Not surprisingly, the man who wrote “women age like fine wine,” forgot to mention the unpleasant changes many women experience as they age. Whereas, we like to believe women enter their more mature years as graceful and radiant creatures, the truth is many women are more likely to be experiencing waves of hot flashes that seem to frequent as quickly as they appear. Although there are many things to appreciate in life as we age - like wisdom and our growing families - mood swings and other biological changes don’t quite make the list. Yet, historically, women are told this is just the way things are, not to mention disregarding any hormonal changes men might have too.
Women experience hormonal shifts as they age, that is a fact.
But do they have to be disruptive? Frustrating? Unpredictable? What about Painful?
Based on what scientists now believe about the gut microbiome – that may not be the case at all.
The Far Reaches of the Endocrine System
Our hormones are regulated by our endocrine system – a series of organs that work to produce our hormones and manage how they are dispersed into our system. They control many of our growth and development patterns like reproduction, sleep, mood, and sexual function. Without our endocrine system, we wouldn’t be able to regulate our metabolism and or even know when we are hungry, not to mention keep us warm or manage our blood pressure.
Our endocrine system is made up of several glands, including the thyroid gland, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries in females, testicles in males, and include several other tissues like our fat tissue1. This complex system coordinates a biological symphony of changes within us, with each hormone produced targeting a specific organ or tissue. The thyroid gland is the master conductor over it all, regulating our body temperature and guiding our entire body’s homeostasis.
Until recently, scientists believed this was it. That was, until, studies examining the gut microbiome started to notice several gut microbes seemed to regulate some of those pesky circulating hormone levels…
Our Microbes Contribute to Our Estrogen Levels
The gut microbiome interacts with many aspects of our human physiology like contributing to nutrient absorption and immune function. Now scientists have discovered the estrobolome – certain microbial populations that are capable of metabolizing estrogen2. These gut microbes produce beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that can increase levels of free estrogen in circulating blood3. When our gut microbiome is healthy and balanced, the estrobolome can regulate the right level of estrogen within the body, but when imbalanced by inflammation – gut dysbiosis can drive the production of estrogen in either direction, disrupting the normal flow and leading to estrogen-related pathologies.
Estrogen Related Diseases and What They Mean for Us
You might know how changes in estrogen levels can affect your mood or your menstruation cycle, but that’s not nearly all it can do. In fact, one of the most common endocrine diseases in the United States is diabetes, a condition that means you cannot properly process glucose from carbohydrates. In cases of type 2 diabetes, your body cannot properly respond to insulin, a hormone that communicates it’s time to pull glucose (sugar) out of the blood and into tissues like muscle or fat for energy. Estrogen helps your cells hear what insulin is trying to say, so when estrogen communication is muddled – it can cause your blood sugar levels to rise and make you feel faint or worse: chronic mismanagement can lead to a diabetes diagnosis4.
Estrogen plays a vital role in many diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis – all diseases that are associated with aging, and all too common in women5. For many women, their chances of these diseases may be higher than they expected because their gut ecosystem is putting them at risk.
When the gut microbiome experiences dysregulated activity from beta-glucuronidase producing microbes, it may exacerbate the low-estrogen state in post-menopausal women. It can also impact estrogen levels in menstruating women and increase their risk of endometriosis, a condition where the uterine lining expands to other organs of the body. This tissue expansion can lead to further hormone dysregulation and increase scar-like tissue that thickens and bleeds during normal menstrual cycles, causing increased pain during periods and even leading to infertility6.
In some cases, prolonged changes in hormonal imbalance may lead to a variety of estrogen-related cancers like breast, ovarian, cervical, endometrial, and prostate cancers. That’s right, the gut microbiome influence over hormones isn’t specific to just women.
So what can we do about those seemingly benign mood swings?
Stop Calling Hormonal Mood Swings “Normal”
When women hit a certain time in their lives where their bodies begin to signal it’s time for a change in how hormones are produced, small physiological signs are normal, including slight changes in mood. However, if what you’re experiencing seems far from “slight” then maybe something more serious is happening – and just because you’re suffering from these changes doesn’t mean it’s normal to have drastic episodes or severe pain.
Instead, your gut microbiome may be trying to signal something to you: help!
If your gut is experiencing inflammation and causing an imbalance in your microbes, it may be time you took charge of the healing process. What you eat is the most important factor in controlling your risk for gut dysbiosis. Although your lifestyle and dietary changes can alter what’s happening inside you, the first step is finding out what is actually going on there.
Viome’s Gut Intelligence Test can analyze your gut microbiome and identify patterns of activity that may be disrupting your hormone balance. If high levels of inflammatory activity are found, your gut microbiome may be disrupting the scales of your estrogen production. With your individual sample, Viome can hone in on important changes that will help you regulate your health, including personalized dietary recommendations unique to you.
Don’t let poor diet ruin your chances of healthy aging, and certainly don’t let outdated scientific data tell you what’s normal. Find out for yourself where you’re at right now and what you can do about it to get your health back on track for the long haul.
*The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome is providing this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.
1. Hiller-Sturmhofel S, Bartke A. The endocrine system: an overview. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22:153-164.
2. Kwa M, Plottel CS, Blaser MJ, Adams S. The Intestinal Microbiome and Estrogen Receptor-Positive Female Breast Cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2016;108.
3. Baker JM, Al-Nakkash L, Herbst-Kralovetz MM. Estrogen-gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas. 2017;103:45-53.
4. Mauvais-Jarvis F. Is Estradiol a Biomarker of Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Postmenopausal Women? Diabetes. 2017;66:568-570.
5. Cani PD, Knauf C. How gut microbes talk to organs: The role of endocrine and nervous routes. Mol Metab. 2016;5:743-752.
6. Parasar P, Ozcan P, Terry KL. Endometriosis: Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Clinical Management. Curr Obstet Gynecol Rep. 2017;6:34-41.