Do you experience problems with how well your hormones function? Do you suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, or endometriosis? A sluggish thyroid gland, low male testosterone levels, or insulin resistance? Your gastrointestinal system may be playing an important hidden role.
When hormones go haywire, so does the body. The signs and symptoms can be distressing. In search of help, many people consult their primary health professional for advice and medication. But the digestive system, particularly the intestines, rarely receive appropriate consideration, potentially leaving a causative agent undetected and so unmanaged.
What are the links between your gut and your hormones? Let’s take a look…
The digestive system is the long tube that stretches from the mouth to the anus. It propels food from the oral cavity into the stomach and then along the weaving intestines that course through the abdominal cavity until the exit point.
As the digesting and digested food mass passes along the intestines, nutrients are absorbed through its one-cell thick lining. Each of these lining cells are held together by tight junctions that act like living, somewhat permeable grout. If this grout becomes damaged, substances can continually pass through that should, instead, remain in the digestive tract and bound for excretion. This can trigger low grade smoldering inflammation, which is known to upset hormone balance. Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, reduced testosterone in men, changes in female reproductive hormone balance, and an increased risk of hypothyroidism can result.
Within your (mainly) large intestines live trillions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses. Their collective population is known as the gut microbiota. They have a range of important tasks from vitamin production to immune function, successful digestion to energy metabolism. When healthy, they also help to prevent increased intestinal permeability.
However, when the diversity and makeup of the microbiota change, when imbalance occurs, dysbiosis results. This altered state could, as noted on ScienceDirect.com, “Disrupt the symbiotic relationship between the host and associated microbes [and] result in diseases.” It can also change hormonal health. The perfect example is the hormone, estrogen. Gut-estrogen interactions are so profound that their interactions carry a special term: Estrobolome.
According to the study Microbiome and Malignancy, the estrobolome is “the aggregate of enteric bacterial genes whose products are capable of metabolizing estrogens.” In essence, this term refers to the entire community of intestinal bugs that can process the various estrogens. This matters to the amount of estrogen that remains free and biologically active within the body.
If we have too much estrogen, it is guided to the liver where it can be bound and inactivated. This renders it harmless, then directs it into the intestines, destined for excretion. However, if the estrobolome contains genes that can free bound estrogen, it can be reabsorbed and increase the amount of biologically active hormone flowing throughout the body.
While many health experts remain unaware of the important role the gut lining and its microbiota plays in hormone health, this is an intimate and important link. Improving the health of the digestive system and the happy diversity of bugs that live within it takes a crucial step in the direction of hormonal balance and general wellbeing.