I’m not one to get excited about poo, but I’m a firm believer that health issues begin and end in the colon! In fact it’s said that 90% of disease starts out as digestive issues.
And working with women’s hormones week in week out, I see gut and digestive issues in 80% of my clients, even if they haven’t come to see me for that.
That’s because there’s an inextricable link between hormone health and your gut function. Happy gut, happy hormones!
What are symptoms of digestive imbalance?
Digestive issues; constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, indigestion, gas, cramps, heartburn
Very often you may not have any digestive issues at all, as microbial imbalances can cause symptoms anywhere in the body. Common ones include headaches, sinusitis, eczema, psoriasis, fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, mood swings, sugar cravings, joint pain and auto-immune conditions.
What does gut function have to do with hormones?
- Nutrient absorption – hormones need nutrients to work properly. Those nutrients are ingested in our food, but if we can’t absorb them effectively, hormones don’t get what they need.
- Hormone metabolism – some hormones get metabolised in the gut, including thyroid hormones which get converted into their active form there.
- Hunger hormones – hormones are secreted in the gut to control appetite, sending signals to the brain that you’re hungry or full (pretty important!).
- Stress – cortisol suppresses digestive function, and digestive issues raise cortisol – a vicious cycle.
- Leaky Gut – if the intestinal barrier is not intact, toxins and undigested foods can enter the bloodstream and attack our endocrine glands (this is one of the causes of auto-immune Hashimoto’s thyroid disease).
- Constipation can increase your oestrogen levels, as more hormone is re-circulated instead of eliminated.
- Gut bacteria imbalances – can cause all sorts of hormonal issues as well as cravings for sugar and carbs (causing insulin and fat storage).
Did you know?
Your intestines are about 22 feet long (nearly 7m) – the surface area would cover almost 3000 square feet, the size of a tennis court!
There’s a good reason for it’s size – our digestive system is vital for our survival. It’s our nutrient feed, our main defence system, our main elimination route for waste, and the location for a million different vital biochemical processes.
We are made up of trillions of bacteria and microbes! In fact they outnumber our cells by 10 to 1! So we are essentially just a host for them. And they play a vital role in our health.
Our gut flora is made up of millions of different strains of microbes – good and bad. This environment (called your microbiome) is totally unique to you and extremely delicately balanced. The good and bad live together harmoniously, all with jobs to do for us.
Unfortunately, many of us have (unknowingly) altered our microbiomes with antibiotics, poor dietary choices, medications and stress.
You see when the balance is altered, the bad guys can overgrow and take over. This is generally not good news and we suffer the consequences with digestive issues, increased infection and the problems that brings.
The impact of stress
We know that if your stress response is switched on, then digestive issues are more likely. It’s not the body’s priority to digest your food when you’re being attacked by a lion (or more likely, sitting in a traffic jam)!
Eating on the run, bolting food down and not chewing properly can all add to the problem and;
- increase or decrease gut motility (ie you can get diarrhoea and/or constipation), which impairs absorption of those hormone friendly nutrients
- decrease stomach acid, which can hinder protein digestion
- upset the balance of good and bad bacteria, leaving us more vulnerable to infection
- cause inflammation in the gut wall, making it more prone to leaks (and letting in toxins)
Certain foods can cause our own bodies to react and launch an immune response. Foods can be seen as dangerous if for example we don’t have the enzyme required to digest it (eg lactose), or it has a component that can aggravate the immune system (eg gluten). When the immune system is activated, it uses inflammation just like it would if you had injured yourself. Except you can’t see it, it’s on the inside of your gut! It does all sorts of damage though – it stops you absorbing all your nutrients, and it can make holes in your gut lining so that toxins and food particles can go through unchecked. Inflammation can spread to all parts of the body and can cause more serious chronic conditions.
So food intolerances, gut flora imbalances and stress can cause the gut lining to become leaky. Properly called Intestinal Permeability, undigested food particles, chemicals, and bacterial waste leak through your digestive tract and enter your bloodstream. These foreign particles stimulate your immune system to react, promoting inflammation and raising cortisol. This is now thought to be at the root of many auto-immune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus (SLE), Diabetes Type 1, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and many more.
So what can you do to heal your gut?
- Eat slowly! Take your time and chew properly – this will help prevent digestive issues from the very start. Try mindful eating.
- Take a sip of Apple Cider Vinegar before eating – this helps to increase stomach acid and aid digestion.
- Remove food triggers – if you suspect you may have a food intolerance (common ones are gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs), then go without for at least 3 weeks, re-introduce and see if you get a reaction.
- Increase your fibre – fibre helps to keep your bowels moving and binds to excess oestrogen.
- Eat fermented foods – full of probiotics, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha help to re-populate the good bacteria. Check out The Fermented Foody blog for ideas.
- Go easy on the alcohol! – alcohol can irritate the gut lining and alter your gut flora balance.
- Check for infection – get yourself tested if you suffer from IBS or other digestive issues (bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion). Contact me for more info.
- Watch your medications – take them if they are essential but don’t just pop a pill or take antibiotics at the drop of a hat. Medications can irritate the gut lining and impact the delicate balance of your gut flora.
- Eat bone broth! – the gelatine in meat stock contains glutamine which is great for healing a damaged gut lining.
It can take a long time to get your digestive system fully back to normal. You may need to work with a qualified health practitioner to get properly tested and started on a gut repair protocol.