How Gut Health Impacts Hormones

I often get women that come to me wanting hormone testing, and I totally understand why.  They are tired, have painful/heavy periods, irregular cycles, endometriosis, PCOS, etc., which are all related to hormones.  BUT, and that’s a big but, we need to think about what is causing these hormone imbalances.  This is where the digestive system comes in.  If you have an issue in your gut, it’s nearly impossible to heal hormones long-term.

 How to achieve healthier hormones?

Ensuring proper digestive health is a key part of this.  Why?  Our digestive systems impact our hormones in so many more ways than many of us.  First things first, we need to make sure we are pooping every day.  We poop out our toxins and estrogen.  If we are not pooping at least once a day, we are likely recycling estrogen and toxins into the body.  This can raise estrogen levels and increase the burden on our lives, which we need to be working correctly for hormone health.  Healthy stool patterns are also a great view of what is happening inside of our bodies. A regular, consistent stool can show us that we are digesting our food properly and absorbing nutrients and fluid from the food we eat. Stool that is too loose or too hard happens too frequently or not frequently enough, and stool that is difficult to pass can all be indicators of deeper systemic issues that our bodies are trying to tell us. 

When it comes to poop, I love (no, seriously – I love it) to share the Bristol Stool Chart with my clients. This is a great guide into what stool should look like and helps us to describe what stool does look like to identify potential problems better. 

How does your gut health impact your thyroid health?

The gut-thyroid connection is often a vicious cycle since hypothyroidism causes poor digestion, contributing to poor thyroid function. The main ways in which your gut health can impact your thyroid health are:

  1. We need to digest and absorb the food we eat properly to get the nutrients required for optimal thyroid function.
  2. If parasites, pathogens, or yeast are present, they act as a stressor on the adrenals, and that stress can impact thyroid function 
  3. We need a healthy immune system, especially if autoimmune conditions are present, to keep out parasites/pathogens and avoid an attack on the thyroid.

90% of individuals with hypothyroidism have an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s, meaning their immune system is the root of their thyroid condition. Can you guess what affects your immune system? YOUR GUT! An essential step in any thyroid condition is to address your gut health.

How does digestion affect hormones?

All poop aside, there are eight major ways that our digestive function and overall gut health impact our hormones. Each of these is equally as important, and making sure that our gut functions as a whole is the key to hormonal balance. 

  1. Healthy gut function equals healthy blood sugar levels. We all know how important insulin control is for our hormonal health, especially for conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Healthy gut function promotes healthy blood sugar and insulin levels by properly digesting our food in a manner that allows your insulin levels to remain healthy and consistent. 
  2. Hormones need food. Well, not to eat, but in order for our bodies to make the hormones we need, we need to properly breakdown our food in a way that allows us to extract all of the nutrients necessary for healthy hormone development. Poor digestion doesn’t allow us to do this and, in turn, means that we can’t make enough of the hormones we need. 
  3. Estrogen metabolism happens in the gut. A bacterium, known as estrobolome, helps metabolize estrogen and lives in the gut of a healthy individual. 
  4. Some thyroid hormone conversion also occurs in the gut. This is necessary for healthy periods and ovulation.
  5. 80% of melatonin is made in the gut. Melatonin is an important part of healthy sleep function, which we need for healthy hormones and periods. 
  6. Gut dysfunction can lead to a stress response. Stressors, like pathogens, parasites, and gut dysbiosis cause a stress response in the body and increase cortisol levels. 
  7. A healthy gut means a happy mind. Our stomachs and minds are connected.  Gut bacteria (microbiome) influences our emotional well-being.  Controlling the gut bacteria can improve mood, thinking, and memory.
  8. Inflammation in the gut can lead to high estrogen levels. This is because of our gut’s role in both removing estrogen from our bodies through our stool and metabolizing estrogen in our guy through estrobolome. Inflammation can lead to disordered gut function, impairing both of these functions in our body. 

How can I support my digestive system through nutrition?

Nutrition is a great way to reduce stress, but lack thereof can create a stress response within the body.  In practice, I think focusing on your nutrition first can help you reduce stressors and move the needle forward in all other areas.  Supportive nutrition includes nourishing foods but also eating enough food in balanced amounts.  Our bodies require a mix of protein, carbs, and fat to function optimally.  They also need micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) for specific processes to be thoroughly carried out.  For example, minerals work as enzymes in the body, meaning they kick off reactions.  Magnesium is essential for the body’s ability to respond to stress.  It’s the first mineral used up during the stress response because it is kicking off that reaction.  That is why many people feel better when they take magnesium.  Some people feel worse because they need magnesium, and all of the responses it kicks off have been slowed down and are starting to turn back on. 

The other big piece of the nutrition puzzle is having adequate digestion.  If we cannot make enough stomach acid, bile, and digestive enzymes, we can’t properly break down and absorb our food.  This creates stress and compensation within the body and leads to health issues down the road.  Hopefully, you can recognize the importance of nutrition.  It’s a great first place to start.

Your gut may not be the first place you think to look when it comes to healing your hormone imbalances, but the gut is about more than just food. Your digestive system is connected to so much more and is a main driving force of health in your body. Figuring out what is causing your personal issues is important when it comes to working with a healthcare professional. That’s why I use the GI Map and the HTMA with clients so we can get to the root of hormone imbalances and make sure we are covering ALL of our bases.

For more ways to further heal your metabolism and hormones, don’t forget to check out our Master Your Minerals course!

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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