Your hardworking gut microbes do so much more than digest the food you eat.
While it’s true that they help you to process, synthesise and absorb nutrients – as well as manufacturing some important vitamins, essential amino acids and bioactive molecules – your gut microbial community has a powerful influence over your health and wellbeing that extends far beyond your digestive tract.
As Carla explains in The Beauty Chef Gut Guide, “The gut is one of the most complex systems in the body. It consists of living organisms, immune and nervous system cells and hormonal glands. It’s where we produce and regulate many essential hormones and neurotransmitters and metabolise nutrients and neutralise pathogens and where you will find at least 70 per cent of our immune system.”
The role that your gut microbes play in producing and regulating many essential hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) has a powerful influence on your moods, appetite, metabolism, energy and blood sugar levels. Thus, supporting the mini eco-system of microorganisms that populate your digestive tract can have beneficial effects on your hormone health.
Here are five ways your gut microbiome can affect your hormone health – and vice versa...
The links between gut health, mood and your sense of wellbeing are complex. But research has shown links between dysbiosis or inflammation in the gut microbiome and mental illness, including anxiety and depression.
Ninety per cent of your serotonin – often referred to as the happy hormone – is produced in your gut. This mood-boosting hormone is also involved in supporting gut motility, sleep, bone and cardiovascular health. Apart from cultivating good gut health, you can also support serotonin production by eating tryptophan-rich foods such as eggs, seeds, nuts, cheese, lean meat and lentils.
Surprisingly your digestive health can also affect your sex hormones – particularly your oestrogen levels. Your gut microbiota produce an enzyme called B-glucuronidase that turns oestrogen into its active form. However, this doesn’t happen if you have gut dysbiosis or low microbial diversity. When this happens you end up with less active – or useful – oestrogen circulating in your bloodstream and more bound or inactive oestrogen ready for excretion. If your elimination pathways are overloaded, that bound oestrogen gets recirculated, which can cause oestrogen dominance and manifest in symptoms including adrenal fatigue, bloating, mood swings, fluid retention, acne and breast tenderness. Supporting your gut microbiome and excretion pathways can therefore help to avoid a build-up of excess oestrogen.
Appetite, blood sugar regulation, energy & digestion
Your gut microbiome produces a number of digestive hormones including cholecystokinin, gastrin, secretin and ghrelin that help regular your appetite, various digestive processes, energy and blood sugar levels. Ghrelin, secreted by the lining of the stomach, is known as the hunger hormone because it stimulates your appetite when it enters the bloodstream.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid is another neurotransmitter produced by beneficial gut bacteria such as Lactobacillus. GABA helps reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and improves sleep. Consuming probiotic-rich, lacto-fermented wholefoods may help support GABA production and ease symptoms of anxiety. While mood disorders are complex, research suggests reducing gut inflammation by nourishing your gut microbiome may also be a helpful part of a treatment protocol.
The underlying causes of acne may be due to hormonal or digestive imbalances – or a combination of both. Hormonal acne is triggered by raised levels of hormones or sensitivity to the hormone testosterone or other androgens which stimulate sebaceous glands in the skin. This can happen during puberty, mid-cycle or during your period.
Oestrogen and progesterone can affect the speed at which food moves through the digestive tract, causing bloating, diarrhea or constipation at various stages of the menstrual cycle. Constipation can also slow or overload other elimination pathways and lead to hormonal imbalances which in turn can trigger symptoms such as bloating, cramping, mood disorders, headaches, sugar cravings and breast tenderness. And, the stress hormone cortisol can also trigger acne by upsetting the balance of gut bacteria and suppressing our immune system.
All good reasons to love your gut!
Have any questions for us about the link between hormone health and gut health? Let us know in the comments below.