Digestion Connection: How Your Gut Affects Your Hormones


When you think of hormonal imbalances you may not immediately think of digestion. But they are connected in a variety of ways.  In fact many of your hormones are connected to your gut (thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, insulin, and cortisol) but here we’re going to talk mostly about estrogen and your gut microbiome.

An estrogen imbalance or relative estrogen dominance can cause issues for both men and women. For women typical symptoms are PMS, breast tenderness, heavy painful periods, weight gain, fibroids, and endometriosis.  For men its weight gain especially around your abdomen and chest, fatigue, feeling more emotional, prostate problems, and diminished sex drive. This is due to an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone for women and an imbalance of estrogen and testosterone for men.

Your Microbes and Estrogen

Let’s recall that your body is full of an intricate ecosystem of microbes – the microbiome.  This ecosystem lives on your skin, in your sinus cavity and respiratory tract, urinary tract, mouth and your gut – most of them in your large intestine (or colon).  They have a hand in immunity, inflammation, detoxification, metabolism, digestion, nutrient creation, and even brain health.

Back to estrogen. In order to keep a proper estrogen/ progesterone balance your body needs to properly make, use and get rid of estrogen. You don’t want too little or too much. After it is used estrogen is dismantled by your liver and passed into bile to be excreted. When you eat fats bile is secreted into your intestines to digest that fat. Since your body is an excelled multi-tasker it also sends toxins and used up hormones (including estrogen) with that bile with the purpose of being excreted.

As that estrogen travels into your large intestine it interacts with your microbiome. The good bugs in the microbiome grab onto and handcuff that used up estrogen to escort it into stool and out into the toilet.  Bye, bye old estrogen.

But if that microbiome is out of balance (more of the bad guys than the good), the bad guys create an enzyme (beta-glucuronidase) that unlocks the handcuff. Now estrogen is free again and it will reabsorb into the blood stream.  (Your intestines are directly connected to your blood stream since that’s the super highway, by way of your liver, to absorb your nutrients). Or if you’re constipated that estrogen (and other toxins) are not getting out but are reabsorbing instead.

So more bad bugs and/ or more constipation (which can be due to bad bugs) = more estrogen = hormonal imbalances.

What About Those Other Toxins?

If those toxins are not getting to the toilet that’s extra work for your liver. It just dealt with them, sent them into the bile to be excreted and then they show up again. Your poor liver is saying, “You guys again? I thought I dealt with you already.” The busier your liver is with toxins the harder it will be to properly dismantle and recycle your hormones. That’s another blog post but your liver is a huge player in the hormone game.

Nutrient Absorption

Ok, back to your gut. In addition to a waste disposal system, your intestines main job is to digest and absorb nutrients from your food.  Those nutrients are needed for hormone balance. For example, B vitamins and amino acids (from protein) assist your liver in detoxification of estrogen (and other toxins). If your gut is not working correctly you’re not absorbing your nutrients, vitamins and minerals. You can eat kale salad all day long but if your gut is malfunctioning you’re not getting the benefits. Plus the microbiome makes some nutrients including B vitamins. (I told you those bugs have a lot of jobs). So if it’s out of balance, you’re lacking important nutrition.

PCOS: Beyond Low Carb

This female disorder is a hormone imbalance involving too much estrogen, testosterone and insulin.  One of the big drivers is blood sugar imbalance. Beyond a low-glycemic diet (which is very important and effective) …. Yup you guessed it; your microbiome helps to manage blood sugar and metabolism. High glucose and insulin is common with bugs being out of sync (dysbiosis).  I see a lot of this in my practice. We get a woman’s blood sugar rock solid but she’s still having symptoms so we start looking at the gut and find all kinds of bad bugs hitching a ride.

Location, Location, Location

The areas of your body affected by hormone imbalances – uterus for women or prostate for men are tucked in right next to your whole digestive tract. If your immune system is fighting food sensitivities, toxins and bad bugs it’s creating inflammation during the battle. That inflammation can easily travel to your uterus and prostate and cause those associated symptoms to feel worse.  I see this also – we work on the gut problems and the other areas benefit.  For example, women’s periods get better when digestion is running more smoothly.

And Vice Versa

Ok so now you can see how your microbiome imbalances affect your hormones.  This all goes the other way too.  Low estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid can cause leaky gut and food intolerances. In this situation which came first – the organic chicken or the pasture-raised egg?  Oy!

So Now What?

Your body is a well-oiled machine. It’s intricately connected and has an amazing ability to heal. As we start to unravel the details, take out the irritants and put the pieces back to together it will heal and find balance.

  • Eat fresh, whole, unprocessed food and cook mostly at home. Food preservatives irritate your gut and microbiome.
  • Watch the sugar and alcohol – also detrimental for your microbiome, intestines, liver, and robs you of nutrients.
  • Remove gluten and wheat, even if temporarily while you’re working on healing. It will poke holes in your gut, cause inflammation and is a nightmare for maintaining blood sugar balance.
  • Drink half your body weight in ounces of filtered or spring water daily.
  • Eat fermented foods and high fiber vegetables to foster your microbiome ecosystem.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food. A hallmark of good digestion is chewing.
  • Get 8-9 hours of sleep nightly.

This is a simple list and most gut healing protocols get more in-depth but it’s a good start and a good maintenance plan for many imbalances. If you want to go deeper let’s talk.

Cheers to happy hormones!