When we think of our hormones we think about progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone, and of course not forgetting cortisol which is intricately connected to our sex hormones too. And when we think of our gut, we consider the good bugs that help us make nutrients and keep the bad bugs in check. But we may not consider the connections between these important body systems.
What is the gut hormone axis?
The gut hormone axis is the communication between our gastrointestinal microbiome and our hormones. This bidirectional signalling between plays a role in hormone expression and secretion and can lead to improved hormonal health or hormonal disruptions.
The Microbiome and its role in health and disease
The microbiota consists of all microorganisms that live in and on the body including bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses. Unbelievably, the number of microbial cells we carry can be as much as ten times greater than the total number of cells in a human body. And their genetic information is at least 150-fold greater than that of our human genome.
A more varied gut microbiome contributes to improved overall health. The best way to support an abundant gut microbiome is to eat a diverse and colourful diet.
An imbalance of the gut microbiota is known as dysbiosis and can have adverse consequences.
Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome
The influence of the microbiome is not limited to the gut. The microbiota and the host interact in numerous, complex ways.
The oestrobolome is a collection of bacteria in the gut which is capable of metabolising and modulating the body's circulating oestrogen. Dysbiosis can directly impact the oestrobolome, which may lead to a wide range of disease states. It is the bacteria in the gut, and the oestrobolome, that can affect oestrogen levels which in turn impacts weight, libido and mood.
Reduction in gut microbiome diversity as a result of dysbiosis can reduce an important enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. The role of this enzyme is to package up and remove toxins, carcinogens, hormones and drugs from the body. Reduced activity can result in higher amounts of oestrogens and hormones recirculating within the body.
These imbalances may play a role in hormonal conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Taking into account the impact of the microbiome on these conditions provides additional tools to help heal these imbalances and resulting inflammation.
The therapeutic aim is reconstitution of the beneficial microflora to re-establish balance or homeostasis both in the gut and in our hormones.
Aiming to restore beneficial microbiome functions, including:
Strengthening of gut mucosal barrier
Reinforcing gut colonisation resistance
Supporting metabolites such as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which play an important anti-inflammatory role
Restoring healthy microbial - immune cells cross-talk
Using modulation of diet (macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats but also including diversity and fibre)
Ensuring a daily intake of some of the foods below can help to improve both our microbial and our hormonal health.
Protein in the diet helps to support gut barrier function and build tissue.
Omega 3’s can help balance sex hormones and modulate inflammation. They are found in flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and oily fish including salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies.
Prebiotics feed our beneficial gut bacteria and include onions, garlic, chicory root, bananas and apples
Probiotics can help our immune system and foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, natto and pickles.
Fibre is crucial to support SCFA producing microbes and aid regular bowel movements to excrete metabolised hormones.
Oestrobolome rich foods include chicory, bananas, garlic, asparagus, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Alongside nutritional support, regular exercise, restorative sleep and managed stress all contribute to both a happy microbiome and happy hormones.