Men, women, children, and teenagers, we all have hormones and lots of them. Although frequently associated with the reproductive system, hormones are chemical messengers that control major functions all over our body. Created in the endocrine glands (like the pancreas, thyroid, ovaries, and testes), our hormones help dictate everything from our hunger and sleep to our blood sugar and mood.
When in balance, our hormones can keep us feeling our best, ready to tackle each and every day with vitality. But, even small imbalances in this delicate system can cause our entire body to go haywire, leaving us feeling depleted and out of sorts.
There is a lot of information around about gut health and the immune system and how important it is to keep the right balance of good and bad bacteria. This is true but the good news is that new research indicates that taking care of your gut health can be the key to maintaining hormonal balance throughout your body.
What’s the Gut Got to Do with It?
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, most of whom are working very hard on your behalf to support your health on many different fronts. When taking into account the number of cells in our body, we are only 10% human! The other 90% is called our micro-biome and is made up of all the microbes living in and on our body.
The beneficial bacteria in our micro-biome called probiotics work with our own bodily systems to help maintain our blood sugar levels already within a normal range, support our immune system and moods, and even help to keep our metabolism healthy. With a hand in so many of our body’s functions, it’s no wonder that our beneficial microbes interact with our hormones as well.
Although researchers are discovering more each day about how our friendly flora impact our hormones, we do know that these tiny heroes can help metabolise and recycle hormones in our body, which can help us navigate all of life’s stages with clarity and health.
Friendly Flora and Your Hormones
Our body’s endocrine system produces more than 50 hormones, many of which have a major impact on our health and well-being. The relationship between our microbes and these hormones can support our health in a variety of important ways:
- Cortisol: Often called the “stress hormone,” cortisol is released during times of stress and has a hand in our blood sugar levels, metabolism, and even our ability to form memories. The good news is that our friendly flora can work to reduce levels of cortisol in the body, helping you maintain a sense of calm and peace. In one study, students preparing for a large exam who consumed a probiotic-rich beverage for eight weeks had lower levels of cortisol.
Maintain Your Mood
- Estrogen: While men do have small amounts, estrogen is primarily a female hormone associated with puberty, the menstrual cycle, bone health, and mood. Its made primarily by your ovaries. It then circulates through your body to your uterus and breasts and other organs, until it reaches your liver where it’s inactivated. Inactivated estrogen is then sent to the intestine where it is supposed to stay inactivated so it can exit the body through the stool. That is normal, healthy estrogen metabolism. When certain intestinal bacteria are present, something very different happens. Unfriendly bacteria make an enzyme called beta glucuronidase, which re-activates oestrogen in your gut. That is impaired estrogen metabolism. Too much estrogen can make periods heavier. It also contributes to the long-term risk of conditions such as uterine fibroids and breast cancer. By supporting a healthy digestion, beneficial flora help the body to keep excess estrogen out of circulation. Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria can also decrease activity of Beta-glucoronidase, the enzyme that enables estrogen to be reabsorbed.
Keep You Feeling Energetic
- Insulin: The pancreas secretes insulin, which allows our cells to absorb glucose from our blood to be used for energy. Studies indicate that probiotics like Lactobacillus reuteri can support healthy insulin levels—just four weeks of supplementation with this mighty microbe can lead to a 49% increase in insulin secretion.
Support a Moderate Appetite
- Leptin: Our body’s fat cells make leptin, a hormone that helps determine how full we feel and signals our brain when it’s time to stop eating. Unfortunately, we can become resistant to this satiety hormone, making our brain think we need to keep filling up, leading to challenges with maintaining a healthy weight and other health issues. Friendly flora in our gut can increase our body’s sensitivity to leptin, so our brain gets the message to stop eating when we are full.
Encourage Restful Sleep
- Melatonin: Melatonin, the “sleep” hormone, signals the body when it’s time to rest in response to diminishing light at the end of the day, but we need the amino acid
- tryptophan to convert serotonin (the “happy” chemical) into melatonin. By impacting our body’s levels of tryptophan, beneficial bacteria can help to support healthy levels of this sleepy hormone in the body.
Let You Love
• Oxytocin: In women, oxytocin (the “cuddle” hormone) signals contractions during labor, promotes lactation, and helps to trigger the bond between mother and baby. In men, oxytocin affects testosterone production and may even intensify feelings of love and attachment. Fortunately, our helpful bacteria can help increase levels of oxytocin in the body.
Maintain Your Libido
- Testosterone: Produced in both men and women, testosterone enhances libido, stimulates the body’s production of new blood cells, and triggers puberty and development of male characteristics in men. Now, research shows that beneficial bacteria can help increase testosterone levels.
Support Blood Sugar Levels Already Within a Normal Range
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D isn’t a vitamin at all, but a hormone responsible for helping the body absorb calcium, balancing blood sugar, and regulating adrenaline and serotonin.
It’s clear that our friendly gut flora play a starring role in keeping our hormone levels in optimal balance. So, how do we properly support our magnificent micro-biome so our bacteria can return the favour? Here are three simple steps to get you started:
1.First and foremost, take a daily, multi strain, high quality probiotic supplement to help maintain your population of beneficial bacteria. Or make your own Kefir
2. Revamp your diet. Probiotics need loads of fibres found in many whole, plant-based foods—to thrive. Our standard diets are often full of refined and processed foods, it can wreak havoc on your gut flora—and your hormones may follow suit. Also, because it’s hard to get enough prebiotic from food alone, include an organic prebiotic powder supplement to care for your microbes.
3. Stay away from things that deplete your micro-biome, like stress, antibiotics in food and in medicine, antibacterial cleaners and processed foods.