People who are in menopause or see it on the horizon know that it comes with some serious changes to hormone levels. The end of menstruation sends your progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone levels off-balance and causes a whole host of symptoms. But the best way to get a handle on all these new sensations lies in the connection between your gut health and hormones.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause officially occurs 12 months after a person last menstruates (typically between the ages of 45 and 55), but many people think of menopause as the years leading up to this point. That is actually called perimenopause, or the menopausal transition, and can last 7-14 years. If you have a hysterectomy or surgically remove your ovaries, you will experience menopause immediately after the operation, unless you elect to take hormones.
In perimenopause, you can experience a very wide range of symptoms as your hormones shift:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes and chills
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of breast fullness
- Weight gain
- Lowered libido (sex drive)
- Difficulty sleeping and night sweats
- Mood swings
- Thinning hair and dry skin
Everyone will experience their own unique set of symptoms depending on their age, habits (like smoking or drinking), pre-existing conditions, and individual changes to their gut health and hormones. The most likely symptom you’ll experience is irregular periods; your period may skip a month (or a few) before returning, or your cycle may change length. Pregnancy can still happen with irregular periods, so continue taking birth control if you do not want to become pregnant.
How Do Your Hormones Change During Menopause?
Your reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone) naturally decrease as you grow older, coinciding with a decline in your fertility.
As you approach menopause, your estrogen levels start to lower irregularly, sending all those perimenopause symptoms your way. Your estrogen levels continue decreasing until your ovaries stop releasing eggs, you stop having your period, and you hit menopause.
Progesterone and testosterone also decrease leading up to menopause. Like estrogen, your testosterone naturally declines with age, but these lower hormone levels typically result in lower libido. Changing progesterone levels have a direct effect on the regularity of your periods.
4 Ways Gut Health and Hormones Are Connected During Menopause
Menopause changes your reproductive system, but gut health and hormones play a big role in the transition, too! Your symptoms will depend on how your gut handles irregular shifts in your hormone levels. Here are four of the biggest ways that gut health and hormones interact as you approach menopause.
Decreasing Estrogen Levels Alters Your Gut Microbiome
You already know that declining estrogen levels contribute to your perimenopause symptoms, but did you know that they alter your gut microbiome, too? This is one of the most impactful connections between your gut health and hormones.
Your gut microbiome is the collection of bacteria in your digestive system. Good gut health is dependent upon the right balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria and needs a diverse set of microorganisms to function properly. You can improve your microbiome by eating certain foods.
Lowered estrogen levels can actually alter the diversity of bacteria within your gut microbiome. Who knew gut health and hormones were so powerful! Your new microbiome may not respond well to your usual diet — be sure to eat gut-healthy foods every day to lessen the effects of your changes in estrogen.
Menopause Symptoms Worsen with Imbalanced Gut Health and Hormones
At the heart of the connection between gut health and hormones is the estrobolome. Your estrobolome is a collection of gut bacteria that metabolizes estrogen and regulates the levels of estrogen in your body. Maintaining the health of your estrobolome is incredibly important in perimenopause.
An unhealthy estrobolome isn’t able to break down estrogen properly, leading to high levels of the hormone. Too much estrogen can intensify your perimenopause mood swings, leading to anxiety, depression, irritability, and anger. Changes in your mood make your adrenal glands go into overdrive producing cortisol — high levels of cortisol can create insulin resistance, causing progesterone and testosterone levels to plummet. All because of an unhealthy estrobolome!
Keep your estrobolome strong and your gut health and hormones in check by adding pre- and probiotics to your diet. Doing so will help get your perimenopause symptoms under control.
Changing Hormone Levels Can Disrupt Your Digestive System
Poor gut health can seriously disrupt your digestive system’s regular functions, but so can changing hormone levels! Think of how your normal, pre-perimenopause period affected your gut. That was all caused by changes in gut health and hormone levels…and the same is true for your perimenopause years!
This time, decreasing estrogen and progesterone levels are to blame. Both cause the digestive system to slow down, leading to constipation, gas, abdominal cramps, and bloating. Plus, they can cause the gallbladder to slow its release of bile, leading to difficult digestion, nausea, and acid reflux.
And if you have gastrointestinal disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis, you may be more susceptible to hormone-related digestive disruptions. Otherwise, these symptoms usually improve once you’ve hit menopause and your gut health and hormones begin to balance themselves out.
Gut Enzymes Can’t Work Efficiently as Estrogen Levels Change
Gut enzymes are crucial to having a healthy gut: they help break down food to absorb nutrients and maintain good digestion. But they can’t work efficiently as your estrogen levels decline in perimenopause.
Healthy estrogen levels actually help your gut produce the right amounts of gut enzymes and allow them to work properly. Your estrobolome is in on this gut health and hormone connection, too. Without a healthy estrobolome, estrogen levels will become imbalanced, enzyme production will be reduced, and gut health issues can occur.
The connection between gut health and hormones during menopause may be surprising, but it’s easy to keep the connection healthy with a diet that’s good for your gut. Doing so will help you manage intense perimenopause symptoms and smooth out your menopausal journey.