Any holistic practitioner will tell you that the human body does not operate like a mechanical device. It is far more complex; connected and complete only when all body systems function in synchronisation. Research suggests that examining hormones from the standpoint of excess or lack may be too simplistic. As a result, researchers are now using a more holistic perspective in order to address the common co-morbidities that are often seen alongside hormonal conditions, such as blood sugar dysregulation, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, obesity, inflammation, mood disorders and immune disturbances.
The gut has a significant role in maintaining oestrogen balance in the body. Some species of bacteria in the gut secrete beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme capable of reactivating oestrogen after phase 2 detoxification by the liver. When oestrogen levels fall, gut reactivation and reabsorption of oestrogen becomes important in maintaining levels. However, when serum oestrogen is high, this process may contribute to excess (1). Low levels of oestrogen like those commonly seen in menopause are associated with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cognitive decline, whereas higher levels are associated with proliferative conditions such as cancer, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and endometriosis.
How oestrogen effects the microbiome…and vice versa.
While the gut can modulate oestrogen levels, it is becoming clear that oestrogen can also modulate the gut. Our digestive system contains hormone receptors, the presence of which accounts for oestrogen’s effect on gut barrier integrity. A decrease in gut microbial diversity leads to inflammation and disruption of the oestrobolome, the gut micro-organisms that metabolise oestrogen. Sufferers of PCOS commonly have reduced microbial diversity in comparison to healthy controls, which contributes to oestrogen imbalance, implicating poor gut health in the pathogenesis and maintenance of the condition (1).
Controlling inflammation and managing the microbiome
Inflammation, when left unchecked, causes high levels of oxidative stress, promoting damage to DNA and cellular components. Unfortunately, exposure to common environmental toxins means that many people are experiencing a constant state of low grade, chronic inflammatory response. These toxins (which include stress) also affect the digestive system and may result in reduced microbial diversity and dysbiosis, reinforcing the cycle of inflammation. Many chronic conditions, including those that are predominantly hormonal, are often characterised by raised levels of inflammatory markers (2). Controlling this is very important, and while managing inflammation by itself can lead to symptomatic relief, finding the cause is vital. The gut may be a good place to start.
Support the microbiome and hormonal health through diet and lifestyle.
When it comes to supporting hormonal and digestive health, the simplest interventions are often the most effective. Increasing microbial diversity by eating a colorful and varied diet also provides antioxidant benefits and supports hormonal health via detoxification. Eating a diet higher in fat and protein tends to increase beta-glucuronidase activity, while a fibre-rich diet decreases production, particularly that which contains plenty of fruits and vegetables (3). Personalised nutrition may be the key to supporting gut and hormonal health by tailoring nutritional intake to each individual situation, reducing inflammation and fostering a healthy microbiome.
Certain nutritional supplements may also assist, such as calcium-d-glucarate which is useful for conditions associated with oestrogen dysregulation. This substance inhibits beta-glucuronidase, increasing the amount of oestrogen excreted by the body and may be effective for conditions such as endometriosis.
We are only beginning to understand the complexity of interactions between hormones and the gut, but there is little doubt that a healthy digestive system is of utmost importance. Lifestyle interventions, including daily exercise and a nutritious diet has been shown to be beneficial for hormonal conditions, and personalised nutrition may help to tailor these solutions even further. To find out more about how gut health impacts hormones. or the benefits of personalised nutrition, please feel free to contact us, or speak to your qualified natural health practitioner.
(1) Baker, J. M., Al-Nakkash, L., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2017). Estrogen–gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas, 103(June), 45–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.06.025
(2) González, F. (2012). Inflammation in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Underpinning of insulin resistance and ovarian dysfunction. Steroids, 77(4), 300–305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.steroids.2011.12.003
(3) Kwa, M., Plottel, C. S., Blaser, M. J., & Adams, S. (2016). The intestinal microbiome and estrogen receptor-positive female breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 108(8), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djw029