Want To Balance Your Hormones? Focus On Your Gut HealthSep 24, 2016
When we’re working hard to overcome our crazy episodes of PMT, battle through our menopause symptoms, struggle to conceive or even just move towards optimal hormonal health, we rarely consider the health of our guts.
Sleep? Yes. Clean eating? Yes. Exercise? Most definitely.
But the health of our stomachs and intestines rarely come into the picture unless we are suffering with digestive issues such as pain or discomfort. They just do their job and we don’t really give them a second thought.
However, if you really want to help balance your hormones and finally achieve optimal health, it’s vital you pay attention to your ‘second brain’ and give it a little love.
Do this and you’ll avoid gaining huge amounts of weight during pregnancy, you’ll improve your childbirth experience, you’ll ease your symptoms of the menopause such as hot flushes, brain fog and low libido, you’ll overcome those monthly fluctuations and you could even improve your fertility.
Here’s why you should make your gut health a priority if you want to heal your hormones.
Why gut health matters
When we speak about our gut health, we are talking about our entire digestive system, from our stomachs to our intestines. This essential part of our bodies is entirely responsible for digesting everything we eat and absorbing the nutrients and phytonutrients that it contains. Our bodies desperately need these nutrients to function well, and without them, you leave yourself vulnerable to deficiency, illness and disease.
But this isn’t where the story ends. Because as scientists are beginning to discover, there is a much closer relationship between our digestive health and our mental health than we ever realized. This is known as the ‘Gut-Brain Axis’.
Why the Gut-Brain Axis is vital for hormonal health
Most of us have experienced that ‘butterflies in the tummy’ feeling when faced with an important event. Or perhaps a feeling of nausea when feeling nervous. Or even a loss of appetite when under huge amounts of stress. If so, you already understand how this Gut-Brain Axis works.
Studies have shown that chronic stress can indeed directly hinder your nutrient absorption, reduce the blood flow in your digestive system, reduce enzyme activity, slow digestive time, encourage unhealthy bacteria to flourish and even compromise the intestinal barrier.
Interestingly, levels of the ‘happiness’ hormone serotonin is actually more concentrated right there in your gut than in your brain, specialised bacteria in your gut help to convert inactive thyroid into an active form and over 70% of your immune system is found in your gut. As you can see, this gut-hormone relationship is very powerful.
But this relationship also goes two ways: if your mental health isn’t so great, then neither is your gut, and if your gut is out of balance then so is your mental health. When you are under stress, your body releases huge amounts of the hormone cortisol which directly influences your overall hormonal balance and massively harms the health of your gut too.
This means that when the Gut-Brain Axis isn’t working efficiently, your overall hormonal balance will also suffer, your mood will decline and you’ll find yourself more vulnerable to all those distressing symptoms of PMT, menopause, and hormonal dysfunction.
What can throw your gut out of balance
There are a variety of different factors which can throw the Gut-Brain Axis out of balance, including the following:
Stress: how effective you are at managing your stress influences your gut and your happiness.
The contraceptive pill: the artificial hormones from the pill damage gut flora and release a myriad of harmful toxins.
Antibiotics/ medication: these damage your delicate gut flora and can cause an overgrowth of unhealthy candida bacteria.
Junk food, sugar and carb-based diets: high-sugar, high-fat diets also disturb the balance between good and bad bacteria in your gut.
Food sensitivities: these trigger an immune response which can cause them to attack your delicate digestive tissues.
Intestinal infections: these can cause irritation in your gut, increase unhealthy bacteria and also lower your mood.
What you can do to heal your gut (and balance your hormones)
The factors that affect your gut are also connected to overall hormonal health, so it’s relatively easy to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ and target them both. Here are the top five things you can do to improve your gut health and balance your hormones:
- Clean up your diet
Sugar and fructose feed the unhealthy bacteria, yeast and fungi in your gut and also disrupt your overall hormonal balance. Therefore it’s vital to avoid processed sugars and also limit the quantity of high GI fruit you eat. Also limit your junk food and feed your soul with wholesome real food instead.
- Eat fermented foods
For great gut health you need to consume plenty of probiotics. You should include great healthy choices of healthy bacteria in your diet, including sauerkraut, natto (fermented soy), Lassi (Indian yoghurt drink), Kefir, and also full-fat, unsweetened live yoghurt.
- Take a probiotic
If you don’t eat fermented foods, it’s worth investing in a high-quality probiotic supplement to feed the healthy bacteria and ensure proper balance of gut flora.
- Sleep In Complete Darkness.
Melatonin, the hormone connected with sleep helps to control the Gut-Brain Axis and can protect against stress-related irritation of the gut, thus helping to balance your hormones. Invest in some black-out blinds, cover all LEDs and switch off your mobile phone!
- Soothe Your Stress
Make it a priority to include relaxation in your daily life. This helps to reduce your cortisol levels, balance your hormones and soothe your gut at the same time. Consider guided visualization, relaxation, yoga, meditation or even long hot baths and walks in nature.
Gut health is an essential component in achieving optimal hormonal health and balance and overcoming all of those horrible symptoms us ladies often experience. Take time to soothe your gut by cleaning up your diet, targeting your stress, improving your sleep hygiene and consider taking a probiotic. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel!
Words © Pamela Windle 2016
Images © Hey Paul Studios, licenced under C.C 2.0