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The gut is not like Las Vegas…

…one of my favourite sayings ever coined by Alessio Fasano who has done an extraordinary amount of research into the gut microbiome and leaky gut.

The gut is not like Las Vegas, what happens in the gut does not stay in the gut.

Now you might be wondering why I’m talking about gut health when hormones are normally my thing. And no, I haven't taken a 180 and decided to focus on something else. Our gut terrain is vitally important for happy hormones because quite simply the health of the gut affects everything else in the body, especially our hormones. Let me explain why.

Why is gut health so important for happy hormones?

Nutrient absorption

Every single process in the body requires nutrients to function properly, including the production and utilisation of hormones in the body. We get those nutrients from our food which needs to be sufficiently broken down and absorbed. If digestion is inadequate or the absorption is affected, this can impact our hormones.

Hormone metabolism

Certain hormones, including our thyroid hormones are metabolised in the gut, meaning they are converted into their active form. Other hormones such as oestrogen are bound up and eliminated via the gut, so the gut environment can directly affect hormone balance. Remember our hormones function together much like an orchestra does, cueing off from one another, so any imbalances can have a negative knock on effect on all our hormones.

Increase in cortisol

Gut issues such as inflammation or an imbalance in bacteria can raise cortisol levels in the body. This creates a horrible vicious cycle as cortisol contributes to suppressing digestive function…which will create more gut issues and so on.

Leaky gut

This is where the cells in the gut open up more than they should which allows larger particles (such as food and toxins), bacteria and pathogens to reach the bloodstream. This can then trigger the immune system creating inflammation in the body. Inflammation (you guessed it) negatively impacts hormones and can also cause the immune system to incorrectly attack the body. This can occur in cases like thyroid autoimmunity which may impact thyroid hormone production.

Slow gut transit

A sluggish gut or constipation can mean that hormones that have been detoxified by the liver sit around longer than they should, causing them to be reabsorbed. This messes with the lovely harmonious hormone melody and can cause oestrogen dominance which is associated with endometriosis, fibroids, breast tenderness and heavy and/or painful periods.

Serotonin production

Around 95% of this happy hormone is produced in the gut by our gut bacteria. If your serotonin production is off, this can cause us to crave more carbohydrates to give a boost in serotonin. Often this can lead to eating more sugar and refined or processed carbohydrates which negatively impacts our gut bacteria…so another vicious cycle!

What are the signs of an unhealthy gut?

As the gut runs from our mouth right down to our bottoms, symptoms can be wide ranging. Common symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, indigestion, cramps, gas, heartburn or acid reflux.

But because what happens in the gut does not stay in the gut, symptoms can be systemic and include anything from headaches to eczema to fatigue, brain fog, sugar cravings, weight issues, asthma, mood issues, acne and much more.

Hormonal imbalances such as PMS, heavy painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis or PCOS also suggest that gut health needs to be looked at.

So, perhaps you’ve identified your gut could do with some love, where do you start?

How to heal your gut

The best way I have found to heal the gut is top down, considering that is how everything moves through…or should move through the digestive system.

Start with mindful eating

Engaging the brain when we are eating our food is key as this triggers the rest of the digestive system into action. Too often we are eating whilst doing something else such as looking at our phone, taking small bites whilst working or eating on the run. This first step sets up the entire digestive tract for either success or failure…not quite that dramatic but hopefully you get the importance of engaging the brain!

Chew, chew, chew

Next we want to focus on chewing. The mouth is the best stage of digestion to engage physical digestion, where we can actually physically break down the food. This step isn’t utilised enough which can often lead to problems further down.

Up the acid

A lot of us suffer from heartburn or acid reflux which is often thought to be because of too much stomach acid. Actually, it is typically quite the opposite. Encourage good stomach acid production through using lemon juice in meals or sipping on diluted apple cider vinegar before meals - just watch your teeth enamel if you do this all the time!

Add in enzymatic rich foods

The pancreas releases enzymes which help to break down our food in the small intestine. We can aid that breakdown by including enzymatic rich foods such as pineapple or papaya before meals.

Boil some bones

Bone broth is rich in glutamine, an amino acid that is an absolute powerhouse for healing a damaged gut lining. It is also incredibly nutrient rich and helps to calm down inflammation.

Include bitter foods

Bitter foods help to stimulate the production and release of bile from the liver and gallbladder. Bile is needed to help break down and absorb fats, as well as fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Anything that tastes bitter counts but if you are struggling to think about what to include, start with watercress, rocket, dandelion greens, citrus peel and Jerusalem artichokes.

Harness the power of fermented foods

Fermented foods are rich in probiotics which are the friendly bacteria found in our gut. Think about all the K’s - kimchi, kefir, kombucha and kraut. Live Yoghurt and non-processed sourdough count too (just be careful if you are sensitive to gluten or dairy).

Keep hydrated

We are mostly water so it is important to keep hydrated throughout the day. Regular water intake also helps to keep everything moving through the bowel and helps to form a nice sausage shaped stool.

Get tested

Understanding what is happening in your gut is often the best way to improve your gut health, especially if you have made some changes but are still suffering. Whether you suffer from gut specific symptoms, hormone imbalances or any of the other symptoms mentioned above, gut testing may be your answer. Reach out to understand more.


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