by Dr. Kathryn O’Sullivan a consumer-friendly, engaging feature penned by renowned Nutrition Scientist with over 25 years of experience, Dr Kathryn O’Sullivan. It focuses on the link between gut health and the Menopause, as many women underestimate the impact that good gut health can have on alleviating debilitating symptoms. In the feature, Dr O’Sullivan examines why the gut microbiome has such a pronounced effect on the Menopause as well as providing tips for improving your gut health to help women cope with their symptoms.
A four-year transition period, the perimenopause, characterised by fluctuating oestrogen levels, culminates in the menopause itself, when ovaries cease egg production, periods stop and oestrogen levels decline. All through these years, for many women, unpleasant symptoms appear: poor sleep, hair loss, hot flushes, brain fog, anxiety and depression, vaginal dryness and loss of libido, and even joint pain, hard crosses to bear for women in their late forties and supposedly in their prime! And the puzzle is that, although every woman will have falling oestrogen levels, not every woman will have menopausal symptoms.
Current research – and there is plenty of it – now suggests that the answer may lie in the gut, home to the friendly (and unfriendly!) bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome, that secretly influence our mental and bodily health. In among these multitudinous bacteria there is a specific collection that regulate the body’s circulating oestrogen. This is the estrobolome (1). If these bacteria are present in the right numbers and healthily active, they will effectively metabolize oestrogen and keep oestrogen levels in check. If not, there could be a deficiency or excess of oestrogen in the body and this will, of course, impact upon our health (2, 3).
It seems that optimising our gut microbiome, among which are the crucial estrobolome, is the key to keeping our hormones in balance (1). This is particularly important when going through the menopause, as fluctuating levels of oestrogen can lead to the dreaded hot flushes, mood swings and the debilitating insomniac nights.
What we eat feeds and strengthens our microbiome, but which foods will make our “good” bacteria strong and starve the “baddies”? Can we eat to beat menopausal symptoms? Can we get our estrobolome fighting fit? Yes. According to the American Gut Project, those who eat a plant-based diet have the most healthy, diverse microbiome. The more diverse the plants you eat, the more diverse your microbiome (4). Fermented drinks and probiotics such as kefir, kimchi, kombucha or sauerkraut will do wonders for your microbiome!
Check out your microbiome- is it up to the job or are you feeding it what it needs?
Science has done it again, come up with yet another way of keeping an eye on your inner workings!
Your microbiome is as unique as you are, and you can find out how to tailor your diet to ensure your gut bacteria mix is at its most advantageous (5). There are now home test kits available. For example, a simple test, like INTEST.pro measures the bacterial DNA in your gut microbiome. This analysis is so sensitive that it shows how many bacteria are present and, by measuring their DNA , estimates how many types there are in your gut microbiome (6). What you get is a snapshot and insight into your own unique microbiome when the sample was taken. A good home test like this gives you vital information on your overall diversity, your ratio of beneficial to harmful bacteria and whether you have dysbiosis – an unbalanced bacterial composition – as well as information on the individual species and strains of the bacteria. By comparing your results with current research findings, these tests offer you a personalised plan on how to optimise the richness and diversity of your microbiome by giving you advice on your diet and lifestyle factors. The analysis is based on a tiny stool sample that can easily be taken at home and sent to the laboratory.
The gut microbiome is adaptable and while dietary changes can beneficially alter it, changes in composition may only be temporary if we change our diet again (5). So, home tests can be useful to provide baseline readings and can then be used as a monitor to maintain or tweak the diet to a healthy and diverse microbiome. While dietary advice to improve gut health will certainly benefit us all, home tests can offer reassurance that it is working!
A cry often heard from menopausal women is that their plight is seldom taken seriously. They feel helpless in their affliction. But emerging science says differently : Your sufferings are real, and have, not only a cause, but maybe a cure. In keeping with current philosophy – Love yourself, especially your gut, especially that amazing little estrobolome!
|Tips to help ease menopause symptoms||Easy swaps to boost your estrobolome|
Eat at least 5 portions of different coloured fruit and veg daily as they are excellent sources of minerals and vitamins commonly lacking in the diet which can affect your energy levels, skin and even contribute to hair loss.
| Aim to eat 30 different types of plants a week to |
increase microbiome diversity.
|Limit your caffeine to reduce hot flushes and insomnia.|
Switch to fermented teas such as kombucha which provide healthy bacteria to the gut.
Eat whole grain varieties of breads, pasta, rice and other grain foods. These slow release carbohydrates control blood sugar levels and can help keep your emotions on an even keel.
|Prebiotics are a type of fibre found in wholegrains that help to feed the healthy bacteria.|
|Aim for 2-3 portions of calcium rich foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt per day to protect against bone loss, which is common after menopause.|
Swap with probiotic yoghurts and fermented milks like kefir which contain live bacteria which help to colonise your gut and prevent unfriendly bacteria from overpopulating it.
|Protein is important during menopause to keep muscle mass.|
Swap to plant proteins like beans and legumes, foods that strengthen your microbiome.
Could phytoestrogens help? These are plant molecules found in foods like tofu, edamame and soya milk which act like estrogen in the body and may help reduce hot flushes and night sweats.
|All plant foods are loved by the gut microbiome.|