Updated: May 11, 2021
Gut health. We hear this term thrown around a lot. And for good reason. The more research that comes out, the more we're finding that our microbiome controls a lot of very important pieces of our health. In fact, 80% of your immune system resides in your gut.
"The intestinal microbiome has recently been implicated in a host of chronic diseases ranging from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), type 2 diabetes (T2D), and cardiovascular disease (CVD) to colorectal cancer."
A lot of research is showing that your environmental factors matter more than genetics and what you're born with.
Environmental factors are diet/nutrition, stress, exercise levels, environmental toxins, and many other factors that are changeable based on your environment (barring any socio-economic concerns).
Estrogen Metabolism and Your Gut
It's important to note WHY this microbiome matters for your hormonal health. Your hormones, mainly estrogen, have 3 phases of elimination. Two of these phases happen in the liver where estrogen gets modified to become water soluble to be excreted in the kidney and bowel. Hydration is extremely important for excretion through your kidneys.
If you're not well hydrated, you're losing out on excreting these estrogens.
If you're excreting through your gut, there are several factors that can disrupt this process, since our gut is it's own living thing with hundreds of bacteria and enzymes doing their thing.
You need a healthy microbiome with bacteria that aren't creating higher levels of “beta glucuronidase.” B-glucuronidase is an enzyme that takes that liver converted estrogen and pops off the glucuronide molecule and makes your estrogen resorbable into your circulation. We don't want that! We want to get rid of the estrogen that was already on it's way out.
BUT, beta glucuronidase isn't all bad. It's also responsible for breaking down carbs as well as helping with bilirubin and bioflavanoid absorption. We just want healthy levels of beta glucuronidase. Too high and we see issues with estrogen levels, too low and we see issues with absorption in the gut.
Signs Your Gut Might Need Some Help
Frequent reproductive infections (UTIs, yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, etc)
Frequent use of antibiotics
Bloating, gas, indigestion
Constipation and/or diarrhea/loose stools
Infrequent bowel movements (less than 1 per day)
Skin conditions (acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, hives, etc)
Hormonal issues (Infertility, PCOS, irregular periods, heavy or painful periods, etc)
What Can You Do?
Luckily there's so much we can do to help improve your gut microbiome. Starting with nutrition! This is always where we're going to see the biggest improvements. Research has shown that "the Western diet has profound effects on the diversity and populations of microbial species that make up gut flora."
What is the western diet? Lots of processed food, minimal whole foods and minimal fiber. So do the opposite!
Include 1 full cup of veggies with every meal you eat. Frozen, fresh, raw, steamed, sauteed. Doesn't matter how you eat them, as long as you're getting them in. Shoot for a variety of different veggies that are available to you.
Drink adequate amounts of water. Remember, caffeine doesn't count as hydration. Caffeine is a diuretic, so it's a wash. 1 cup of coffee + 1 cup of water is a wash. So for every cup of caffeine you consume, drink 2 cups of water.
Shoot for about half your body weight in ounces. E.g. if you weigh 130 lb, shoot for about 65 oz of water daily at a minimum.
Minimize food in packages and boxes. Aim for eating whole grains, whole veggies, fruits, etc. We're human and living in a modern society, so I don't expect 100% of your nutrition to be this way, but try to make it a majority of your nutrition. This is of course barring any socio-economic burdens.
Probiotics! You can eat them in your food and drink to help maintain a healthy flora, but sometimes when we've been depleted for a while, it's helpful to repopulate with a high dose for a little bit and then maintain it with your diet. You can find my favorite probiotic brands here.
Addressing food intolerances. Sometimes an imbalance in gut flora can lead to food intolerances that we never had in the past. Cutting these foods out for some time and then slowly adding them back into your diet can be helpful. It's not forever! But it does take some diligence and patience when cutting out foods you love like dairy, gluten, grains, etc. Everyone's intolerances are different. Gluten free might be good for you, it may not. An elimination diet is the best way to identify these triggers.
In addition to nutritional changes, stress management, exercise, improving abdominal circulation, and gut healing herbs can also be brought into the mix. If you want some support in finding out what would work best for you, schedule a visit!