The gut microbiome refers to the vast and diverse community of microorganisms that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. It consists of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, yeast and other microbes, that live in a symbiotic relationship with the human body.
Each of us have our own microbiome makeup that can vary with genetics, diet, lifestyle, age and pathogens (harmful germs). When functioning properly, microorganisms can coexist peacefully but when "out of balance," may be disruptive and cause illness or disease. An unhealthy microbiome can present itself in many different ways, but when it comes to women's health, it is important to understand the connection between the gut microbiome and mental, hormone and vaginal health.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut and the brain are interconnected through a complex network of nerves and chemical signals, known as the gut-brain axis. The gut has even been termed “the second brain” because of this connection. The gut microbiota can influence brain function and behavior by producing neurotransmitters like serotonin, regulating stress responses through the vagus nerve found in your gut, regulating mood with beneficial gut bacteria, and influencing the production of hormones.
When out of balance, this may look like:
Loose stools, constipation, gas or IBS when feeling stressed
Increased symptoms of anxiety, depression and brain fog
Increased perceptions of abdominal pain
Sleep timing and quality
The Gut-Hormone Connection
Within the gut is an important microbiome whose job is to regulate estrogen levels, called the estrobolome. The function of these bacteria is to regulate how much estrogen is reabsorbed, recirculated and eliminated in your body. When there is an imbalance of microorganisms or inflammation in the gut, this can cause an imbalance in estrobolome bacteria which leads to lower or higher levels of estrogen being produced or reabsorbed.
An imbalance of estrobolome bacteria can look like:
Heavy, painful periods
Increase in endometriosis or fibroid symptoms
Increase of mood swings
Disrupted sleep patterns
The Vaginal Microbiome
It is not news to most that the vagina has its own micro ecosystem- the vaginal microbiome. While a separate ecosystem to the gut microbiome, they are dependent on each other and influence the health and functioning of one another.
An imbalance of vaginal microflora can look like:
Chronic yeast and other fungal infections
Chronic pelvic pain
Fertility problems and recurrent miscarriages
How to Find Balance
We understand how important it is to find balance in our gut and vaginal microbiomes, but what can we do to achieve it? There are many factors that we cannot change, like genetics and some of the environmental factors of where we live, but identifying and limiting triggers that are known to disrupt the microbiome is a good place to start.
Common triggers are:
Diets high in saturated fats
Environmental toxins like heavy metals and pesticides
Certain medications like antibiotics, NSAIDs, Tylenol and Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
There are also many things that can be done to nourish your gut microbiome, including:
Eating a diverse diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and resistant starches, as well as, fermented foods, like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut
Limiting processed foods and artificial sweeteners
Consider a probiotic supplement (however, they are not one size fits all!)
Reducing stress, getting plenty of exercise and sufficient sleep
In addition to avoiding triggers and nourishing your microbiome, we also offer functional medicine testing to assess gut function and microbial composition to provide individualized recommendations to treat and promote your gut health.