- Ruby Forbes
How important is gut health during menopause? (Clue - very!)
Updated: Jul 26, 2022
Are you wondering why everyone is suddenly talking about gut health and probiotics? Maybe you want to know more about how to tackle symptoms like brain fog, depression, sleep issues and hot flushes. Well, look no further - as your knight-in-shining-armour for all things menopause, Olivia is here to help.
Buckle up - you’re going to learn the ins and outs of what your gut needs to stay healthy, as well as how this is relevant for those untimely menopausal symptoms that might be rearing their heads. Whether the symptoms above are getting you down or you’re simply a little curious about gut health, this is essential reading.
Want to skip the science lesson? Feel free to head to the bottom of the article, where we have rounded up the best foods to nourish your gut.
Getting to grips with gut health
First things first. It’s time to get up close and personal with… your gut. To be more specific, the gastrointestinal tract is your body’s digestive pathway, and it is lined with trillions of different microbes (meaning, organisms that are too small to be seen without a microscope). All of these organisms together create their own little ecosystem, called the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome
Variety is the spice of life and the gut microbiome seems to agree: it works best when there are lots of different microbes, in order to maintain balance and prevent any one bacteria from dominating. Having a microbiome with little microbial diversity can be linked to certain allergies, IBS and obesity.
That might sound scary and overwhelming. But this is simply to underline that keeping your gut microbiome balanced is really important for promoting both physical and mental health.
The great part is, it’s very easy to improve your gut health, and the power to do so lies in your hands. At the end of this article, you’ll find guidance on the best foods to eat in order to promote a healthy gut. But for now, we’re going to delve a little deeper - it’s time to find out how your gut affects your mental health.
The gut-brain axis: The role your gut plays in mental wellbeing
By now, it’s pretty clear that a healthy gut is linked to improved physical wellbeing. But did you know it can also affect your mental health?
The gut-brain axis
Research has shown the existence of biochemical pathways between the gut and the brain - aka, the gut-brain axis. In other words, the gut and the central nervous system are essentially communicating with one another.
This means that your gut is influencing the areas of your brain related to emotion and cognition. Serotonin transmitters, the immune system and the lining of your gut are all affected by this connection.
What’s the link with menopausal symptoms?
Let’s put this another way. A gut microbiome that is low on bacterial diversity has been linked to anxiety and depression. One study even showed that increased probiotic consumption led to a reduction in cortisol release as well as anxiety and depression. If the perimenopause has left you feeling low, then the culprit might well be an unhappy gut.
A healthy gut microbiome is therefore non-negotiable for your mental health. As it turns out, it’s also pretty important for oestrogen levels, which can impact your cognition, bone health and sleep.
Why the estrobolome is linked to brain fog
Here’s another fancy word. Estrobolome.
‘Estro’ looks familiar, right? You would be correct if you guessed that it's related to oestrogen. Estrobolome refers to the microbes in your gut that are specifically responsible for metabolising oestrogen. This process lets oestrogen enter the bloodstream and work its magic on the body.
Oestrogen and your body
Did you know that there are oestrogen receptors all over your body? In the intestine, the brain, in bones and fat tissue. This is the reason why oestrogen levels can impact cardiovascular health, bone density, abnormal cell growth and cognition. Remember that brain fog feeling?
It’s no surprise, then, that an unvaried gut microbiome can lead to less oestrogen circulation. It’s simple math - fewer microbes in the gut, fewer of those oestrogen-metabolising microbes. And…less oestrogen in your system.
Oestrogen and menopausal symptoms
All of this is important for menopausal women, as their levels of oestrogen are fluctuating and declining. Oestrogen-related symptoms, such as brain fog, hot flushes and sleep issues, are common menopausal complaints. By keeping your gut and the estrobolome nourished and sustained, you can help ease some of these symptoms.
How to keep your gut healthy
So, now you know what the gut microbiome is, as well as why it’s so important for beating brain fog, depression, sleep issues and more. But how do you keep it healthy and happy?
Prebiotics and probiotics
It’s time to welcome prebiotics and probiotics to the stage. This nifty duo play an essential role in keeping the gut healthy. No doubt you’ve probably heard of probiotics already. They are living microbes found in different foods, and the gut microbiome loves them. Essentially, the more, the merrier! As you read above, the gut microbiome likes to keep things varied and balanced, and consuming plenty of probiotics helps this process.
What are they?
Prebiotics are plant fibres that the body can’t digest. They essentially act as food for probiotics. If you want to remember the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, think of prebiotics as the initial (‘pre’) building blocks in this process. Other benefits of prebiotics include better calcium absorption and faster fermentation of food (which aids with issues such as constipation).
What to eat for a healthy gut
Congratulations for making it this far! By now, you’re pretty much an expert in gut health and how it affects your mental and hormonal wellbeing.
And we’re guessing you want to know what you should actually do with all this new information. You’re chomping at the bit as to how you can get your gut in prime condition. Don’t worry - Olivia’s got you covered!
By creating the optimum conditions for the gut microbiome, prebiotics are an indispensable tool. Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in fibre and indigestible starch. Keep an eye out for:
Probiotics also keep the gut happy and varied. Supplements are widely available, but they also naturally occur in fermented foods. Why not try:
Here’s a couple more tips to help create the best conditions for your gut microbiome:
Get a good night’s rest: Lack of sleep can affect the diversity of your gut microbiome - and we’ve seen just how important that is for your overall health. Unsurprisingly this goes both ways, as strong microbe diversity also leads to better quality sleep.
Avoid processed foods: Unsurprisingly, processed foods are not your friend when it comes to ultimate gut nourishment. Reports show that they can interfere with the gut microbiome, and cause inflammation. As much as possible, stick to whole foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
So, now you know. Go forth, conquer your gut health…and then? The world.
Baker, J. n.d. “Estrogen-gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications.” PubMed. Accessed February 2, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28778332/.
Carabotti, M. n.d. “The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems.” National Library of Medicine. Accessed February 2, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/.
Markowiak, Paulina, and Katarzyna Śliżewska. n.d. “Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health.” MDPI. Accessed February 2, 2022. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/9/1021/htm.
Shi, Zumin. 2019. “Gut Microbiota: An Important Link between Western Diet and Chronic Diseases.” PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31554269/.
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West, C. n.d. “The gut microbiota and inflammatory noncommunicable diseases: associations and potentials for gut microbiota therapies.” PubMed. Accessed February 2, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25567038/.