The Gut Hormone Connection:
Does Hormone Balance Begin in the Gut?
Gut health has firmly cemented itself in the wellness eco-system over the last few years and there seem to be few signs of that changing as new and exciting science-based studies continue to be released tot he public.
As we begin to dig into the gut and the endocrine system, we should clarify that when we discuss the gut, we specifically mean the Microbiome. If the word “microbiome” makes your head spin, pop in over here to learn more about the bacteria hitching a ride in your intestines.
To think, we once believed that the gut was “just” there to digest food! However, we now know this could not be any further from the truth.
“We now know that microbes influence metabolism, immunity and even behavior… Although the precise pathways of microbiota-hormonal signaling have not yet been [fully] deciphered, specific changes in hormone levels correlate with the presence of the gut microbiota. The microbiota produces and secretes hormones, responds to host hormones and regulates expression levels of host hormones.” (FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 39, 2015, 509–521)
Your gut has a hand in controlling many of the hormones within your body and is now very much considered one of the largest (and often over-looked) endocrine organs in the body. The endocrine system controls the synthesis and movement of hormones throughout your entire body.
Let’s start at the beginning. Your microbiome is essentially a direct reflection of how and where you were born, your diet up until now, and the many toxins you have been exposed to.
Honestly, the thought, “oh my gosh, how is this affecting my microbiome?” may never have crossed your mind.
But, here is why it should: the bugs in your gut are signaling to your brain more often than your brain is signaling to the rest of your entire body through the use of your Enteric Nervous System (ENS).
Let’s just picture the long tube of your large intestine. That tube is filled with tiny bugs who are doing their very own Tango along the nerve endings of your ENS. Their dance controls your life.
Your ENS is a part of a much larger system that has a hand in controlling your entire Endocrine system, the signals sent through the Vagal Nerve, digestion (obviously), and less obviously, our immune responses, and emotions.
The Endocrine System and Hormone balance:
Studies have shown that the Endocrine system is getting many of its cues from the ENS and ultimately the gut.
Allow me to drop a bomb here. As most women assume these things are totally natural but:
PMS and other hormone symptoms are not normal.
While everyone is different, you should not be regularly struggling with excessively heavy and/or painful periods, acne, chronic headaches, hair loss, mood swings, or extreme sensitivity to stress. These symptoms have a very strong link to our gut.
How to Leverage your Microbiome for Hormone Balance
We like to think about the microbiome as a rainforest. There are many diverse bacteria living within the gut. The digestive, hormonal, emotional, and immune issues begin to arise when the population of good bacteria has been either overcrowded or killed off entirely, allowing for bad bacteria, yeast, and fungus to take over.
So, the first step is understanding how insanely important the gut is to your overall health. The next step is to remove harmful bacteria and to start repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria.
We really love actionable information, because as much as “remove and repopulate” sounds great – it doesn’t give you much to work with. So, here is a great list of foods to try and avoid when possible and a number to introduce in order to remove and repopulate.
- Refined sugars
- Artificial sweeteners
- Refined vegetable oils (trans-fats)
- Pesticides (buy produce using the clean fifteen/dirty dozen list)
- Fluoride, Chlorine, and other water toxins (including heavy metals)
- Organic Goat’s Milk Yogurt
- Cultured Vegetables (think kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh…)
- Chicory root
- Dandelion greens
- Green bananas
- Barley (no, beer doesn’t count)
- Steel Cut Oats
- Healthy fats (avocados, coconut oil, nuts, ghee, and salmon)
- Bone Broth
- Organic Raw Vegetables
- Organic Raw Fruit (lean into lower sugar fruits like berries and citrus)
- Fermented dairy (kefir and yogurt)
- Alkaline, non-toxic water
- Anti-Fungal’s (such as grapefruit and grape seed extract, oregano oil, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, and/or turmeric).
These changes do not need to be lifelong alterations to your diet, some of the foods in the remove category are fine in moderation and frankly very difficult to avoid in the first place. But, being aware is a very important first step.
For further reading, check out these amazing books:
Written by Amber Leann Drake: Amber focuses on helping women align their body + mind + soul by focusing on healing the gut, breaking through mindset barriers, and learning how to tap back into their powerful intuition.