The theory that gut microbes play a significant role in regulating many aspects of human physiology isn't new. Research shows that they're effective for helping with intestinal permeability, immunity and nutrient absorption. Newer and more exciting research shows that gut microbes play a vital role in the body by helping to regulate your estrogen levels. The gut hormone connection is vast, and we're going to explore it in detail below.
Contents:Understanding Normal Estrogen Metabolism What is the Estrobolome? How Does the Estrobolome Impact Your Body's Estrogen Metabolism? Conditions Linked to Estrobolome Dysfunction What Can You Do To Improve Estrobolome Balance
- Eat More Veggies
- Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
- Avoid Antibiotics and Hormonal Contraceptives
- Try to Lose Weight
- Stop Smoking
Understanding Normal Estrogen Metabolism
Before menopause, your ovaries are primarily responsible for making estrogen. The estrogen then starts to circulate throughout your body to your breasts, uterus and other organs. In cases of healthy estrogen metabolism, once oestrogen is at the end of its life, oestrogen in the liver is excreted via the kidney and bowel through urine and stool.
What is the Estrobolome?
There is a collection of microbes located in your gut that work to metabolise estrogens called estrobolome. Estrobolome controls the estrogen's circulation path from the liver to the bile to the small intestine, and it also has a hand in circulating the estrogen levels your body secretes (1). In the estrobolome, the microbes produce an enzyme known as beta-glucuronidase (2). Beta-glucuronidase deconjugates the inactive estrogen into their active forms. Activity from beta-glucuronidase creates unbound and active estrogen.
How Does Estrobolome Impact Your Body's Estrogen Metabolism?
When you have a healthy gut microbiome, estrobolome will produce the correct amount of betaglucuronidase to keep your estrogen levels balanced. However, when you have gut dysbiosis, it can alter the activity of the beta-glucuronidase in your system. In turn, you end up with either excess or a deficiency of free estrogen in your body. This can promote the development of estrogen-related pathologies (3).
Conditions Linked to Estrobolome Dysfunction
Several conditions have direct links to estrobolome dysfunction. They can get better or worse, depending on your dysfunction level. They include but are not limited to:
1. Too Much Beta-Glucuronidase
As we touched on earlier, beta-glucuronidase is an enzyme that causes your inactive estrogen to activate. Active and unbound estrogen can bind to your estrogen receptors, and this can encourage the growth of the "bad" bacteria in your gut. In turn, having too much of the "bad" bacteria in your gut can lead to a variety of estrogen-related conditions (4).
Estrogen dominance is a condition where you have excess estrogen in your body with imbalanced progesterone. Excess beta-glucuronidase causes the levels of free estrogen to go up in your system because it activates your inactive estrogen molecules. Beta-glucuronidase can encourage the growth of bacteria in the gut, which can trigger inflammation and increase intestinal permeability (6).
Endometriosis is a medical condition where endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus. This is a condition driven by estrogen and is often associated with gut dysbiosis. In animal studies, those with endometriosis have shown to have a larger number of bacteria that produce beta-glucuronidase. In turn, they had higher levels of estrogen. (7) In this study, dysbiosis of the endometrium and vagina were common, which led to a decrease in the amount of Lactobacilli bacteria. It also led to an increase in pathogenic gram-negative bacteria.
2. Too Little Beta-Glucuronidase
On the other end of the spectrum, having too little beta-glucuronidase in your system can also lead to estrogen dysfunction. Several prevalent conditions can cause this to happen. They include:
PCOS is condition that has strong links to estrobolome disruption. Women with PCOS have excess androgens. They also have altered levels of bacteria in their guts. Research suggests that the gut bacteria alteration in women with PCOS can encourage higher androgen levels and decreased estrogen levels because of a reduction of beta-glucuronidase activity. (9)(10) Researchers found that by modulating gut bacteria, they could decrease androgen biosynthesis and improve the estrous cycles in animal models. This shows that modulating your esetrobolome could be useful in PCOS treatment. (11)
Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones weaken and become more prone to fracturing and breaking. This condition becomes even more relevant due to the decline in oestrogen that occurs in menopause. Fortunately, tending to your gut bacteria can help metabolise oestrogen through supporting estrobolome, even after menopause. One study involving mice indicated that introducing Lactobacillus rhamnosus into their diet boosted their levels of beta-glucuronidase. When this happened, it improved the mice's estrogen levels, protecting them against osteoporosis-induced bone damage (13)(14).
When you're post-menopausal, estrobolome disruptions have links to various other health conditions like obesity and cardiovascular issues. The reason for this is that estrogen works to regulate adipocyte differentiation, lipid metabolism and the inflammatory response. When you go through menopause, your natural levels of estrogen start to drop. In turn, it can disrupt these estrogen dependent processes and trigger cardiovascular disease and obesity (15)(16).
What Can You Do To Improve Estrobolome Balance?
Fortunately, there are several things that you can do to improve the estrobolome balance in your body. These things are relatively easy to incorporate into your routine, and anyone can benefit from these lifestyle changes. They include:
1. Eat More Veggies
One of the easiest things you can do to improve your estrobolome balance is to add more vegetables to your daily diet. Veggies are rich in dietary fibre, which promotes a healthy microbiome and supports beta-glucuronidase activity. In particular, broccoli sprouts are helpful in this endeavour because they assist phase two liver detoxification which helps excrete excess estrogen. Veggies can also help improve your microbial diversity by introducing prebiotics into your system and feeding the good types of bacteria. One study took 53 healthy volunteers and split them into five random groups. They collected fecal samples before and after the trial to measure the amount of bacteria present. Each group got different strains of probiotics. At the end of the study, researchers found that the volunteers who consumed lactulose or oligofructose-enriched inulin had lower beta glucuronidase activity. (21)
2. Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
People with excess alcohol intake run the risk of altering their microbiome. One study compared the gastrointestinal bacteria of 41 people who had chronically drunk to ten healthy people who had no or very little alcohol intake. 27% of the alcohol group had gastrointestinal dysbiosis, while none of the non-alcoholic group experienced dysbiosis.
3. Avoid Antibiotics and Hormonal Contraceptives
Antibiotics are important medicinal treatments for diseases and infection. They either kill the bacteria causing the infection or disease, or they prevent them from multiplying. However, antibiotics have an impact on both good and bad bacteria. (33)(34) Antibiotics can decrease beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, and increase bad bacteria like Clostridium. One study showed that taking even one round of antibiotics can alter your gut bacteria for a prolonged period (35)(36).
Oral contraceptives can also throw your estrobolome balance off. Oral contraceptives are synthetic hormones, and your body isn't able to metabolise them like they would your natural hormones. This can easily lead to an overload of estrogen in your body, impacting your gut bacteria. A review involving 12 studies showed that taking oral contraceptives could quadrupedal the estrogen levels present in your body. (37)
4. Try to Lose Weight
Physical activity is moving your body in ways that burn energy. Cycling, gardening, walking and swimming are all common examples of physical activity. There are several benefits associated with being physically active, including lower stress levels, weight loss and reduced chronic disease risks. (38)(39) One study involving professional rugby players showed that the players had twice the amount of bacterial families compared to the trial’s control group (40)(41). A second study took 21 non-active women and 19 active women and compared their gut flora. They found that the active women had higher levels of bacteria that promote good health like Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia. These findings suggest that partaking in physical activity regularly can benefit your gut flora. (42)
5. Stop Smoking
Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals and out of these there are 70 that can cause cancer (43). Routine smoking can harm almost every organ in your body, increasing your risk of developing a stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. This can cause long-term health problems that negatively impact your gut flora.(44) One study compared the bacteria levels of people who had stopped smoking to smokers. They found that the people who quit smoking had an increased gut flora diversity compared to the people who didn't quit. (45)
Probiotics May Help Balance Your EstrobolomeProbiotics are essential to helping you restore balance to your estrobolome in several ways.
- Studies involving animals with PCOS showed that giving them a broad-spectrum probiotic with Lactobacillus could decrease their testosterone biosynthesis and help to normalise their cycles. (46)
- A mouse study showed that giving the mice a supplement containing Lactobacillus reuteri could help protect against osteoporosis and estrogen-induced bone loss. (47)
- Animals with endometriosis received a supplement of Lactobacillus gasseri. As a result, these animals had a suppression of their estrogen-driven ectopic tissue growth. (48)
- Supplementation with Lactobacillus acidophilus can reduce beta-glucuronidase, and this means that it can alter your estrobolome's microbial composition. (49)