By Leila DiQuinzio
If you have a period, listen up - you don’t need to suffer! Too often my patients are dismissing their pain, premenstrual symptoms (PMS), or heavy bleeds as “normal” and enduring waaay more than they need to. This goes for gut symptoms too! How much bloating, discomfort and food avoidance do we need to put up with before we take action? And what if these are connected?
Twice as many women as menare affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which points to a link between the gut and reproductive hormones that’s worth investigating.
You’ve likely noticed this connection at some point: premenstrual bloating or diarrhea, a humongous appetite or irresistible chocolate cravings before your period. Have you ever considered your hormones might not be completely to blame for the situation?
The body systems used to be considered as separate entities – one doctor for your tummy, another for your periods. However, the more research progresses the more it is confirmed that all systems are intimately interconnected, and more than this, a huge amount of health conditions come down to the health of your gut.
The connection between the gut and oestrogen is so strong that there is a whole department of gut bugs dedicated to balancing oestrogen levels –meet the oestrobolome.
A major role of the oestrobolome is to produce an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. The short story is that this enzyme controls how much oestrogen is excreted and how much is recycled. So, an imbalance in this enzyme means too much or too little oestrogen circulating in the body and both extremes can make trouble.
Most often, the risk is that too much beta-glucuronidase can result in the body retaining too much oestrogen, a condition known as oestrogen excess, which leads to a variety of symptoms.
Hormonal imbalance might look like:
- Period symptoms: too heavy, too painful, too irregular
- Breast swelling, tenderness or cysts
- Hair loss
- Acne, especially jawline
- Weight gain
- Low libido
- Even… grumpiness
Tick off This To-Do List to Support Your Gut Health and Your Hormones
The liver plays an important role in deactivating oestrogen in preparation for it to leave the body. One of the best ways to support this role is to increase greens in your diet. Cruciferous vegetables contain compounds called diindolylmethane (DIM) and sulforaphane which assist detoxification of oestrogen.
- Limit alcohol and coffee
- Reduce exposure to toxins such pollution, plastics, and chemicals in cosmetics and cleaning products - opt for natural alternatives.
- Increase cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, and bok choy
Keep It Regular
Once the liver has done its part, it’s up to the gut to get rid of the excess hormones. Regular bowel movements are an important factor in clearing excess oestrogen from the body. If you’re constipated, there’s a chance you’re reabsorbing some of this excess oestrogen. The goal is 1-3 bowel movements daily, well-formed and easy to pass.
- Drink 2 litres of water daily
- Increase fibre like oats, brown rice, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruit
- If these don’t do the trick, it’s time to figure out why and get some personalised advice from a gut specialist
Keeping your gut bugs in check is important for regulating the oestrobolome and controlling the levels of hormones circulating in the body.
- Where possible, limit antibiotic use
- Increase prebiotic foods like garlic, onion, leeks, oats, asparagus, bananas, and legumes
- Increase probiotic foods like, sauerkraut, kimchi, natural yoghurt, and tempeh
Sugar contributes to inflammation and messes with the bacterial balance in your gut but it also has a more direct effect on hormones.
Excessive sugar intake or a high carbohydrate diet can end up as insulin resistance, a pre diabetic condition which can contribute to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), acne, heavy periods, and candida.
- Quit sugar, the refined kind
- Get enough sleep
- Keep balanced blood sugar by having protein, fibre and good fats at every meal
- Get your insulin tested
Move Your Body!
Exercise has a multitude of benefits, it supports a healthy liver and regular body movement assists bowel movements too, there are even gut-specific yoga movesfor constipation.
Exercise also improves blood sugar balance and is important for stress management. Chronic stress burdens our digestion and impacts hormones.
If you’re under the pump, be sure to choose a type of exercise which doesn’t place more stress on your system. The best choices are low-moderate impact and enjoyable: think dance, swimming, cycling, walking, yoga, pilates or tai chi!
- Move your body most days of the week
- Make it fun!
The best part of all this is that the gut has a connection with so many systems that by working on gut health you are having a positive impact on moods, thyroid, skin, sleep, immunity and more!
Testing can be super helpful for getting to the bottom (ha!) of your gut health. There are so many great testing options now to help us get a complete picture, meaning we can target symptoms from the root cause. These include stool tests for beta-glucuronidase and microbiome assessment and DUTCH tests for comprehensive hormone assessment. Chat to a holistic practitioner like a naturopath to assess the best pathway for you.
Leila is a qualified naturopath based in Melbourne. She specialises in chronic digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut, and is passionate about eating a well-balanced diet, while still enjoying food. She believes living well doesn’t have to be a chore, and is keen to show us all how to manage our health – and enjoy it, too.