Menopause And Gut Health: Whats The Connection?
It might surprise you to know that gut health has a connection to the hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause. Researchers have begun to discover that the gut affects more than just digestion. The gut microbiome has an important relationship with your overall health across multiple systems in the body.
Scientific studies in this area are still relatively new and more research is needed to draw conclusions, but what we are learning suggests that the gut impacts the way menopause affects the rest of the body. Keep reading to learn more about this connection and receive tips for ways to take control of your health during midlife.
Taking steps to improve your gut health can go a long way toward easing menopause symptoms.-Dr. Mary Claire Haver
What Is The Gut Microbiome?
You have probably heard of terms like “microbiome”, “flora”, “good bugs” and “bad bugs” to describe gut health, but what do they mean?
The microbiome is the collection of all microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses and their genes) that occur naturally both on the skin and inside the body. The microbiome that exists within the large and small intestines is called the gut microbiome.
At birth, the elements of the microbiome are predetermined based on DNA. As we get older, diet and environmental factors can change the microbiome, either in a more-healthy or less-healthy direction.
When we are healthy, all of these microorganisms peacefully coexist, and the gut is in a balanced state. However, when something disturbs the balance, our bodies are left susceptible to illness. Researchers have identified correlations between an out-of-balance gut microbiome and several medical conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, obesity and colorectal cancer.
Benefits Of A Healthy Gut Microbiome
Evidence suggests that the gut functions as a foundation for the health of the rest of the body. A healthy gut can lead to a healthy body.
A diverse microbiome keeps things running as they should, with positive effects on digestion, hormone balance and immunity. When the microbiome is less diverse, the body is less resilient. Having a healthy gut before entering menopause can provide a strong foundation for your body to endure the changes that are coming.
Nutrients, including B vitamins and vitamin K are produced by bacteria in the gut.
A diverse, healthy microbiome strengthens immunity and helps prevent illness.
Scientists have linked the gut and the brain (the “gut-brain axis”) suggesting that a balanced gut affects cognitive function and the emotional centers of the brain.
The gut microbiome is one of the main sources of estrogen circulation throughout the body.
Evidence suggests that a balanced gut leads to improved sleep quality, including falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer.
With a balanced gut microbiome, the body functions more efficiently by maintaining energy levels and metabolism rates. This can reduce inflammation and contribute to a healthy body weight.
Changes In Gut Microbiome During Midlife
Higher levels of estrogen and progesterone are associated with more diversity in the microbiome, and a healthier overall body. The hormone fluctuations in the years before, during and after menopause can send the microbiome into an unbalanced state.
As hormone levels drop during midlife, the microbiome diversity also drops. According to some studies, the diversity of the gut microbiome peaks and plateaus at about age 40. This means that during midlife, changes occur in the gut that affect the rest of the body.
How To Balance The Gut Microbiome
You can think about keeping the gut microbiome in a balanced state as an effort to “feed the good bugs and starve the bad bugs.” Maintaining a healthy, whole food diet feeds the good parts of the microbiome and keeps things in balance. When we consume added sugars, processed foods, or fail to get enough fiber, we are feeding the bad bugs which exacerbates the struggles our bodies are already facing during the menopause transition.
The Galveston Diet encourages foods that contribute to gut-microbiome diversity, which can ease menopause symptoms.
- Eat whole foods with plenty of fiber, with a goal of consuming at least 25 – 35 grams per day. Most people do not get enough fiber through nutrition alone and need to add a fiber supplement to reach the recommended daily intake. The Galveston Diet Fiber GDX is a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which benefit the gut-microbiome.
- Focus on eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Focus your time on the perimeter of the supermarket where the fresh, whole foods are usually stocked. Take our Nutritional Anti-Inflammation Quiz to see how your choices measure up.
- Avoid processed foods, added sugar and artificial sweeteners. There are plenty of delicious foods you can enjoy that will work with your body, not against it.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking at least 8, 8 ounce glasses of water each day can help to regulate your bowel movements and prevent constipation.
More and more studies are now suggesting that the different systems of the body do not function in isolation. It is all connected, and the gut seems to be the foundation of much more than we realized. Taking steps toward a healthy gut can go a long way to help you feel strong and energized during midlife.