More and more research shows that gut health directly affects hormonal balance. We already know that much of the immune system is located within the gut microbiome. Immunity doesn’t just determine whether or not we are going to get that flu bug that’s going around. It also plays a big role in resistance against chronic diseases such as metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancers, and even cognitive function.
The Gut Explained
The gut is made up of the entire digestive tract from the mouth all the way down to the large intestine. It contains thousands and thousands of bacteria, many of which are essential to keeping us healthy. Most of the bacteria in and on the body is good and we want to keep it balanced correctly so that the “bad” bacteria don’t become predominant.
There is a pocket outside of the large intestine called the cecum that functions much like an organ and can weigh up to 5 pounds! It is where the gut “microbiome” resides and is responsible for processing and taking in nutrients to distribute them out to the rest of the body through the gut wall. It’s also what helps defend against harmful bacterial agents and prevents us from getting sick.
When the microbiome is unhealthy, the immune system is affected and all sorts of things can go wrong. Many things can cause the gut to get out of balance including an unhealthy diet, taking antibiotics, poorly managing stress, and not getting enough sleep.
Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut
The biggest influence on gut health is the food we put into our bodies. If we are eating things that are unhealthy such as processed foods, a lot of sugars, and bad fats, then not only do our bodies not have the correct fuel in order to function correctly, but toxins and harmful bacteria can “leak” through the gut wall and wreak havoc on other bodily systems, including our hormones.
Gut dysbiosis (imbalance) also leads to fewer circulating hormones throughout the body which can lead to metabolic syndrome and problems with insulin and obesity. Chronic imbalance can lead to much more serious disorders like cardiovascular disease and cancers. It can even affect cognitive function.
Antibiotic use also throws the biome out of balance because while they kill off the harmful bacteria, they don’t discriminate. The good bacteria get destroyed too. Our bodies don’t make probiotics on their own so it’s important to take a good quality supplement. Additionally, fermented foods such as kefir and kombucha replenish probiotics and help to restore balance.
Chronic issues and symptoms that can be associated with an unhealthy gut are:
- Gas and bloating
- Acid reflux
- Sensitivities to certain foods
- Sugar cravings
- Rashes and/or eczema
- Memories issues or brain fog
- Vitamin deficiencies like B12 and D3
- Auto-immune disorders
- Weakened immune system
- Hormonal deficits/imbalances
- Chronic inflammation
When the gut is not well, it can create vicious cycles, especially with hormones and inflammation. Once hormones are out of whack and inflammation sets in, these can create a cascade of other symptoms and diseases which can affect every biological process in the body.
Renewed Vitality Can Help
Our providers are experts in identifying and treating hormonal imbalances along with addressing other issues at the root cause. For example, normally when you see a doctor for symptoms like acid reflux and other digestive issues, they will commonly prescribe drugs to treat the symptoms with proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec and Prevacid. Ironically, the side effects from these drugs create further imbalance in the gut flora, which lead to more issues. Read more about this here: https://gut.bmj.com/content/65/5/740.
We work with you to treat the cause, versus just the symptom. Our comprehensive lab work will identify any issues with all of your hormones, inflammation levels, insulin, etc. We also offer a test that can give you an overall picture of your individual gut health. This is called the Genova GI Effects test. For more information about this test, click here: https://www.renewedvitalitymd.com/gi-testing/.
Ways to Improve Gut Health
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in nutrients. For a guide about which foods have anti-inflammatory properties, click HERE: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation.
- Eat and drink probiotics or take a supplement. Probiotics are made up of the friendly bacteria that make up a healthy gut biome. Foods such as Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha all contain high amounts of probiotics. Probiotics also promote better absorption of vital nutrients that your body needs to function optimally. If you choose to take a supplement, make sure that you change out your supplement brand every three months or so to include different strains of good bacteria.
- Consume prebiotics. Prebiotics are food for probiotics and help them thrive and grow in numbers. The best sources for prebiotics are fibrous fruits and vegetables such as green bananas, garlic, onions, oats, quinoa, and legumes.
- Eliminate sugars and simple carbs. Just as prebiotics feed the good flora in your gut, sugar and simple carbs cause the harmful bacteria to multiply.
- Keep antibiotic use to an absolute minimum. If you do have to take them for health reasons, always supplement with a good probiotic to restore the balance in the gut. (The reason we can have side effects when taking antibiotics is that they kill off ALL bacteria. Diarrhea is a common symptom of this).
- Consume polyphenols. These are compounds that are found in red wine, green tea, and dark chocolate.
- Drink a lot of water! In addition to keeping you hydrated, water benefits the lining of the gut and helps maintain balance.
Gut Health and Hormones
Hormonal imbalances can be caused by many things and can in part, be treated with supplementation of bioidentical hormones. However, for optimal health, a well-functioning gut biome is imperative. A lot of new research is surfacing which shows that the microbiome plays a large role in estrogen regulation and when unhealthy, can cause a slew of different diseases such as PCOS, endometriosis, breast and other cancers, among many other.
It’s not just estrogen that’s affected though. About 95% of the hormone serotonin is produced and stored in the gut. A shortage of this can lead to both depression and anxiety. Many doctors are quick to prescribe antidepressants, when in fact, your diet may be what’s causing your symptoms.
Hypothyroidism, or low performing thyroid, can also be caused by an imbalance in the gut. Symptoms can include chronic fatigue, weight gain or inability to lose weight, hair loss and more.
Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas to control blood sugar, is partly regulated by lactobacillus reuteri, which is a bacteria located in the gut biome. Insulin resistance is a common problem for people who eat diets high in processed foods and sugars and can be the precursor to serious diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin D3, a precursor hormone, is not well absorbed by the intestine if the gut is not healthy. Vitamin D is crucial to good health on many levels and chronic deficiencies can lead to a weakened immune system and many other health problems.
We take a science-based, holistic approach to determine what may be causing your symptoms and treat accordingly. Our providers realize that each person has individual needs unique to them. What is normal for one person may not be for another. Our appointments are an hour long and you can rest assured that we will listen to you and your concerns. Our testing provides objective results which allows us to tailor hormonal treatment to optimize your overall health.
We’ll also discuss plans and solutions to restore balance within your gut biome so that you can feel your absolute best!