How your gut health can affect your hormones

The gut-hormone axis explains how our gut health has a direct relationship to our hormones. (Getty Images)
The gut-hormone axis explains how our gut health has a direct relationship to our hormones. (Getty Images)

The way our gut impacts our overall health is becoming better understood, but did you know that there is also a direct relationship between your gut and your hormones?

A recent survey found that 90% of women have never heard of the gut-hormone axis, which is the name of the bi-directional relationship between the gut microbiome and female sex hormones like oestrogen and progesterone.

The survey by Yakult also found that nearly half (46%) of women are more likely to have gut issues such as diarrhoea, constipation or stomach aches during menstruation and that these symptoms can be influenced by fluctuating hormone levels.

Women in menopause also noticed they had more bloating than when they were younger, which could be due to them having a less diverse gut microbiome.

Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer, who works with Biotiful Gut Health, says that the gut-hormone axis is, essentially, a "superhighway of communication" between gut microbes and hormone regulation.

"When it comes to the communication between the gut and hormones, we are rapidly learning more and more about their intricate, two-way conversation," she explains.

"The trillions of bacteria that live in the gut play essential roles in overall health. We like them to live symbiotically or in harmony with us. An imbalance is referred to as dysbiosis and this will directly impact hormone health."

Dr Emily Leeming, a nutrition and microbiome scientist, registered dietitian and author of Genius Gut: The Life-Changing Science of Eating for Your Second Brain, says that your gut health can specifically impact hormones like cortisol – the stress hormone – and oestrogen.

"Your gut bacteria can also influence your hunger and fullness hormones, the happy hormone serotonin, and the reward hormone dopamine too," she adds.

Woman hands holding intestine shape, healthy bowel digestion, leaky gut, probiotic and prebiotic for gut health, colon, gastric, stomach cancer concept
What we eat can have a direct impact on our hormones. (Getty Images)

For women in particular, there are several links between the gut and their hormones. For example, when the gut bacteria is operating as it should, this produces an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase which activates oestrogens and enables the hormone to work effectively.

"Additionally, beta-glucuronidase is needed for liver detoxification, which includes oestrogen detoxification, a process which enables a healthy menstrual cycle and much more," Sawyer says.

"There is also a group of gut microbes which are known as estrobolome. They work alongside glucuronidase in helping to metabolise, but also regulate the amount of circulating oestrogen, another essential part of oestrogen regulation. This is certainly going to affect weight, mood and libido."

Sawyer adds that when oestrogen levels drop before a woman has her period, this can make IBS symptoms worse as it can encourage bloating and constipation. So, while what you eat can lead to bloating, it can sometimes be down to your hormones too.

As you may have guessed, a healthy gut can lead to healthy hormone functioning – so what you eat is important for this regulation.

"When it comes to supporting your hormonal health, try to focus on the whole of your diet, rather than individual foods," Dr Leeming says.

However, Dr Lemming adds that healthy gut bacteria thrive on fibre including beans, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies, so it’s worth incorporating these into your diet.

Woman preparing healthy vegan and nutritious breakfast. Oatmeal , honey, berries, seeds, fruits. High resolution 42Mp studio digital capture taken with Sony A7rII and Sony FE 90mm f2.8 macro G OSS lens
Fibre is important to eat for gut health. (Getty Images)

Sawyer adds that eating fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir can help to keep your gut healthy.

"Kefir is a fermented dairy drink or yoghurt which provides billions of live bacteria to help nourish and nurture the gut," she explains.

"Soy produce, lentils and beans are known as phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) which naturally help to balance female hormones, especially pre and post menopause."

Sleep, exercise and managing stress are also some key ways to keep your gut healthy.

"We know that stress, sugary, low-fibre foods, alcohol, antibiotics and medication can all adversely affect the gut microbiome, making the communication system less effective," Sawyer adds.

"Hence it makes sense to try and avoid these as much as possible. Ensuring we’re eating plenty of fibre is key for effective oestrogen detoxification and balance."