If you’re battling gut issues like bloating, constipation, and digestive discomfort, you may not realize that your hormones may be playing a larger role than expected.
In fact, a growing body of research demonstrates the link between gut health and female hormones. According to gatherings from a 2019 study, women are nearly twice as likely to experience bloating than men (19 percent to 10.5 percent, respectively). Even further, women report a greater severity of symptoms (24 percent) in contrast to their male counterparts (13 percent).
Can hormone imbalance cause gut problems?
Hormones are involved in nearly all of the body’s functions, with digestion among them.
It’s also worth noting that your gut and your hormones have a symbiotic relationship and hormone imbalances are usually downstream of gut imbalances. (The gut not only helps produce certain hormones, but also communicates to glands throughout your body as to when hormones should be generated and released.)
When your hormones or your gut are imbalanced, this creates a domino effect that ripples across countless other aspects of your health and well-being.
The connection between gut health and female hormones
Let’s take a deeper dive into the female hormones at play when it comes to gut health and digestive issues.
Estrogen and the gut
If you menstruate regularly, you likely experience the ebbs and flows of estrogen on a monthly basis (pun not intended).
If fluctuating estrogen levels are a key culprit of your bloating, there’s a good chance you experience it like clockwork around the same time each month: at the onset of the luteal phase (days 14-28) of the menstrual cycle. During this time, estrogen levels take a significant dip before rising and staying high. The entire luteal phase lasts for up to two weeks post-ovulation, which indicates that estrogen is typically high before menstruation begins.
There is a specific group of good microbes in the gut that plays a role in controlling the rise and fall of estrogen and testosterone levels, through producing an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. This group of bacteria is called the “estrobolome”.
When your gut is healthy, the estrobolome produces just the right amount of beta-glucuronidase, which recycles inactive estrogen and controls the amount of estrogen in circulation.
When your gut is out of balance, it affects the amount of beta-glucuronidase produced by the estrobolome and leads to imbalanced estrogen levels within the body.
In the short-term, high estrogen levels typically equate to water retention and thus a greater chance of bloating. Fluctuating estrogen levels can also cause spasms in the digestive tract, potentially contributing to an increase in bowel movements.
If the gut imbalance is not corrected, imbalanced estrogen levels influence the risk of developing:
This is why improving your gut health may be the key for treating or preventing these estrogen-related conditions!
Progesterone and the gut
Next, progesterone is another female hormone that, when imbalanced, can trigger digestive distress.
Similar to estrogen, progesterone levels are high during the luteal phase and can also cause bloating. Yet progesterone is also closely tied to transit time, also known as motility or the rate at which your food moves through the digestive tract.
High progesterone levels can slow down transit time, which can result in bloating and constipation before you get your period. However, once menstruation begins, progesterone levels begin to dip, which can lead to the opposite effect: increased bowel movements and diarrhea. (If you’ve ever noticed that your period poops are more frequent or fiery than your BMs throughout the rest of the month, you’re not imagining things: progesterone is the main culprit here.)
Pregnancy hormones, digestive symptoms, and gut diversity
Unfortunately, hormonal imbalance and digestive issues aren’t limited to women who currently menstruate. Of course, pregnant women experience a hormonal roller coaster throughout phases including but not limited to conception, delivery, postpartum, and lactation.
During pregnancy in particular, progesterone levels remain high in order to stimulate the body to provide blood vessels that will nourish the fetus. Yet as we saw above, high levels of these female hormones are linked to slow motility, constipation, and bloating, so it’s no wonder that pregnant women often suffer from digestive distress.
A healthy gut microbiome is one that’s diverse and balanced. If your female hormones are imbalanced on account of pregnancy or any other reason, the status of your gut microbiome will take a hit, resulting in not only digestive issues, but also the likes of weakened immune function, increased vulnerability to pathogens, inflammation, and much more.
How to balance your hormones and gut naturally
While female hormones naturally fluctuate throughout the month and through life stages including pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause, you don’t inevitably have to experience digestive discomfort, hot flashes, or other symptoms of hormonal imbalance on account of this.
Improving your gut health and increasing the good bacteria and fungi in your estrobolome can balance your hormones and your gut simultaneously! This can alleviate or even eliminate the unwanted hormonal symptoms or conditions we’ve talked about.
Nutrients that help to improve the gut-hormone axis are fiber, calcium, zinc, magnesium, folate, selenium, iron, omega-3’s, protein, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and even phytoestrogens! These are my top 10 foods that include the nutrients you need to improve gut health and support hormonal balance:
If your hormones and digestive distress are bringing you down, I promise you that there can be light after the tunnel, so long as you take a proven approach that focuses on your body and its unique needs. Let’s get there together!