We have all heard that a healthy gut is the secret to good health.
One of the reasons that gut health is so important is because of the influence of gut bacteria on our hormones.
Gut bacteria and your hormones are closely connected, an imbalance in your gut bacteria, known as the microbiome can affect your sex hormones, adrenal hormones, and even your thyroid hormones.
So if you have hormone imbalance conditions like PMS, endometriosis, PCOS or excessive menopause symptoms it may be relating to the health of your gut bacteria.
Even men can have low testosterone and high estrogen levels caused by their gut bacteria.
The easiest way to know if you have a hormone imbalance is by assessing your signs and symptoms, over 100 symptoms have been connected to an imbalance in your hormones.
Estrogen and progesterone are the two key hormones responsible for an imbalance in your hormones which lead to many of the symptoms listed above.
Estrogen and progesterone both have many important roles in the body, they are essential for good health but they need to be in the right ratio …. not too high or not too low.
Most PMS symptoms like heavy periods, cramping pain, fluid retention and weight gain are often caused by excess estrogen, but these same symptoms can be caused by normal estrogen levels and a deficiency in progesterone.
Progesterone can also be connected to constipation around the menstrual cycle, it helps the uterus relax but can have the same thing on the intestines which slows down peristalsis.
Low progesterone can lead to insomnia, low mood and food cravings.
PMS, Menopause, PCOS, and Endometriosis problems are caused by a hormone imbalance, and while these conditions are quite common they are not normal.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, it may affect you 1-2 days a month or even throughout the entire monthly cycle.
The common solution is the pill or HRT, and while sometimes these can help symptoms in the short term they often contribute to more problems in the long run.
Understanding the connection between your gut bacteria and hormones can help you optimize your health, and improve your hormone balance.
Assessing your signs and symptoms is a good first step, but knowing if it is high estrogen or low progesterone that is the underlying cause requires testing, as the symptoms can be very similar.
I recommend the DUTCH hormone test as it not only gives us information on testosterone, progesterone and estrogen levels, but it goes into greater detail than a blood test.
The DUTCH hormone test measures the 3 different types of estrogen, which are estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estradiol is the more metabolically active, while estriol can have a protective effect against breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
The DUTCH hormone test also measures how your body is detoxifying estrogen, it is important to understand this to know which way is the most effective treatment for you. Problems with estrogen detoxification can lead to cysts, fibroids and in a worst case scenario cancer.
Cortisol which is your main adrenal hormone will also affect your sex hormones and thyroid function, an imbalance in your sex hormones may be caused by the adrenals. The DUTCH hormone test measures free cortisol at 4-5 times throughout the day plus your total cortisol production.
If you have digestive symptoms like bloating, excess gas, constipation, diarrhea or reflux then there is a good chance that your gut bacteria are responsible.
But even if you don’t have digestive symptoms an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria may still be influencing your hormones.
Why do the bacteria go out of balance? We have trillions of bacteria, many of the beneficial, but a large number of bacteria which are harmless in low levels, that can cause problems if they are allowed to overgrow.
Diet, lifestyle, and stress all affect our gut bacteria levels.
Addressing your diet by cutting out processed foods, sugar and pro-inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy is a good first step. This helps to reduce inflammation and prostaglandin levels which can have a big influence on improving gut health, but also hormone problems like PMS.
Pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and parasites can also affect our beneficial bacteria levels, they will often cause digestive symptoms, especially around the menstrual cycle.
The G.I Map test is the best way to assess if bacteria, parasite or yeast infections are the underlying cause of your digestive and hormonal problems.
Testing helps to take out the guesswork and helps to understand if your gut bacteria is causing your hormone problems.
The best way to test is a stool test, not the most fun test to do, but the information that we can get from a quality stool test like the G.I Map stool test is valuable to help treat your gut, hormones and overall health.
Beta-glucuronidase is an enzyme in the large intestine that is involved in the detoxification of estrogen, levels go high when there is an overgrowth with your anaerobic bacteria.
High levels of beta-glucuronidase lead to a breakdown in the estrogen that is meant to be cleared out of your bowel. This estrogen is then reabsorbed back into the body leading to high estrogen and the long list of symptoms associated with high estrogen levels.
While knowing if a lack of beneficial bacteria, or an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, yeast or parasites is the underlying cause of your digestive and hormone problems, there are also several other markers that are important to assess digestive health.
Zonulin – This is a marker of leaky gut, high levels indicate intestinal permeability which can cause widespread health issues, including autoimmune and hormone problems
Pancreatic elastase – This indicates your levels of digestive enzymes which are important for the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. Even with a healthy diet if you have low levels of enzymes you will have trouble digesting your nutrients.
Secretory IgA – This indicates the health of your intestinal immune function, high levels indicate inflammation, low levels will lead to an overgrowth in unwanted bacteria and this is one of the most important markers on a stool test.
Anti-gliadin IgA – This is an indicator of gluten intolerance and will show if you are having an immune response against gluten.
Calprotectin – This is an inflammation marker, high levels can indicate inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis, while mild elevations in calprotectin can be caused by infections from bacteria or parasites
Steatocrit – This is a marker of fat absorption, high levels indicate you are not absorbing fat from your diet which could be due to low bile acid or pancreatic enzymes.
So you know you have hormone problems but where do you start when trying to fix them? Should I do an advanced hormone test like the DUTCH test OR of should I start with gut function and do an advanced stool test like the G.I Map test?
This is a question that I am often asked, and while there is no simple answer because everyone’s situation is different, generally I recommend starting with the G.I Map test.
Because if you can optimize your gut function often everything else falls into place and the hormones balance also improves.
In a perfect world, it would be great to do both tests as they would give us the full picture of what is happening with your gut bacteria and hormones ….. But these advanced tests are not cheap so if you are going to choose one over the other I would go for the G.I Map stool test.
Need help deciding? Schedule a consultation and I will assess past test results, your signs, and symptoms and help guide you on the best treatment options and tests to do.
If you have a lot of digestive and hormone imbalance symptoms, yet you are eating the standard processed food diet and living an inactive high-stress life then the first place to start would be to improve your diet and lifestyle.
If you have a long history of hormone or digestive issues, or if you have tried lots of different treatment options without success then it is time to take out the guesswork and do some of the advanced testings available to identify what is going on.
The standard doctor’s blood tests and stool tests are very limited, often they show everything is “fine” yet you feel far from great, it is not “all in your head” and testing will help you understand what is going on with your body.
If digestion is your number one focus order the G.I Map test.
If your digestion is great and you just want to focus on hormone health order the DUTCH hormone test.
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions.
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