80% of the important hormones are secreted in the gut. And most, if not all, of the physical or functional changes the way we look or feel in our body are in some or the other way related to the level of hormones secreted in your body. And that’s why the experts are often seen suggesting everyone to take care of their gut as it is also considered as the second brain playing an important role in regulating so many functions in the body and not just merely a digestive system.
The gut is responsible for absorbing the nutrients from your food, which in turn helps you make the hormones your body needs and break down and get rid of the hormones you don’t. The gut is in in close contact with the major information-gathering systems in our body specially the immune and endocrine systems.
Hence it is important to keep your gut health in check. The gut microbiota affects estrogen (in females), melatonin (that regulates sleep) norepinephrine and epinephrine (two hormones related to stress) and thyroid hormones. An unhealthy gut microbiome can throw your hormones out of balance which can give rise to health issues, whether it’s a digestive disorder, hormonal disorders, allergies, decreased immunity or anxiety and depression
The problem mentioned here could be affecting:
Mental health: There is a very delicate connection between the gut microbiome, the human brain and the hormones. The bi-directional communication of the hormones from the gut to the brain is very important. It influences the endocrine, the autonomic nervous system, the central nervous system and immunity. An unhealthy gut can hence result in mood swings, anxiety, lack of concentration and inability to focus, poor memory etc.
Fertility in women: An unhealthy gut can affect the metabolism and detoxification and excretion process of the most important female hormone, estrogen, which can lead to high estrogen levels and contributing to estrogen dominance in many women which thereby results in weight gain, irregular periods, acne, worsening of PMS symptoms, PCOS and worsening of symptoms of metabolic diseases etc.
The imbalance of the microbiome is very common and can be affected by many different factors like genetics, age, weight, diet, alcohol, environmental pollutants, etc. In fact, the signs of an unhealthy gut are so common – like digestive issues, fatigue, skin irritation, changes in the weight, etc - that they can be mistaken for something else as the signs and symptoms are always overlapping with other disease.
Hence, let’s look at the easiest ways to keep your gut health in check:
· A heathy diet – We should target the gut and microbiome through a plant-based diet and anti-inflammatory foods as gut health is the cornerstone for the health of the whole body. A rainbow diet consisting of different colours of seasonal and locally sourced fruits and vegetables is considered best for optimal gut health. Avoid packaged and processed foods and consumption of refined oils and refined flours. Prebiotic foods like garlic, onion, banana, oats, flaxseeds, apples etc are considered as food for the friendly probiotics in your gut. Probiotic foods like kombucha, homemade curd and buttermilk are fermented foods which promote healthier microbiome composition, intestinal repair and regeneration.
· Antibiotics – Antibiotics completely disrupt the gut flora ecosystem. Overuse of antibiotics and regular use of antibiotics and painkillers should be completely stopped. While they are a treatment for the bad bacteria, they also end up killing the good bacteria in your gut which ends up disrupting the ecology of the microbiome in your gut.
· Alcohol – Most of the metabolic process and hormones are metabolized by liver in the body and then excreted by gut. Alcohol not only affects the gut health but also the liver that helps in detoxifying circulating estrogens. Heavy use of alcohol can encourage over growth of harmful bacteria as compared to the helpful bacteria.
· Fat soluble vitamins: Vitamin D, a hormone we call the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies produce it in response to sunlight exposure, in recent years has been associated with gut health. Daytime outdoor physical activity can increase the vitamin d levels in the body which in turn promote intestinal health and decreases gut inflammation.
· Stress management– We must focus on stress management, including mindfulness-based stress reduction, relaxation techniques, as these techniques reduce the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
(The writer is an Integrated Lifestyle Medicine Expert, BHRT Specialist & a Regenerative Medicine Specialist)