting estrogen metabolism. The symptoms you experience may be the result(s) of a breakdown in communication.

For example, reduced microbial diversity from dysbiosis means a reduction in β-glucuronidase activity, and thus lower levels of circulating estrogen. Chronic low levels of estrogen have been linked to:7

  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cognitive decline

Some of the conditions listed above, including obesity and metabolic syndrome, can also increase your risk of troubling gynecological conditions that are becoming all too common these days. They include:8

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): Several studies have found significant differences in the composition of the gut microbiome between healthy women and women with PCOS.9,10 There’s evidence that intestinal microbes can increase or decrease hormone secretion, gut-brain mediators, signaling molecules called cytokines, and metabolite production. All of these factors are thought to influence the progression of PCOS.11
  • Endometrial hyperplasia: According to a study published in 2021, researchers found significant differences in gut bacterial diversity between healthy women and those with endometriosis.12
  • Infertility: Researchers have been able to draw a direct relationship between the health of the gut microbiome and male infertility.13,14 Studies in women are limited at this time, but a recent article reported that women with unexplained infertility were more likely to have gut dysbiosis.15

It’s not just a reduction of estrogen you have to worry about, though. Dysbiosis can cause an overgrowth of β-glucuronidase-producing bacteria, which can lead to elevated levels of circulating estrogen. If your estrogen levels are too high in comparison to your progesterone levels, you may experience symptoms of estrogen dominance like hormonal acne, cramps, and period pain. Excessive exposure to estrogen’s proliferating effects on cells can lead to endometriosis and certain types of hormone-driven cancers.16

Simply put, a diverse, rich gut microbiome supports balanced estrogen levels. And healthy estrogen levels can do the same for the gut microbiome.

What are the Signs of an Unhealthy Gut?

A healthy gut microbiome is like a tropical rainforest – a lush ecosystem with astonishing diversity of organisms, each of which plays a vital role.

But think about what happens if, by human interference or another cause, an entire species disappears from the rainforest. At first glance, there might not be a huge effect. But over a long period of time, another species that relied on the now extinct species might have a lower chance of survival. And it, too, may become extinct. So the disappearance of one might set off a domino effect, eventually wreaking havoc on the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

When you have dysbiosis – by either having too many of certain bacteria or low diversity in general – you may experience these symptoms:

  • Gas or bloating
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Acne, skin rashes, or psoriasis
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Aching joints
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bad breath
  • Vaginal or rectal itching
  • Poor concentration

And so much more. You’ve probably realized that the symptoms are nonspecific, meaning they can be related to many conditions, not just one. But is it possible that gut dysbiosis is the root cause of all these issues? I think so. That’s why I feel it’s important to work with a healthcare practitioner who is willing to go beyond treating symptoms.

If you experience any of the symptoms above, don’t lose hope. Be sure to follow my tips on how to improve your gut health later on in this article.

What Causes Dysbiosis?

Here are some of the top known causes of gut dysbiosis:17,18

  • Antibiotic use
  • Chronic psychological and physical stress
  • An unhealthy diet
  • Radiation
  • Unhealthy lifestyle factors (ex: smoking)
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Infection

Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles have created the perfect storm for gut dysbiosis. Many of us lead a sedentary lifestyle, experience chronic stress, don’t sleep enough, and eat a low-fiber diet that starves out good bacteria in our gut.

The good news is that dysbiosis doesn’t happen overnight. And with the right foods and simple lifestyle changes, you can restore your gut health.

7 Ways to Improve Your Gut Health and Hormone Balance

Healing your gut won’t just improve your hormone balance, digestion, stress tolerance, and mood – it’ll be good for your estrobolome, too. Here are my top tips on how to get started on your journey to a healthier gut.

1.Test, Don’t Guess

Before you go out and buy the next bottle of probiotics you see, it’s important to know whether you actually have gut dysbiosis. And if so, you’ll also want to identify the types of missing bacteria and any potentially harmful bacteria residing in your gut.

2. Keep a Daily Record of Bowel Movements

Daily bowel movements with soft, well-formed brown “logs” are ideal. If you’re not having regular bowel movements, or experience constipation or diarrhea, keep a record of your food and fluid intake along with a description of your bowel movements. You may not even realize there’s a problem until you see it written down.

3. Feed Healthy Gut Bacteria

To help the good gut bacteria flourish, you need to feed them prebiotics, or food for bacteria. Fiber-rich foods can be particularly beneficial for your gut bacteria. These include:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbages
  • Kale
  • Brussel’s sprouts
  • Raspberries
  • Green peas
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Chia seeds
  • Lentils

Many of these foods also are rich in health-promoting compounds called phytochemicals, which are also great for your gut microbiome. Other excellent sources of prebiotics are dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root, garlic, and onions.

I recommend trying to eat organic foods as much as possible to avoid exposing your body to the most harmful pesticides. But don’t worry if going all organic is out of reach for you. It’s more important that you begin feeding the good bacteria in your gut, regardless of the farming methods used.

4. Re-Seed Your Gut With Probiotics

I don’t always recommend taking probiotic supplements. But they can be beneficial as long as you’ve identified the right species through testing.

Instead of probiotic supplements, I recommend eating probiotic-rich foods, like kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut. These foods are even more powerful than probiotic supplements because they typically have a more diverse population of bacteria that can repopulate your gut (and your estrobolome).

5. Take Digestive Bitters

Digestive bitters are herbs used to stimulate your taste buds to produce more saliva. In turn, the saliva kick starts your digestive system.

Some commonly used digestive bitters include:

  • Burdock root
  • Wormwood
  • Gentian root
  • Artichoke leaf
  • Bitter melon
  • Dandelion
  • Licorice root

If you want to try digestive bitters, be careful – as their name suggests, they taste bitter. And digestive bitters aren’t for everyone either; if you’re taking medications, check with your doctor first for potential interactions.

6. Practice Mindful Eating

Mindfulness is the keen awareness of one’s emotions and body without judgment. Stress reduction programs based on mindfulness have been shown to be effective for many health conditions.19

But what does stress have to do with your gut health?

Studies show that stress is related to many functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome.20 With this in mind, it may help to practice mindful eating, or eating while being in a state of non-judgmental awareness. This allows you to focus more on the food and mind-body connection.

Mindful eating also promotes parasympathetic nervous system dominance. Your parasympathetic nervous system is the portion of your autonomic nervous system that helps control your body during rest. Some people refer to the parasympathetic nervous system as the “rest and digest” state. Studies show mindful-eating practices can have positive effects on problematic eating habits and digestive issues caused by stress.21, 22

Practicing mindful eating isn’t complicated. To learn how you can get started, check out my blog How to Move From Diets and Fads to Mindful Eating.

7. Live a Lifestyle That Supports Optimal Gut Health

Here are my favorite ways to lead a more gut-supportive lifestyle:

  • Eat seasonally and locally whenever possible
  • Get outside – and don’t be afraid to get dirty! Even working in your garden can expose you to more diverse beneficial microbes in soil.
  • Get adequate exercise. Studies suggest exercise can enhance the number of beneficial bacteria.23
  • Reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens. Check out my blog on xenoestrogens to find out how they can wreak havoc on your health.
  • Reduce stress as much as possible. I go over my top 10 stress hacks here.

Support Hormone Balance With a Healthy Gut

Gut health influences our bodies in more ways we could’ve ever imagined, including our hormones. But gut health isn’t something that comes to mind when thinking about hormonal health. And while we still have much to learn about the gut-hormone connection, there’s enough evidence to say that improving gut health needs to be a part of treating hormonal imbalance.

If you’re suffering from symptoms of hormone imbalance or poor gut health, I’m here to help. Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with me today to start taking back control of your health.

Schedule a free 15-minute consultation today to learn more about how I can help you.

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