In the vast world of health and wellness, the gut is recognized as a substantial component in influencing our overall well-being, from our immune system to our mental health. One less talked about, but equally significant, connection is the relationship between gut health and hormones in both women and men. This bond offers a deeper understanding of how food and gut microbiome can significantly influence hormonal balance.
Before diving into the hormone-gut connection, let’s first consider gut health. A healthy gut consists of diverse bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms that make up our microbiome. These microscopic entities play pivotal roles in digestion, nutrient absorption and the production of various essential compounds.
One of many reasons to maintain a healthy gut is due to its direct or indirect influence on the following hormones:
Serotonin. Often labeled as the ‘feel good’ hormone, about 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is crucial for our mood regulation, sleep and appetite. A balanced gut microbiome promotes optimal serotonin production, influencing emotional well-being.
Cortisol. Chronic stress affects our gut, leading to a compromised gut lining and inflammation, further influencing the production and release of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels will disrupt our gut health, creating a vicious cycle.
Insulin. Gut bacteria play a role in modulating insulin sensitivity. Dysbiosis, which is just another name for an imbalance in your gut bacteria, can contribute to insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
Estrogen. Our gut microbiomes regulate estrobolome, a collection of bacteria metabolizing estrogens. An imbalanced estrobolome can lead to either an excess or deficiency of estrogen, and both are associated with health concerns.
Ghrelin and Leptin. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and leptin, the satiety hormone, are both influenced by the gut. An unhealthy gut can disrupt their balance leading to overeating and obesity.
The gut-hormone feedback loop
The relationship between our gut and our hormones is not simply one sided. While our gut affects hormone levels, hormones can, in turn, influence the gut. For instance, elevated cortisol due to stress can impair our gut lining, making it more permeable and leading to what is commonly referred to as “leaky gut.” Similarly, hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can impact gut motility, explaining some individuals’ digestive issues during specific phases.
Gut health disruptions can manifest in various hormonal imbalances and can display a range of symptoms:
- Mood swings, depression, or anxiety (linked to serotonin)
- Chronic fatigue or insomnia (potentially tied to cortisol and serotonin)
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen (often related to insulin and cortisol)
- Hot flashes, heavy periods or polycystic ovary syndrome (linked to estrogen)
Recognizing these symptoms is crucial in guiding our health care interventions to restore our gut and hormonal balances.
Promoting gut health for hormonal happiness
So what are the key factors that contribute to a healthy gut and in turn, healthy and balanced hormones?
Diet. Eating a diverse range of whole foods rich in fibers and fermented products like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut to support healthy gut microbiome.
Limiting stress. Practice stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises. Chronic stress disrupts hormonal balance and wreaks havoc on your gut health.
Exercise. Getting regular physical activity can boost our gut diversity and promote hormonal balance.
Avoiding overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics will reduce your gut bacterial diversity. Using antibiotics only when absolutely necessary is essential.
Probiotics and prebiotics. These supplements can be extremely helpful to restore our gut health, especially after disruptions like illnesses or antibiotics.
The interconnected relationship between the health of our guts and our hormones sheds light on the holistic nature of the human body. It’s not just about one system or a single hormone; everything is interwoven, reflecting the intricate balance that maintains our health. When we understand these connections, we can take a comprehensive approach to health and well-being, where the gut is central.
As research continues, the depth of this connection will only become more evident, emphasizing the need to prioritize gut health in our journey to hormonal balance and overall wellness.
Stacey Michele Blackwell is a certified health coach with Barefoot Balance Holistic Health and can be reached at (760) 401.1568 or [email protected].