Our digestive system and our endocrine system (hormones), are very intimately related to each other. Meaning they have a huge impact on each other!
The health of our digestive system plays a major role in our hormone health. Our digestion needs to be functioning optimally to make sure we're breaking down, and absorbing the nutrients we need to produce our hormones.
Likewise, our gut microbiome (surprise surprise!) impacts our hormone balance.
What we're going to dig into in this article, is how the gut impacts our reproductive hormones, and even more specifically, our hormone estrogen.
Once estrogen is utilized by the body, it's sent to the liver to be metabolized.
In Phase 1 liver detoxification, your liver primes estrogens for elimination by adding a hydroxyl group to a specific point on the molecule. Hydroxyl groups are added creating 2-OH, 4-OH, or 16-OH positions with 2-OH being the most favourable estrogen metabolite.
In Phase 2 liver detoxification, estrogen and estrogen's metabolites are conjugated. Through sulfation or glucuronidation, estrogen is transformed into a substance that can be excreted through the bile duct, into the intestines, to be rid of via our poop.
It's when this conjugate estrogen lands into our gut, this is where Phase 3 occurs and what researchers now refer to as the "estrobolome".
What is the "Estrobolome"?
There is a grouping of microbes that live in our gut, collectively referred to as the "estrobolome." The estrobolome encompasses a bunch of bugs that actually have the capabilities to metabolize estrogen, and therefore influence estrogen homeostasis.
These specific microbes produce an enzyme called "b-glucuronidase" (we can actually test for this on the GI-MAP stool test!). This enzyme acts on estrogen in the gut, and "deconjugates" it. This means that it's turned back into its active form, can be reabsorbed, and uptaken by estrogen receptors. Basically, this un-does the work your liver did to get rid of the estrogen and allows it to recirculate into your body.
When this happens, we can start to experience symptoms of hormone imbalances.
Dysbiosis & Estrogen
Dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the microbiome, can impact how much b-glucuronidase is being produced. If there are too-many, or too-little bacteria that produce this enzyme, it can either up-regulate or down-regulate this estrogen deconjugation, which can impact estrogen balance.
When there is a lot of this enzyme being produced by these microbes, and estrogen is continuously being reactivated, it can impact hormone balance in the body. It can potentially lead to higher levels of estrogen, or "estrogen dominance," which is associated with many frustrating signs and symptoms.
Here are some common symptoms associated with estrogen dominance:
heavy or irregular periods
fluid retention and bloating
irritability, emotional instability, depression, mood swings
While the gut isn't the only thing to consider when we're experiencing hormonal imbalances, it is the foundation of our hormone homeostasis, and should definitely be looked at, as part of the puzzle. You can do "everything right" but if your microbiome isn't healthy, progress will be slow or lacking.
Ways to Support the Estrobolome
Make sure you're getting your fiber in
Not only is fiber important to ensure we're having daily bowel movements (which we know is important for our estrogen levels!), but fiber itself can actually bind to estrogen in the gut, and help to escort them out of our bodies via our poop!
On a daily basis, try to get a variety of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, beans, tubers, etc. A golden rule I love to recommend is to aim for 6+ cups per day, of a variety of plant foods.
Incorporate specific foods that help detoxify estrogen
Certain foods have been shown to support the body in detoxifying, and ridding the body of excess estrogen. One of those foods is the carrot. Raw, unpeeled carrot contains a unique type of fiber that has been shown to absorb estrogen, and help to carry it out of the body through our stool.
Foods like raspberries, pomegranate, blackberries and walnuts are also great to incorporate for estrogen support, as they contain a compound called "ellagic acid," which helps with phase 2 liver detoxification (specifically glucuronidation), where estrogen is conjugated to be removed from the body.
Inflammation & Hormones
Inflammation stemming from our gut can actually impact our hormone health as well. When there are imbalances in the microbiome, things like dysbiosis or infections, we can see something called "leaky gut" (aka. intestinal permeability) develop.
While there can be inflammation present, local to the gut, this can set the stage for more systemic low-grade inflammation, that can have a major impact on our endocrine (hormone) system.
Addressing imbalances in the gut that might be leading to systemic inflammation in the body, is an important part of supporting or hormones, too.
If you're struggling with hormonal imbalances, and have explored other factors that could be impacting them (like blood sugar balance, nutrient deficiencies, adrenal fatigue/HPA axis dysfunction, etc) — then looking into your gut health could be a great call!