Emerging research has shed light on the crucial role of gut health in maintaining hormonal balance throughout the body. In this article, we will explore the intricate relationship between gut health and hormones and understand how nurturing the gut can positively impact hormonal balance in various conditions.
Bacteria, viruses, yeast, and fungi all collectively comprise a key component of your digestive system—the gut microbiome. Your microbiome is a complex ecosystem unique to you that changes in response to diet, lifestyle, environment, and more. Some of the bugs in your gut microbiome are beneficial to your health, some are harmful, and some are neutral and have little to no effect.
Your good bacteria have many important jobs. For example, they maintain a healthy gut lining, prevent overgrowth of harmful bacteria, and influence hormone production and regulation. When the balance of your microbiome is disrupted, a condition called dysbiosis can occur. Dysbiosis is an imbalance of gut bacteria which can damage the gut lining, cause food sensitivities, and lead to further disease. Many prevalent hormone-related conditions, like polycystic ovary syndrome
(PCOS) and Hashimoto’s thyroid disease
, are associated with dysbiosis (1
Impact of Gut Health on Hormones
The body is an interconnected system. When one of these systems is disrupted or imbalanced, it creates a ripple effect impacting other organs as well. Let’s review how gut health may impact a few main hormone functions.
The gut microbiome influences an important hormone called estrogen. A woman’s body is constantly producing estrogen, although the levels should fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle. After the body uses estrogen, it travels to the liver for elimination through the intestines. Once in the intestines, gut bacteria are responsible for breaking down and balancing estrogen levels (see figure 1).
When your gut is healthy, these gut bacteria produce normal levels of an enzyme, called beta-glucuronidase. This enzyme turns estrogen into its active form to be reabsorbed by the gut and sent back into the blood. However, an unhealthy gut disrupts this process and may result in either too much or too little active estrogen.
Imbalances in estrogen can cause heavy periods, migraines
, weight gain, mood changes, and more.
Figure 1: Gut Health and Hormones (Estrogen Metabolism)
An imbalance of gut bacteria can disrupt insulin balance, a hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar levels (4
). Insulin resistance is when the body is unable to efficiently use insulin to normalize blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance is one of the main suspected root causes of conditions like PCOS, type 2 diabetes
, and obesity. Conventional medicine often fails to effectively treat these conditions because it does not consider the crucial role gut health plays in regulating insulin and blood sugar balance.
Poor gut health is a major contributing factor to the development of thyroid conditions, like Hashimoto’s. This condition, which is also the leading cause of hypothyroidism, is an autoimmune thyroid disease. Poor gut health may cause Hashimoto’s by disrupting the immune system, causing it to mistakenly attack your thyroid gland. Once the autoimmune disease is present, ongoing gut issues worsen symptoms of Hashimoto’s.
For example, your gut is responsible for converting T4 thyroid hormone into the active T3 version your body can use. Disruptions in gut health as seen in dysbiosis, inflammatory bowel disease, or leaky gut may reduce your body’s ability to convert T4 into active T3
, which can result in further symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Often referred to as your “happy hormone”, serotonin is a brain chemical responsible for regulating mood, sleep, and sexual function.
An estimated 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is made within the gut (5
). Research suggests that a healthy gut microbiome is necessary for optimal serotonin production (6
). Alternatively, dysbiosis has been linked to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Tips to Improve Gut Health
Like a fingerprint, no one gut microbiome is the same. As such, we believe the best way to optimize gut health is to work with a skilled practitioner to identify imbalances and develop a personalized treatment plan based on your results. Read more about our gut healing protocol
. However, there are a few steps you can take to significantly impact the health of your gut on your own.
- Gradually increase fiber intake to a goal of at least 25 grams per day for women and 35 grams per day for men. High fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
- Review food labels to keep the amount of added sugar in your diet low and avoid feeding the wrong type of gut bacteria. Beware of foods like breakfast cereal, flavored yogurt, and granola bars as these products often deceive consumers by appearing healthy but containing high levels of added sugar.
- Consider a high-quality probiotic, like Megaspore. Read why this is our favorite soil-based probiotic.
Key Takeaways: Gut Health & Hormones
The gut microbiome influences nearly every organ in your body and has a tremendous impact on your hormones. Dysbiosis is an imbalance of gut bacteria that can disrupt hormones like estrogen, insulin, thyroid hormones, and serotonin. Simply put, you must address gut issues if you want to treat a hormonal condition from the root cause. Increasing fiber, limiting added sugar, and incorporating a high-quality probiotic are three steps you can take today to improve your gut health to improve hormonal balance.