More than 50 hormones are created in the endocrine glands (pancreas, thyroid, ovaries and testes), and act as chemical messengers that affect our hunger, sleep patterns, blood sugar levels, moods and general sense of wellbeing. Studies have shown that a balance of beneficial gut flora is the key to hormonal balance.
Estrogen and progesterone, the hormones we think of as primarily female hormones, can greatly impact the health of the GI tract. When there is an imbalance of these hormones, the digestion process may accelerate causing diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain. On the same token, if the process slows down, the result may be bloating and constipation.
Hormonal imbalance during menstruation may cause GI tract discomforts such as diarrhea and bloating. This is attributed to an increase of both progesterone and estrogen during the menstrual cycle. Post-menopausal women also commonly experience the effects of hormonal imbalance with a sluggish digestive system, or constipation.
The digestive system plays an important role in the proper disposal of estrogen from the body. When the bowel does not function properly, estrogen that is meant to be excreted by the intestines is sometimes recycled and reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
Microbial and pH level imbalances also enable harmful microbes to invade and wreak havoc especially in woman. Conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and bacterial vaginosis (vaginitis) are attributed to an imbalance of beneficial gut flora. Vaginitis is a highly irritating and unpleasant condition that is marked by unpleasant discharge and itching.
Probiotics for Women’s Health
Probiotics are extremely beneficial for women in that they help to keep the vaginal area somewhat acidic, which creates a hostile environment for the occurrence of yeast infections. Probiotics have shown promise in fighting Gardnerella vaginalis, the main bacterial culprit. Beneficial microbes metabolize and recycle hormones, including estrogen, thyroid hormones and phytoestrogens. This facilitates proper hormonal balance, which can help offset symptoms of perimenopause, and may protect bone and breast health as well.
Probiotics and Hormonal Imbalances
- Sometimes called the “stress hormone,” cortisol is released when the brain picks up stress signals from the body. Doctors like to use cortisol to reduce pain, since it shuts down inflammation in the body. But, when this hormone is released, it also shuts down the immune system, raises blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and blocks bone and protein formation, including collagen. Probiotics can reduce levels of cortisol in the body, helping you maintain a sense of calm and peace. In one study, students preparing for an exam had lower levels of cortisol when a probiotic-rich beverage for eight weeks was consumed.1
Maintain Estrogen Levels
- Estrogen is primarily a female hormone associated with puberty, the menstrual cycle, bone health and moods. Proper bowel function is tantamount to good health, whereby the key is to ensure the delicate balance of your intestinal flora is maintained. Levels of estrogen in the body are affected by our digestion—a normal bowel transit time allows excess hormones to pass out of the body, rather than be reabsorbed.
Estrogen dominance may affect women in perimenopause up to 15 years prior to menopause. These symptoms may include:
- Weight gain
- Trouble sleeping
- Mood swings
- Heavy menstruation
- Yeast infections
Pregnancy and Birth
We are born sterile. It is only when a baby takes a trip down the birth canal, can the newborn be properly colonized with gut flora that are found in the mother’s vaginal tract.
Breast-feeding is the next stop for the delivery of gut flora. The baby’s intestines colonize with bacteria shortly after birth, through contact with the environment and from breast milk. As a child grows, the bacterial population can diversify to contain many hundreds of different species. This is how an infant’s digestive and immune systems are established.
Caesarean-delivered babies have their initial exposure of bacteria from environmental microbes in the air, other infants, and the nursing staff. Breast-feeding helps to colonize the intestinal tract along with additional supplementation with strains of baby bifidobacteria to protect against pathogens.
Breast fed babies are shown to have a lower gut pH balance; in other words, their guts have an acidic environment with a reduced number of microbes such as E. coli and Streptococci. Babies fed formula, however, have a high gut pH with a variety of potentially harmful bacterial species.
It’s been observed that infants who develop allergies have intestinal bacteria that are distinctly different from those of non-allergic infants, suggesting that the type of intestinal microflora is an important factor in forming allergic conditions. Therefore, it is critical to replenish the beneficial flora through mother’s milk, fermented foods and probiotic supplements.
While antibiotics may provide short-term relief for UTIs, the problem lies in an increase of antibiotic resistance. Furthermore, while the usage of probiotics promotes the growth of good bacteria while combating the bad, antibiotics are an equal opportunist; they kill all of the bacteria. Spermicides and birth control pills also disrupt the balance of microflora and contribute to common female urogenital problems.
As studies have shown that a balance of beneficial gut flora is the key to hormonal balance, when it comes to ensuring woman’s health, probiotics are indispensable allies for well-being.
- Kato-Kataoka, A., Nishida, K., Takada, M., Kawai, M., Kikuchi-Hayakawa, H., Suda, K., Rokutan, K. (2016). Applied and Environmental Microbiology doi:10.1128/aem.04134-15