There's a secret (not-so-secret) battle raging within all of us. Deep within our gut, a fierce struggle for real-estate is unfolding, between friendly, beneficial bacteria called probiotics and evil bacteria. This vibrant ecosystem of bacteria and other microscopic organisms is known as the human microbiome, and makes up around 90% of the cells in our bodies! When the probiotics are winning, our gut is in symbiosis. However, when the tables turn in favour of the harmful bacteria, our gut microbiome enters dysbiosis.
Why is this microscopic conflict so significant? Probiotics play a vital role in our metabolic and immune health, helping us to absorb and digest nutrients, producing vitamins B and K and bolstering our immune system. But their importance goes further than this! The powerful connection between our gut microbiome and our hormonal system is becoming increasingly apparent.
I feel it in my gut
Hormones are the chemical messengers that keep our bodies running, controlling everything from sleep and hunger to our moods and reproductive cycles. It turns out many of them are metabolised and recycled in the gut!
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is one of the neurotransmitters influenced by probiotics. These good guys work to reduce cortisol levels, helping us to focus during periods of stress or relax after an adrenaline rush.
Estrogen is one of the most significant hormones impacted by our gut health. Unused estrogen is metabolised out of the body with the help of our trusty probiotics. However, certain harmful bacteria interrupt this cycle and cause the body to store an excess of estrogen. This can lead to severe conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and breast, endometrial, cervical and ovarian cancer, amongst other things.
Friendly bacteria support healthy insulin levels by regulating production and metabolisis. Probiotic supplements can, therefore, help in the regulation of diabetes.
A gut in symbiosis increases our sensitivity to leptin, the hormone released by fat cells to signal our brain to stop eating. Dysbiosis can lead us to become resistant to leptin, resulting in weight gain and difficulty regulating our weight.
Our gut microbiome supports healthy levels of melatonin, the hormone which helps our body prepare for sleep. Probiotics impact the production of tryptophan, the amino acid which converts serotonin (the 'happy' hormone) into melatonin.
Supporting your gut
When our gut microbiome is in symbiosis, our hormones perform their designated functions, and we feel happy and well. When we slip into dysbiosis, a dodgy stomach can lead to hormonal disruptions. It's consequentially crucial to our general health for our gut microbiome to remain in equilibrium, but how can we give probiotics a helping hand?
A balanced diet is critical. Fibrous veggies and fermented foods support the growth of probiotics in our gut and prevent gut-related hormonal imbalances. Luckily, they're also delicious! You can furthermore take probiotic supplements to make up for any deficiencies in your diet.
Feed your bacteria! Probiotics feed on prebiotics, compounds found in many foods like vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds. By ensuring you consume at least one of these a day, you'll be able to keep your gut in symbiosis.