If you have read any of my prior blogs you have probably noticed a theme - health begins in the gut. Our microbiome’s diversity and ability to fight off pathogens play an incredibly large role in our overall health and well-being. But as a middle-aged woman, impaired digestion and dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the gut flora, can have consequences that go beyond a little uncomfortable bloating.
When women enter perimenopause and, subsequently, menopause, it is widely understood that their hormone levels are declining. Decreasing amounts of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are associated with many of the symptoms that we think of when we discuss menopause. What most people don’t know is that having a healthy gut can actually lessen some of the symptoms. The estrobolome, or the bacteria in the gut responsible for metabolizing estrogens, needs to be robust in order to transform estrogen into a usable form. If estrogen cannot be metabolized, it will get stored in the body and can cause issues ranging from insulin resistance to cognitive deficits and even cancer.1 Current research on the subject is ongoing and there are knowledge gaps, but research suggests that the gut microbiome in menopause becomes less diverse and this may contribute to adverse effects on cardiometabolic risk factors, including lower HDL, higher waist circumference and increased blood pressure.2
How To Ease Digestive Issues During Menopause
So, how do we protect the estrobolome and strengthen our microbiome during the menopausal transition?
- Eat a diet high in prebiotics. Prebiotics are food for the good bacteria in our gut and provide a great source of fiber to aid in digestion and regularity.3 These are things like apples, green bananas, garlic, onions and asparagus.
- If tolerated, consider adding fermented foods to your diet. Foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha are all made through the process of fermentation. In one trial, participants who added fermented foods daily over the course of the trial were found to have reduced inflammatory markers and a greater diversity of gut microbes.4
- Consider adding a probiotic as well. Choosing a targeted probiotic is usually best. It’s always best pratice to consult with your doctor or healthcare professional to determine which probiotic or supplement might be best for your needs.
- Add healthy fats! Not all fat is the enemy as we were taught. In fact, there are so many health benefits to a diet rich in the right fats - think salmon, nuts, olive oil and avocados. Healthy fats protect your gut lining. They are broken down to form a short-chain fatty acid that promote brain health and reduce inflammation.5
- Reduce consumption of sugar and processed foods. These foods are associated with an increase in metabolic health conditions and risk of cardiovascular disease. Research has also shown these foods to have a negative impact on gut health and microbe diversity.6
Gut health is important in all stages of life, but it is particularly important to focus on it as you enter midlife. A healthy estrobolome will make navigating all of the changes you experience all the more easy and enjoyable!