For most of us, digestive health is something we think about as just a part of our overall health. Many times, we don’t pay attention to our digestion until we notice that something is off.
However, digestive health is more than an indicator of the rest of our wellbeing. Your gut is actually a highly developed, “second brain” which plays a vital role in the regulation of many processes in your body!
In fact, your gut health has a very important role in the regulation of your hormonal health. In turn, your hormonal health regulates basically every process in your body.
Recent medical research continues to show that we have only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we know about the gut as a part of our endocrine system. Even though there is still so much to learn, what we can take away at this point is this: taking care of your gut microbiome (i.e. bacteria, viruses and fungi in your gut) can and should be a starting point for balancing your hormones.
Why are hormones important to your health?
Before we go any further, let’s explore the importance of hormones, what they do, and how they are related to the gut.
Did you know that your gut plays a vital role in your endocrine system? In fact, your gut actually regulates your hormones! Some medical professionals view the gut as influential in your endocrine system as your hormone-producing glands such as the thyroid, adrenals, ovaries and testes, and hypothalamus.
This is important because your hormones are interconnected with virtually every function of your body from digestion to emotions and sexual health. When they are out of equilibrium, you feel it taking a toll on your overall wellbeing.
When your hormones are out of balance, you may experience it in a variety of ways including:
● Poor metabolism
● Thyroid disorders
● Menstrual irregularities, along with perimenopause and menopause symptoms
Let’s get into specifics. Here are the main hormones which are impacted by your gut microbiome:
● Epinephrine and norepinephrine
● Thyroid hormones
These hormones fluctuate daily. They help you to maintain homeostasis (or balance) in your body while also helping you to respond to outside stress.
When your hormones get out of balance, your first response would naturally be to start making some lifestyle changes which target hormonal health. But, if your gut is involved in hormone regulation, it would make more sense to approach the problem by trying to heal your gut, as well.
What is a healthy gut?
If you believe you are experiencing hormonal imbalance, you may have sidelined your digestive symptoms. Or, on the other hand, you may be experiencing some digestive upset, thinking it to be a purely gastrointestinal issue with no connection to hormonal health at all. Either way, let’s take a look at what some basic signs of gut imbalance are:
● Heartburn or acid reflux
● Food sensitivities
● Foggy thinking
● Autoimmune disorders
● Bad breath
● Chronic fatigue
● Constant stress
● Depression and/or anxiety
Using antibiotics for other health conditions can make these symptoms of digestive imbalance worse. That’s because while antibiotics are doing a fantastic job of killing off bad bacteria, they also deplete the good bacteria in your gut.
Why does your gut microbiome matter so much?
How exactly does the relationship between the gut and your endocrine system work?
The microbiome actually creates hormones. It also regulates them, sending signals to your body telling it to make more or less. Your gut tells your body what to do with the hormones it produces, processes the hormones, and can even change how they are expressed.
Knowing the close relationship between hormones and your gut, now you can start to realize that if you’re going to treat one, then you inherently need to treat the other. The health of each is not mutually exclusive.
The hormones in your gut microbiome affect just about every process in your body.
Epinephrine and norepinephrine tell your body how to react under stress. They give you the “fight or flight” feeling. When these hormones are out of balance, you may feel fatigued, constantly stressed, and, consequently, exhausted. This is because your body is spending lots of energy trying to deal with an overcommunication of stress signals.
Serotonin is important for your mental health as well as physical. The gut is called the “second brain” because it produces tons of serotonin neurotransmitters. Serotonin helps to regulate your mood and circadian rhythm (sleep cycle). When your serotonin levels are off, you may feel tired, depressed, develop unhealthy sleep patterns, and more.
The first line of defense against these undesirable symptoms is usually one of the following:
● Prescription sleep aids
● Energy drinks, caffeine, etc.
The problem is that these medications do not treat the whole person. Symptoms may disappear, but the root cause is not addressed. That is, adjusting hormonal health via restoring the gut microbiome. Many people seek holistic help with their hormonal and digestive issues because they do not wish to be on prescription medications for the rest of their lives.
How can you restore gut health?
The best way to restore gut health is through lifestyle modifications including:
● Stress mitigation
● Pre and probiotics
You have probably heard all these suggestions before, but that’s because they really work.
Check your diet. Eat more whole-foods. If this is hard for you, then start by increasing the consumption of the healthy foods you do like. All in moderation, of course.
Get enough exercise. Even walking offers wonderful health benefits. A brisk walk is good for your body, stimulates digestion, and leads to a healthy mind by helping you to de-stress. Your gut microbiome will be very happy that you’ve taken up stress-reducing activities.
Now that you know how closely related your brain and your gut are, you can start making healthy changes. Really invest in some self-care. Taking time to do so will do wonders for your mind, body, and spirit.
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