Does gut health affect my period? As humans, we’re made up of a lot of microbes, and a large portion of these microbes live in our gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome supports a healthy body and is critical for human health—in fact when speaking in terms of overall health, the gut is one of the first places to look when imbalances are present. So what does gut health have to do with my period? The answer is: Everything—since gut health directly impacts hormonal balance or imbalances.
Both Eastern and Western medicine support this theory, emphasizing the health of the gut dating back to Hippocrates, also known as the Father of Medicine, who lived over 2,500 years ago. In all of his wisdom, Hippocrates stated that “All disease begins in the gut”, which we now know to be true.
So, how exactly does our gut influence hormonal balance or imbalance? Keep reading and learn more about the gut microbiome and its special estrogen-management centre! Plus, we’ll dive into some common causes of gut imbalance (called dysbiosis) and what you can do to support better gut health for happier periods.
The Gut Microbiome
We’ll start by first taking a look at the gut microbiome. “The human microbiome is composed of bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes that reside in and on our bodies” (NCBI, 2015), and it turns out, we need these—good and bad—bugs. Our health depends on it! Your gut microbiome is unique only to you and is deeply influenced by diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors. There are “hundreds of distinct bacterial species in the gut—some pathogenic and some beneficial” (Nature, 2020), and when we consider gut health, the ideal situation is that the good bugs outweigh the bad ones.
I want to introduce you to an entire department of your gut microbiome that is specifically designed to regulate and metabolize estrogen. Yep, you read that right! We have an entire area of the gut microbiome that works solely to keep the balance of estrogen in the body at healthy levels (NCBI, 2019).
Let’s back up for a moment though, and trace the route that estrogen takes as it moves through the body. Estrogen is produced within our bodies each and every day, and at some times of the menstrual cycle, it’s produced in greater quantities (hello follicular phase!). Estrogen can also find its way into our bodies through plant compounds called phytoestrogens (in plants!), and by way of toxic chemical compounds called xenoestrogens, which are present in many skin and body care products. Estrogen then finds its way to our liver, where it is broken down, or metabolized and sent to the microbiome to either be eliminated or reabsorbed (NCBI, 2019).
However, your estrobolome, as part of your gut microbiome, can only function in the way it is supposed to if your gut is healthy and has a diverse ecosystem of microbes. Without this healthy function, or if lifestyle factors are contributing to estrogen excess, the estrobolome struggles to do its work in keeping estrogen levels in check.
You can tell if your estrobolome is struggling to keep estrogen levels in check if you experience any symptoms of estrogen excess. Some symptoms include: bloating, painful periods, mood swings, increased PMS, fatigue, and weight gain. You’ll also be able to tell a lot about the functioning of your gut microbiome in general by paying attention to your digestive health—bloating, nausea, heartburn, constipation/diarrhea are all signs that may mean your gut is asking for some gentle attention.
What Causes Imbalance (Dysbiosis) in the Gut?
As alluded to above, the gut microbiome is influenced by lifestyle factors - for better, or for worse. From the moment we are born, our gut microbiome is being seeded, laying the foundations for overall health. When the gut is imbalanced, it’s called dysbiosis - which at its core, is a loss of harmony in the gut flora, stemming from the loss of beneficial organisms, excessive growth of potentially harmful organisms, and/ or the loss of overall microbial diversity (NCBI, 2016).
Some contributing factors to loss of balance within the gut microbiome are:
Mental and physical stress
Alcohol and drugs
Diets high in simple or refined carbohydrates and long-term ingestion of a high protein diet
The good news is that the gut is resilient. Researchers have shown that within a matter of days (NCBI, 2019) the gut microbiome can begin to change with changes in lifestyle factors. And that microbial diversity can return or be created in the gut, resulting in better overall health, the correct functioning of the estrobolome, and happy hormone balance.
The even better news is that there are a lot of independent actions you can take towards creating and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome; you can reduce stress by engaging in relaxing activities, eat a diet high in fibre, minimize your intake of antibiotics and pesticides where you can, begin to optimize your sleep, and move your body daily. It’s not only possible but completely achievable to create a gut lovin’ lifestyle.
- NCBI. (2015). The gut microbiome in health and disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290017/
- NCBI. (2016). Current understanding of dysbiosis in disease in human and animal models. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4838534/
- NCBI. (2019).Gut microbial β-glucuronidases reactivate estrogens as components of the estrobolome that reactivate estrogens. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6901331/
- NCBI. (2019).Effect of Diet on the Gut Microbiota: Rethinking Intervention Duration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6950569/
- Brody, Herb. (2020, January 29). The gut microbiome. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00194-2