Firstly, let’s just get something straight. Oestrogen is not the bad guy. While oestrogen is found in both men and women, it’s considered the primary ‘female sex hormone’, as it’s responsible for the development of secondary sexual characteristics in females, such as breast tissue. Oestrogen is also involved in the maintenance of health
y cholesterol levels and in promoting healthy bone density in women. For those interested in conceiving, adequate oestrogen levels are required to ensure the development of a healthy and thick uterine lining, to allow for implantation of the embryo. Oestrogen also helps keep our skin soft and subtle as we age, which is why declining oestrogen levels during menopause can be associated with dry skin. It also helps lubricate the vagina and increases insulin sensitivity, which is important for healthy weight management. As you can see, oestrogen plays many important roles in the body, but sadly, it often gets a bad rap!
Oestrogen levels should fluctuate quite significantly throughout the menstrual cycle however when we see hormonal imbalances this can be connected to a lack of or excess of oestrogen and/or an imbalance in the ratio between oestrogen and other hormones like progesterone.
In this blog post I am going to discuss how the gut microbiome has a really important influence on our oestrogen status and therefore our overall hormonal health. When we are investigating any hormonal imbalance we need to look at the gut as an important part of the picture and it is so important that we optimise our gut health in order to support hormonal harmony.
The liver plays an essential role in oestrogen metabolism and it is so important that we help support the processes of liver detoxification to make sure this is happening correctly however an area of growing interest is the role of the gut in oestrogen balance.
The composition of the gut microbiota has an impact on oestrogen metabolism. In turn, the composition of the gut microbiome and other microbiome sites i.e. the vagina, are influenced by oestrogen. For example oestrogen regulates the vaginal microbiota. A good level of Oestrogen in the body increases glycogen in the vaginal mucus which directly feed the lactobacilli species. This regulation helps to reduce the vaginal pH and maintain balance within the vaginal eco system.
The balance and levels of certain bacteria in the gut helps determine to what extent we produce enzymes that can metabolise oestrogen and promote the reabsorption of oestrogen back into the body and to what extent we can excrete oestrogen in the feaces. What we want is the appropriate balance and too much/too little being reabsorbed or excreted can all become a problem and lead to conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS and breast cancer to name a few. Even if you have not been diagnosed with a condition there can still be more subtle subclinical signs that you have a hormonal imbalance that should addressed.
Other factors relating to gut health that can impact oestrogen levels:
+The quality of bile is important to allow the oestrogen from the liver to swiftly enter the gut and hopefully be safely eliminated
+Regular and healthy bowel motility is so important to make sure waste is being eliminated correctly from the body and it gives less possibility for oestrogen to be reabsorbed in excess
+Gut microbes digest polyphenols and help activate phytoestrogens which can help regulate oestrogen levels and activity
+Xenoestrogens imitate oestrogen in the body and environmental sources are things like plastics, pesticides, tap water and chemicals in cosmetics. They are treated like oestrogen in the gut, if there are an abundance of microbes that can act on those then it might promote their recirculation further adding to the level of oestrogen activity in the body
+If you have leaky gut syndrome, the intestinal epithelial barrier function is compromised and it impacts the ability of the epithelial cells to metabolise oestrogen
+Decreasing intestinal inflammation and oxidative stress is critical to the gut microbiome and healthy oestrogen levels