Gut health is critical to a successful menopause
Gut health and menopause: Why is gut health critical to a successful menopause?
October is menopause awareness Month, so it is a great time to shine a spotlight on positive action you can take to navigate your way through the menopause with ease.
It does not have to be a life sentence yet too many women struggle at this time with little support or awareness of the factors that can make this life transition more comfortable.
As a gut health expert, I want to highlight the role of the gut and specifically the gut microbiome towards a smoother menopause transition.
As my readers will be aware, the gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms, namely bacteria, yeast, viruses and even parasites, that when in balance, collectively contribute to the health of the host – that’s you! But when the microbiome becomes out of balance – known as dysbiosis- there is an increasing volume of pathogens and a reduction of beneficial microbes. This leads to gut symptoms and, more importantly, to ill health and disease.
What Is the Oestrobolome?
A subset of the microbiome is termed the oestrobolome as these bacteria are involved in modulating levels of oestrogen in the body.
Circulating oestrogen is taken to the liver, where it is metabolised ready for excretion from the body. It is bound to bile which passes through the gallbladder, into the gut and excreted in stools.
However, some oestrogen is separated from bile- a term known as deconjugation – and this enables the oestrogen to pass back into the bloodstream. This deconjugation involves an enzyme called beta-glucaronidase produced by specific types of bacteria (the oestrobolome).
When the gut microbiome is healthy, the oestrobolome produces optimal levels of this enzyme. If there is too much enzyme, then excess oestrogen is reabsorbed into the bloodstream, leading to oestrogen dominance. For pre-menopausal women, this can contribute to conditions like PCOS. But for post – menopausal women, if there is insufficient levels of this enzyme, insufficient oestrogen is reabsorbed which can contribute to menopausal symptoms.
It has been found that in postmenopausal women about half of the circulating oestrogen is bound to bile ready for excretion, but only about 10-15% of this finds its way out of the body in the stools. This means that a large proportion of the oestrogen is deconjugated (made free) to be reabsorbed into the bloodstream, where it can re-used. This is in a healthy microbiome. An imbalanced microbiome could result in most of this oestrogen being excreted.
In simple terms: a balanced gut microbiome will lead to optimal levels of oestrogen available within the body.
A chicken-and-egg situation
It also appears that at menopause -as oestrogen levels decline – the microbiome alters and is more similar to that of males. It suggests that oestrogen has a role in the composition of the microbiome. This may also apply to declining progesterone but there is insufficient evidence for this as yet.
Therefore, declining oestrogen may alter the gut microbiome leading to dysbiosis, yet an altered gut microbiome may impact circulating oestrogen levels and exacerbate menopausal symptoms.
Another potential impact of declining oestrogen and progesterone during the menopause is a weakened gut mucosal barrier, contributing to intestinal permeability. This allows toxicity from pathogens to pass through into the bloodstream that can trigger systemic reactions and inflammation.
Supporting your oestrobolome
Keep up a high intake of cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli as it helps to modulate oestrogen levels in the gut.
A highly diverse plant based diet supplying soluble and insoluble fibre helps to regulate bowel movements and cleanse the walls of the colon of toxicity. This creates a favourable environment for beneficial bacteria.
Prebiotic fibres in plants feed beneficial bacteria helping them to thrive such as artichokes, onions, garlic and leeks. Plants rich in polyphenols also act as prebiotics and these are found in dark berries, pomegranate and apple. Eat these every day.
Fermented foods provide the specific strains of bacteria that help to keep the microbiome in balance, such as kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi. Aim to have a little every day.
Supporting your oestrogen levels naturally
Phytoestrogen rich foods contain compounds which have a similar chemical structure to human oestrogen. They are able to bind to oestrogen receptors in target cells (like breast and ovary) and exert provide a weak source of oestrogen at the time of the menopause.
The richest phytoestrogen foods are flaxseed (best eaten milled), soybeans and edamame, tofu or other fermented soya, sesame Seeds, chickpeas and hummus, lentils and peas, oats, garlic, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage) and celery.
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