Gut health and the microbiome have a major impact on nearly every organ system, and a disruption in its balance can throw off more than just the digestive system. Thanks to research, we now know that the human microbiome maintains a close relationship with the endocrine system. This means gut health and hormones influence each other to a great extent. This has major implications for the body as a whole since hormones form the backbone of internal messaging between various physiologically active parts of our body.
This connection between gut health and hormones is especially important in the case of the hormone estrogen. It plays important roles in secondary sex characteristics and their development in women, and to a minor extent in men. An imbalance in the levels of estrogen is linked to an impaired estrobolome - a part of the microbiome dedicated to the metabolism of estrogen. Read on as we discuss the importance of the connection between gut health and hormones, the functions of estrogen, the estrobolome, and the implications of poor gut health on estrogen metabolism.
What is Estrogen?
- Estrogen is a steroid hormone present in both men & women and carries out a variety of functions. Though people recognize it for its role in the development of secondary sexual characteristics in women, the hormone plays an important role in bone health, sex drive, cognitive health, and cardiac functioning.
- Estrogen is produced in a greater quantity by women, and to a lesser degree by men.
- The hormone is synthesized in the adrenal glands, ovaries, and adipose (fat) tissues.
- There exist over three types of estrogen, all of which play a role in the gut-hormone connection, and are influenced by the estrobolome. The three types of estrogen are:
- Estrone: Estrone is a weak type of estrogen that is found in the body following menopause. The body can convert estrone into other types of estrogen when it senses a requirement.
- Estradiol: This is the most common form of estrogen, and performs a variety of functions during the reproductive ages of women. It’s also found in men and has a role to play in reproductive health.
- Estriol: Primarily detected during pregnancy, estriol has a major role to play in preparing the uterus for bearing the fetus, and triggers the secretion of other hormones that enable the body to prepare for childbirth.
- Estrogen plays an important role in the development of several parts of the body in women. The hormone promotes egg follicle development in the ovaries, maintains uterine & vaginal thickness while regulating the flow of mucus, and stimulates the development of breasts.
- In men, estrogen regulates the maturation of sperms, modulates erectile function, and dictates sex drive.
- Estrogen has an important role to play in calcium metabolism and aids in the maintenance of bone density.
- An imbalance in estrogen can cause a variety of health conditions.
- High estrogen in women causes:
- Weight gain
- Loss of sex drive
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Fibrocystic growths in the breast
- Anxiety & depression
- Mood swings
- Hair loss
- Can cause cancers of the breast
- High estrogen in men causes:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Prostate cancer
- Low estrogen in women can lead to:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Pain during sex
- Increase in urinary tract infections
- Low estrogen in men causes:
- Weight gain
- Weight gain around the abdomen & hips
- You can get an idea about the amount of estrogen circulating in your body by getting a serum estrogen test.
- The role of the estrobolome is important in the regulation of estrogen levels in the body. An impaired gut can cause an imbalance in estrogen levels, and lead to a variety of concerns mentioned above.
The Estrobolome & Its Functions
- The estrobolome is a collection of gut microbes that are capable of modulating the metabolism of estrogen.
- Due to estrobolome, the gut health and hormones connection is integral to the overall health of the body, since estrogen has major implications across several systems.
- Estrogen is primarily metabolized in the liver. The hepatic metabolism ensures estrogen finds its way into bile, which is then secreted into the gut for expulsion.
- Estrogen in the bile comes in contact with the gut flora, the estrobolome in particular.
- This system of microbes synthesizes an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase.
- This enzyme is important for the breakdown of complex carbohydrates, the reabsorption of micronutrients such as flavonoids, for the reuptake of pigments like bilirubin, and most importantly, for the reabsorption of estrogen and conversion of inactive estrogen to active forms.
- An imbalance in the gut can cause either an excess or deficit of beta-glucuronidase that can potentially throw off the existing estrogen balance in your body.
- Increased levels of the enzyme can cause increased reabsorption of estrogen and cause a spike in your estrogen levels, whereas a decreased level can result in the deficiency of the hormone.
- Conditions like dysbiosis can throw off your gut’s balance, and even lead to symptoms of estrogen dominance or deficiency.
- How to regulate hormones, though? Keeping your gut healthy and eating a hormone-balancing diet can be a start. We discuss gut & hormone-friendly foods in the upcoming section to help you grasp the gut-hormone connection better.
The Best Gut & Hormone-Friendly Foods to Eat for Better Health
While eating right makes it easier to have a clean and well-functioning gut, it’s also important to make sure you sleep for sufficient hours, exercise at least three times a week, and make an active effort to reduce the stress in your life. Medications too can affect your gut microbiome’s balance, specifically antibiotics. Thankfully, these imbalances are temporary, and the microbiome grows back once you begin eating healthily. Here’s what you need to eat if you’re looking for a simple fix on how to regulate hormones:
- Foods High in Fiber: Fiber provides material for the gut microbiome, and the estrobolome to produce energy from. Fibrous vegetables such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds are great prebiotics that enable the microbiome to subsist in the gut.
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods contain helpful bacteria that can perform several functions. Eating these foods enables these bacteria to colonize your gut and keep your body healthy. This includes foods like yogurt, kimchi, pickles, and kombucha in your diet for probiotics.
- Foods High in Unsaturated Fats: Eating a diet rich in healthy fats is essential for maintaining a perfect endocrine system. Since hormones are synthesized from fats, unsaturated fats are an absolute necessity in the diet. Foods such as olive oil, nuts, homemade nut butter, and cod liver oil have an ample amount of healthy fat.
- Eat Healthy Amounts of Protein: Protein promotes bodily growth, immunity, and induces a feeling of satiety. It also enables the body to control blood sugar levels better, leading to a reduced risk of diabetes. Include low-fat dairy, lean meat, and lentils in your diet for clean protein.
- Foods with Antioxidants & Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds promote better gut health, lower overall inflammation in the body, and ensure better functioning of the estrobolome. Herbs and spices such as basil, paprika, ginger, and sumac are loaded with both these compounds.
The status of gut health and hormones is inevitably intertwined, thanks to the estrobolome. Ensuring your gut remains healthy can promote hormonal balance and the benefits that it entails. Poor gut health translates directly to a variety of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cognitive dysfunction, and mental illness, apart from imbalanced hormones. Be sure to eat healthy, and get in touch with your doctor to know more about the effects of estrogen on your body, and how you can regulate its levels.