Gut Health and Estrogen Balance

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A healthy and diverse gut microbiome helps support the balance of our hormones, a robust immune system and impacts how efficiently we absorb the nutrients in the food we eat. Tune in today for a tour on the ecosystem that makes up your digestive system, how you support better estrogen balance, get better results from your training and be a good steward to this diverse inner landscape that impacts us on so many levels.

In this episode I’m exploring…

⭐ How our digestive system works
⭐ How the gut microbiome impacts our hormone balance
⭐ How our gut is connected to our immune system and the inflammatory response
⭐ The specialized part of the microbiome that processes our estrogen
⭐ How estrogen dominance contributes to more uncomfortable symptoms in perimenopause
⭐ Tips for supporting better gut health

Links to follow up from this episode:

  • Get on the list to be the first to know when PeriMenoFit is released!
  • 12 Things you can do to support better stress resilience
  • Refresher on my best strategies for training with your cycle
  • Refresher on my best strategies for training in perimenopause
  • Refresher on my best strategies for training postmenopause
  • The Body Fuel System meal plan
  • My Dinner Plan eating system
  • Probiotics I use 
  • Help finding a functional medicine doctor near you (Institute of Functional Medicine directory)
  • Full Body Collagen (and all Betty Rocker supplements)

Episode Transcript

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What’s up, Rockstars Coach Betty Rocker here. Hey, thanks so much for tuning in today to spend some time with me. I wanted to check in with you about the challenge I left you with at the end of last week’s episode to invite you to get more steps in or just to walk and move more throughout the day. How did that go for you? Are you adding that practice in a little bit more now? I feel like I’ve made walking like my new best friend the last couple years because it’s just amazing how much such a simple low impact activity can have so many health benefits for us as women, especially as we’re getting into those perimenopause and postmenopausal years and that downturn in our estrogen that can actually make it a little harder to lose our body fat. But if we’re walking more, that actually becomes a lot easier.

Now, walking is really great for our bone density, our moods, reducing our risk of all kinds of diseases and improving the function of our digestive system. Now, like I mentioned in that last episode, walking after we eat really improves our digestive flow and our nutrient absorption by increasing peristalsis, which is the involuntary contraction of the intestinal muscles that help move the contents of our stomach forward. And that peristalsis supports all of our digestive functions, including elimination, which is so important because having regular bowel movements helps us eliminate waste from the body, which includes the removal of excess estrogen, which is super important in perimenopause when our hormone levels first start to get off kilter. So along with walking, what else can we do to really support our gut health and digestive process more intentionally? And why does it become such an important conversation to have?

Let’s start with a review of our digestive system and the ecosystem that lives within it called the gut microbiome. So our digestive system is the organs that process our food and break it down and runs the length of our body from our mouth, which is where digestion starts with that salivary amylase that helps break food down when we chew. And side note, a great way to support your nutrient absorption and better digestion is to chew more slowly and eat more mindfully. So then our food travels to the stomach where we need a certain amount of stomach acid to break things down. And this process is of course supported by the chewing that you did at the start. And then our food goes into our small intestine where our food is further broken down so our nutrients can be packaged and absorbed for use. And there are important structures in the small intestine that of course help with that absorption.

And the lining of this part of your gut and the integrity of it play a really big role in our ability to absorb the nutrients we eat and our immune system, which we’re gonna talk about. And then of course, our food travels into the large intestine where water gets absorbed, vitamins are absorbed, and our waste begins to form for elimination, and then we eliminate our waste with our bowel movements. Now at each part of your digestive system, there are microbiome zones or areas of concentrated bacteria, and the gut microbiome is made up of trillions of these guys that do all kinds of important jobs for us. Along the passage of our food through our body, they’re helping to balance our blood sugar, improve our insulin sensitivity, regulate our hormone balance, influence how fat is stored in our body, and how the nutrients in the foods you eat get absorbed.

It’s this wildly complex ecosystem and just like any ecosystem, whoever is the steward of this environment is going to be responsible for the health and integrity of that environment. So as the steward of your own microbiome, the things that are going to contribute to the health of it and support it in all of its important processes really starts with your food choices. We wanna make sure we’re eating plenty of whole foods, leafy greens, fiber rich vegetables and sources of fiber. In general, things like sugar and alcohol are going to disrupt the balance of the gut bacteria.

So really being mindful of not overdoing it with those things is super important. Stress will also impact the gut bacteria and make it harder to absorb and break down your nutrients. So that’s another tie in with how everything is connected. We recently talked about 12 things you can do to build more stress, resilience and stress supporting practices. So if you haven’t listened to that podcast, have a listen because thinking about how all of these things work together and really intentionally doing things that support good gut health and that environment in your gut has just a huge impact on your overall health and wellness and also your hormone balance.

Now, one of the hormones that is produced in our gut is serotonin, which affects our mood and poor gut health can increase feelings of anxiety and depression if serotonin levels are low. Low serotonin also means low melatonin the hormone we need to get good sleep. So many of us start to struggle with our sleep balance in perimenopause. And one way you can help address this is to dial in the food you eat and really think about how you can support that gut health. Because of course, better sleep means we can recover better from our workouts, we have better focus and clarity and our thoughts and we can restore and reset our system overnight.

So just thinking about how of these things really do tie together. And speaking of that, your gut is also a large part of your immune system. So compromised gut health makes it much harder to stay healthy and have a strong healthy immune system response. So we might get sick more often and it will take us longer to get better. And this can mean that it takes us longer to recover from our workouts as well because of course we need a certain amount of recovery time after a workout in order the tissue to repair and regrow and get stronger. A workout creates a low grade inflammatory response that when we’re healthy, we have no trouble recovering from. But if we train, train, train without enough rest and potentially not enough good healthy fuel, it runs us down and we can never really get out of the deficit.

And if our immune system’s already compromised from say, poor gut health, it will be even harder to recover and repair the body as we’re piling stress on stress, and we can get even more rundown without realizing why. And of course, this is further compounded by our estrogen levels in the late luteal phase of irregular cycling years. When estrogen is naturally lower, we have less resilience and a more taxed immune system naturally. So over-training at that time can really tank our energy and make it harder to recover. And if we’re also eating foods that irritate our gut and contribute to a lot of bacterial overgrowth or digestive issues, our immune system will be even more taxed. And then of course, as we get into the menopause life stage, both perimenopause before menopause happens and post menopause after our period stops, our estrogen levels decline. This is when we also need a little more recovery time than we used to from our workouts.

And of course, I’ve covered some of my best perimenopause and post menopause strategies for training in some recent podcasts if you wanna hear me go in depth on that. But if you’re training too many days in a row and you’re just not giving your body the recovery you need at that life stage to really optimize the workouts you do and your immune system is weakened due to things like poor gut health, you’re going to really struggle with your energy and your ability to absorb the nutrients in your food, plus your ability to lose body fat will be compromised, and it’s also gonna just be harder for you to strengthen your muscle tissue. And all of this just kind of snowballs together right now as our cycle starts to get erratic in perimenopause and then stops post menopause.

A lot of us are dealing with imbalances in our estrogen levels. And this can be behind things like hot flashes, weight gain, poor sleep, brain fog, and many other symptoms associated with menopause. And what’s crazy is that even when we’re losing our estrogen, sometimes we can experience estrogen dominance because our ratios of progesterone to estrogen get off kilter or because we’re not eliminating the excess estrogen from the body as efficiently as we should due to things like poor liver function or compromised gut health.

Now, the liver is also tied to the gut and has a lot of important jobs as the digestive system sends waste products and toxic byproducts there to be filtered out of our body, including excess estrogen and things we might get exposed to from our environment like air particles or things in our food or water or microplastics from certain clothes or chemicals from topical creams and cosmetics. It also filters alcohol, the byproducts of prescription or over the counter drugs and things like caffeine. It does all this important filtration. Plus it also serves as a storage reserve for glycogen, which is what the nutrients we get from carbohydrate rich foods break down into and then lets the body use that reserve for energy in between our meals. But if the liver gets backed up or really overloaded from too much work in filtering out digestive waste, it will struggle to also do its job of filtering out excess estrogen. And as a result, we can get more estrogen dominant from not being able to properly eliminate those waste products of our hormones as well.

Now our body makes estrogen in a couple of places like the adrenals and the ovaries, and that estrogen enters the bloodstream and it can be used by our cells. And once we’ve used it, it’s broken down by the liver so it can be safely eliminated. And the liver uses our bile to aid in this breakdown process. And then these waste products go into the large intestine where we eliminate them with our next bowel movement.

And your gut microbiome has this specialized section that deals specifically with the breakdown of estrogen called the estrobolome and the bacteria in that specialized section further breakdown the estrogen using an enzyme called beta glucuronidase. And this enzyme is super important and has to be in sort of this goldilocks or just right balance in order to process and break down our estrogen. Otherwise, the estrogen gets recirculated back into the bloodstream as dirty estrogen and can really imbalance your hormone levels.

This estrobolome and the bacteria it contains can really get imbalance from things like eating too many processed foods or sugar, drinking too much alcohol, or using a lot of antibiotics, for example, without a good gut restoration protocol afterwards. And imbalances in that helpful bacteria that should be breaking down our excess estrogen byproducts leads us back to imbalanced hormones in general, which has a lot of negative effects on our health and really compounds the symptoms of peri and post menopause.

So tests to check your gut health to see what kind of bacteria are populating there, as well as just generally testing your hormone levels is a really good way to see if you’ve got some type of imbalance happening in your gut and give you a good way to move forward. I’ve had my own gut health checked with stool tests most frequently and been able to treat the bacterial overgrowths that my doctor has found at different times and really find out, you know, whether or not my gut was in a good place, and then check in to see if it got better once we went through a protocol.

Now sometimes we develop sensitivities to specific foods and eliminating them for a bit can really help the body reduce the inflammation response, and then we can reintroduce those foods again in the future. An elimination diet can be helpful where you take out common inflammatory foods, say like gluten, dairy, eggs, a soy or corn, the coffee sugar and maybe pre-made foods, and then you slowly reintroduce them one by one.

Now that can take some time and patience and it’s quite time consuming, but if you suspect you might be imbalanced or need to reset your system in some way, that can be very worthwhile. But one simple thing you can do right now to address good gut health is to just get back to basics. You know, think about whole nutrient dense foods that you’re cooking, and if you suspect that one of the foods that you’re currently eating that I maybe just mentioned could be a trigger for your system, try taking it out for a week or more and see how you feel. That’s a really easy way to do like a low key elimination diet on your own.

You could also try using one of my meal plans like the Body Fuel System for instance, or even My Dinner Plan, both of which are gonna offer you weeks worth of planning and recipes that are gluten and dairy free, which are two of the really common triggers for a lot of people.

Those plans are also really easy to adapt. So if you wanna take out some other foods that you maybe suspect might be triggering you, that’s also very easy to do because sometimes simply cooking and eating without just those two things for several weeks can really help reduce the burden, the inflammatory burden on the body, you know, depending on what you need and what else is going on.

And if your gut health is compromised, restoring your system will really pay off with big dividends to supporting your hormone balance and helping you feel less anxious and helping you absorb key nutrients better so you have more energy available and all of your systems are functioning more effectively. Some people need better stomach acid to process their food, so in some cases a digestive enzyme might be helpful or recommended by your doctor. Eating pre and probiotic rich foods is essential for good gut health.

While you can take supplements, real foods are always gonna be your best sources. Now, prebiotic foods contain resistant starch and gut friendly fiber, which really supports your friendly gut bacteria and foods like nuts and seeds, unprocessed, whole grains, green bananas, onions, garlic beans, greens, cruciferous vegetables, those are all great sources of that prebiotic fiber. Your probiotics contain live organisms that support the gut microbiome, the intestinal lining, and they really promote that estrogen detoxification and a healthy immune system and good digestion.

So if you’re eating fermented dairy products, you can get some great probiotics from things like yogurt or kefi, but also fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi, Tempeh, Miso and many more are all great sources of probiotics and there is a lot of variety in the availability of probiotic supplements and that might be a good source for you. And we really just need a good variety and diversity in our gut.

So what’s best for you there? Specifically kind of defends on the diversity that is lacking in your current microbiome. So some experimentation may be helpful, but again, I just wouldn’t rely on just supplements. And I would also sort of mindfully include food sources as well to increase the diversity in the gut.

You might also consider including more nourishing bone broth in your daily meals or using a collagen supplement to support the gut lining and the intestinal epithelial cells that help your body absorb nutrients and support a healthy immune system. As we age, we just don’t produce as much collagen and we need it for the health of our joint skin and bones, but also the cells that line our intestines for good gut health. Aside from the aging process, a lot of people just don’t have enough collagen due to poor diet and your body can’t actually even make collagen if it doesn’t have the building blocks, the amino acids to create them.

And when your body synthesizes collagen from the amino acids in the protein rich foods you eat like meat or beans or dairy products or whatever you’re using for your protein sources, it also is gonna be using vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, zinc and copper to complete that process. And those are all part of a typical healthy diet. And you can find vitamin C and things like citrus fruits, things like red and green peppers or tomatoes or broccoli or greens, and also meats, shellfish, nuts, whole grains and beans are all great sources of minerals.

Now, we can also use things like bone broth or gelatin or collagen powders to help really support the body with what it needs. And if you’re using a powdered collagen, use a hydrolyzed collagen like the one I make called Full Body Collagen, which is broken down into the smallest particles so that our body can more easily absorb it. It’s very useful because it has no taste or smell and it can be dissolved in any liquid.

So there’s really a lot you can do to support your gut health with more mindful eating. But this is really an area where support from your doctor may be helpful if you have the opportunity to work with someone who can check your hormone levels, check the balance of your gut bacteria, and potentially guide you on a protocol to help rebalance and restore your system if that’s needed. I really appreciate working with my own functional medicine doctor because of how she sees the systems of the body as so integrated and how helpful that has been for me in really tying a lot of these pieces of my health together to really find that balance.

So, you know, in perimenopause, paying attention to our gut health is a really big part of helping to mitigate a lot of the uncomfortable symptoms we start to experience at that time due to our cycle slowing down and our estrogen and progesterone levels starting to really fluctuate. And some of us get that estrogen dominance like I was talking about, which can really exacerbate those hot flash symptoms and the mood swings and some of the uncomfortable weight gain and temperature dysregulation like we were saying.

So you know, things you can do, of course, like getting out and walking more can help support your healthy gut motility and the digestive process. Not to mention its tremendous benefit on our overall health and lowering our risks of so many diseases and supporting our body composition and lowering fat storage. So you know, walking is one of those things you can do. So is getting back to basics and cooking more and just being really mindful of the intake that you are putting into your gut in general and into your body.

And just thinking about the stewardship of that environment, that ecosystem that lives inside of every one of us that we alone are really responsible for. So just really thinking about, you know, the intake that we have of things like sugar and alcohol and other processed foods that may really disrupt that ecosystem. Just really being mindful of not overdoing it in that area and and how much more of that stuff can really impact you as you age and as your hormones start to fluctuate and change. I think it’s just really important to think about.

So I hope this was helpful and I know I’ve only really scratched the surface of the conversation around gut health, but sometimes just thinking about the basics can really just help inspire us to make those small changes in our daily habits that can have such a big impact on our health long term. So I hope you’re inspired and I wanna thank you again for taking the time to tune in and spend some time with me today and know that you can find links to different things that I mentioned in the episode on the show notes page. And of course, I’ll be back very soon to continue our conversation about women’s health. So till then, I’m Betty Rocker and you are so awesome, flawsome, and amazing! Bye for now.

This episode brought to you by Rock Your Life!

Rock Your Life is my online workout studio that you can attend from anywhere you are, and access workout challenge programs, healthy recipes, and get coaching and support in our private women’s fitness community for all 4 Pillars of Health. We provide support and strategies for women in training with their cycle, training in perimenopause and training in menopause.

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