Here at De Lune, we're longtime fans of Sophie Shepherd of SHE Talks Health. Recently, our CEO Mimi Millard sat down with Sophie to talk about period pain toolkits on the SHE Talks Health podcast. You can listen to the episode here.
Sophie is a champion for truly transformative hormone health and the gut-hormone connection. The De Lune team has been thinking a lot about the gut-hormone connection lately, so much so that it earned a front-and-center spot in our article about hormonal acne.
When looking to share more with the De Lune community about this connection, we knew right away that Sophie was the person for the job. Read on to learn more about the gut-hormone connection in this piece first published on SHEtalkshealth.com in 2020.
The Gut-Hormone Connection
Let’s talk a little bit about this incredibly important topic and one that could be an absolute game changer for your health and well-being!
Did you know that your most common hormonal imbalances like acne, painful periods, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis and moodiness, and even difficulty to lose weight could all start in your digestive tract?
Your digestive system is responsible for many key bodily functions including absorbing nutrients. Your gut absorbs nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids and amino acids (found in proteins) which in turn create your hormones. Additionally, your digestive system supports the elimination phase of any unwanted toxins and chemicals which also includes excess hormones.
This is where nutrient absorption is essential! First, you need to consume the necessary nutrients in order to synthesize the hormones and then, we need the gut to help us absorb those nutrients. I always say, it’s not what you eat but how well you absorb it.
The digestive system is critical not only to create the hormones we need but also in excreting the ones we don’t. To top things off, 70-80% of your immune system is held in your gut! What researchers now know is that inflammation in the gut can cause leaky gut and eventually lead to autoimmunity. This is precisely what happened to me when I developed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis hence why I am committed to helping you heal.
What does that even mean?
It means that in order to have a healthy immune system we must take care of our digestive system.
What causes a Leaky Gut?
Our digestive system consists of an extensive intestinal lining covering more than 4,000 square feet of surface area. When working properly, it forms a barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. When that gut lining is more permeable, it can allow partially digested food and toxins to penetrate the tissues underneath it. This can create a leaky gut and can be triggered by food particles, NSAID’s, antibiotic use, birth control pills, chronic stress, high sugar diets, lower fiber diets, and other toxins.
What is a Leaky Gut?
We established above that the job of the digestive system, specifically the mucosa or intestinal lining of the small intestine is to allow nutrients to pass through for absorption and utilization in the body.
At the same time, it should keep harmful proteins from entering. In the cases of a leaky gut, these proteins are able to cross this protective barrier and trigger an inflammatory response. Then our immune system kicks in and creates antibodies, which are intended to find foreign proteins for destruction. Your immune system gets confused and starts to attack your bodily tissues, confusing them for foreign invaders. This process causes widespread inflammation, which eventually creates autoimmunity.
How does that affect my hormones?
I wish it weren’t the case but unfortunately, this affects your hormones big time.
Firstly, developing autoimmunity causes massive inflammation throughout the body and from there, inflammation causes irregular cycles, skipped cycles, and heavy cycles. Secondarily, the development of Hashimoto’s in particular (autoimmunity of the thyroid), will cause your entire bodily system to slow down and function less optimally. Too little thyroid hormone can cause a heavy cycle, irregular cycle, difficulty getting pregnant, and more. In fact, according to womenshealth.gov about 50% of women with Hashimoto’s reported trouble conceiving. While of course not all the time, Hashimoto’s can also lead to miscarriage and birth defects. This is why it’s so important to safeguard your health and heal from the root up!
What about all my other hormonal symptoms?
The gut is responsible for excreting hormones and toxins that we don’t need as well. This comes into play most critically in the regulation of estrogen. Excessive estrogen in the body can cause estrogen dominance or estrogen dominant symptoms or disease such as: endometriosis, PCOS, breast cancer, PMS, painful periods, PMS, moodiness, difficulty with weight loss, painful breasts and cysts.
How does my gut affect my estrogen levels?
When the gut microbiome is overgrown with more bad bacteria than good bacteria, there’s a collection of microbes that can proliferate that produce an enzyme called betaglucoronidase. This enzyme will actually de-conjugate estrogen and recirculate it. This means that your liver does all the work to bind up the extra estrogen but then the digestive tract just allows it to get recirculated! This creates a confusing process in the body and therefore, can create a host of unfavorable symptoms.
But read on, there’s definitely help!
What can I do to support my hormones through my gut?
1. Get enough of the raw beneficial materials – aka nutrient dense foods.
Make sure you get an intake of at least 25 grams of antioxidant rich fiber daily through leafy greens, fruits, and veggies. This will help remove waste & excess hormones in order to restore a healthy bacteria balance in the gut. Consume healthy fats from fatty fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds and protein (both plant and animal) from good quality sources. If you skimp on any of these, you will also skimp on your hormones!
2. Test, don’t guess
Do root cause testing with a practitioner like myself for conditions like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), bacterial dysbiosis, leaky gut and parasites which can be the key to getting your hormones and your gut back on track.
3. Eat Organic Foods
This is extra important because pesticides can also disrupt the microbiome. They can even mimic estrogen, called xenoestrogens.
4. Skip the SAD Diet
The Standard American Diet is rich in inflammatory foods like processed junk food, microwave dinners, partially hydrogenated oils, and both artificial and real sweeteners. All of this is a fast track to disease including hormone disruption.
5. Add Probiotic & Prebiotic rich foods
This includes food such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, chicory root, jerusalem artichoke, raw dandelion greens, cooked onion and asparagus. Probiotics implant the gut with a plethora of healthy bacteria and prebiotics are the food for that good bacteria.
I know sometimes it may not feel like it, but your health truly is in your hands! Especially now, it’s so important to minimize inflammation as possible. Your immune system, digestive system, hormones and quality of life will greatly thank you.
We hope you loved Sophie's insights here as much as we do!