Is Your Gut Health Sabotaging Your Hormones?
The world of hormones is a vast one — these chemical messengers live in every nook and cranny in your body; they control everything from your mood and energy levels to your fertility and blood sugar.
Have an imbalance in one hormone and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll feel the effects. Hormone levels change minute-to-minute, week by week, and throughout the decades of your life.
This swirling array of hormones inside your body can make identifying and treating a hormone issue difficult.
As an integrative and functional medicine doctor, patients come into my office all the time feeling confident that they have a hormone imbalance, but:
>not sure which hormone it is,
>how it got an imbalance in the first place, or
>what they should do to fix it.
But here’s the secret: There’s a little talked about but incredibly strong connection between your gut and your hormones.
This connection is so intimate, in fact, that the secret to correcting a hormone imbalance might have been hiding in your gut all along.
Meet the Hormones that Shape Your Daily Well-Being
If you’ve ever experienced PMS or morning sickness during pregnancy, you know that hormones can mean the difference between feeling amazing or feeling — for lack of a better word — like total crap.
But hormone imbalances don’t begin and end with your period or pregnancy.
In fact, there’s a whole world of hormones that affect your daily well-being. Just a few to know are:
>Serotonin: Serotonin is a key hormone that plays an important role in digestion and feelings of happiness and well-being. Serotonin receptors are the target of SSRIs, the most common class of antidepressant medications.
>Estrogen: As one of the main reproductive hormones, estrogen is responsible for female sex characteristics. It also regulates the menstrual cycle, plays a key role in pregnancy, and when estrogen levels decrease at menopause, it causes a whole host of side effects, like hot flashes and post-menopausal bone loss.
>Melatonin: Melatonin is often called the “sleep hormone” and is produced when it gets dark at night. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant, which means it helps prevent and repair cellular damage in the body. More melatonin is actually produced in your gut than your brain, where it regulates things like the rhythmic contractions of the intestines and inflammation.
>Cortisol: Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone.” Along with melatonin, cortisol regulates the daily circadian rhythm, which helps you feel awake and alert in the morning and sleepy and relaxed at night. Too much cortisol can put your system out of whack.
>Insulin: This hormone regulates your blood sugar levels. When insulin gets knocked out of whack, it causes a blood sugar imbalance that can affect your health in myriad ways. This is often referred to as insulin resistance.
These hormones don’t work in isolation, either.
An imbalance in one can throw one or all of the others out of whack!
Drawing Connections Between Gut Health and Hormone Health
They might not seem connected at first glance but actually, there are endless connections between gut health and hormone health.
You don’t have to take my word for it; listen to the science:
>Type 2 diabetes, which is an imbalance in insulin, has been linked to gut bacterial imbalances. In fact, several studies have reported dysbiosis as a major factor in the rapid progression of insulin resistance.
>Both animal and human studies have shown that certain probiotic bacteria in the gut can increase or decrease the synthesis of hormones like serotonin and cortisol, which can alleviate or worsen stress, anxiety, and depression.
>Melatonin is actually also synthesized in the gastrointestinal system; it’s produced by cells called enterochromaffin (EC) cells. And in the gut, it regulates way more than just your circadian rhythm.
But if there’s one hormone that’s truly connected to the health of the gut, it’s estrogen.
In fact, one of the main underlying causes of estrogen dominance, a condition I’m seeing more and more in my patients, is gut dysbiosis.
Here’s what I mean:
>Research has shown that an imbalanced microbiome can lead to a greater number of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that actually reactivates estrogen that has already been metabolized and is supposed to be secreted from the body, allowing it to re-enter the body and exert its effects in excess (not good).
>Unhealthy changes to the gut bacteria have been linked to estrogen-positive breast cancer.
>If you’re not having regular bowel movements, letting estrogen sit around too long in the intestinal tract can allow it to get reabsorbed into the body. This can lead to estrogen buildup and ironically, estrogen has also been linked to decreased colonic motility, which means a buildup of estrogen due to constipation can cause more constipation. This is a cycle that can be hard to reverse.
Estrogen, Gut Health, and Detoxification
The bad news is that an unhealthy gut can sabotage hormone health, especially in women, because estrogen is the main female sex hormone.
The good news is that by healing the gut, you can rebalance hormones. How do I know? Because I’ve seen dozens of patients do exactly that.
Take my patient Jennifer. During our initial consultation, Jennifer complained of weight gain, irregular periods, mood swings, insomnia, and almost constant sugar cravings.
After some detailed questions and lab testing, I was able to confirm that Jennifer had estrogen dominance, which was disrupting her menstrual cycle and also knocking other hormones, like insulin, serotonin, cortisol, and melatonin out of whack.
Jennifer was disappointed to hear this news, figuring that reversing these hormone imbalances would require multiple medications or even hormone replacement therapy.
But here’s what I told her and what I’m telling you now: The secret to reversing hormone imbalances like Jennifer’s is to heal the gut.
By focusing on healing the gut on the deepest level possible, you can end the vicious cycle of hormone imbalance and create a new positive feedback loop that leads to hormone harmony.
Healing the Gut for Better Hormone Health
If you want to rebalance estrogen levels by healing the gut, here’s where to start:
>‘Sayonara’ Sugar: Sugar is one of the biggest gut health disruptors. How? It allows sugar-eating bacteria to overgrow and crowd out other beneficial bacteria. If you want better gut health — and therefore, better hormone health — try to eliminate sources of added sugar in your life. This means checking the nutrition facts on every packaged item you buy! Shoot for less than 25 grams of added sugar a day.
>Hydrate: Drinking more water can help keep digestion moving and prevent constipation, which can lead to estrogen reabsorption. Aim for at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of filtered water daily — and more if you are active or live in a dry climate.
>Eat More Fermented Foods: Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that help rebalance the gut. Start with dairy-free options like sauerkraut and kimchi.
>Get Plenty of Prebiotic Fiber: Prebiotics are the food that beneficial gut bacteria eat. Prebiotic-rich foods include garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, asparagus, and peas.
>Eat More Cruciferous Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels’ sprouts, and cauliflower compounds that help the body metabolize estrogen more efficiently, which means less estrogen to disrupt the body’s overall hormone balance.
>Drop Dairy: I don’t tell every patient to eliminate dairy, but if you’re dealing with a hormone imbalance, dairy has to go at least temporarily. Conventional dairy products can contain hormones that add to the overall hormone load in your body. Plus, dairy can be irritating to the gut.
>Support Detox: Properly detoxing is the key to rebalancing estrogen levels, but also to maintaining healthy levels of other hormones. My HAPPY GUT® Cleanse Shake is designed to support efficient detoxification and is formulated with a specific blend of nutrients to restore the gut.
The gut and the body’s hormonal systems might seem unrelated at first, but as you can see, they couldn’t be more intricately linked.
In fact, I’d go as far to say that if you don’t have a healthy gut, your hormone health doesn’t stand a chance.
The good news is that after just a few weeks of following my HAPPY GUT® Blueprint and drinking my HAPPY GUT® Cleanse Shake, Jennifer started to notice that her mood was more stable and her energy levels were back on track.
These days, she’s enjoying regular periods and has been able to lose the weight her hormone imbalance had caused.
If you’re currently dealing with a hormonal imbalance, the secret to feeling like yourself again is most likely hiding in your gut.
Dr. Vincent M. Pedre, Medical Director of Pedre Integrative Health and President of Dr. Pedre Wellness, is a Board-Certified Internist in private practice in New York City since 2004. His philosophy and practices are a blend of both Western and Eastern medical traditions. He is a Clinical Instructor in Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, as well as certified in yoga and Medical Acupuncture. His unique combination of medicine is best described as integrative or defined by a functional, systems-based approach to health. With his holistic understanding of both sides of the equation, he can help each patient choose the best course of action for their ailments to provide both immediate and long-term relief. His holistic approach incorporates positive, preventative health and wellness lifestyle choices. Dr. Pedre Wellness is a growing wellness platform offering health-enhancing programs, along with informative social media and lifestyle products, such as dietary supplements, books and weight loss programs.