Fed up of repeatedly asking yourself ‘why am I bloated?’ Your hormones could be to blame. Ahead of World Digestive Health Day (29th May), nutrition and digestive health consultant Leyla Moudden has some advice that could help
Hormones influence every organ, system and process within the human body and the digestive tract is no exception.
It is no wonder so many women feel a rise and fall in appetite and weight control as they move through their menstrual cycle.
Hormones influence every organ, system and process within the human body
The relationship between hormones and the digestive tract, or more specifically hormones and our gut bacteria, is called the estrobolome.
To help us uncover the link between hormones and the gut, Leyla Moudden, Naturopath and Educator for Enzymedica, sheds some light on why giving your digestive system a helping hand is such an important route to supporting hormonal balance.
The female cycle
The female hormonal cycle is the continuous rise and fall of many hormones that influence the whole body.
Within the subject of digestion, the three hormones known as oestrogen, progesterone and cortisol come into play, stimulating both changes in hunger and bowel movements, as well as our stress levels.
the world of gut bacteria known as the microbiome
As our appetite and bowel movements shift, more work is created for our detox organ, the liver which can lead to skin outbreaks, hair problems and difficulties digesting protein and fat.
Inside our gut, the world of gut bacteria known as the microbiome shift in response, leading to changes in our mood and appetite.
The ovarian cycle is the period of time it takes for a woman to release an egg, which may or may not be fertilised to form an embryo.
This process is also driven by a rise and fall in hormones, which have a secondary effect on other parts of our body.
From the end of week one to week two of our ovarian cycle, oestrogen steadily rises.
At week three and week four, oestrogen begins to decline as progesterone and cortisol begin to rise in preparation for implantation.
As these hormonal changes occur, adjustments are made to the digestive tract.
All the symptoms that females experience during their hormonal cycles are related to their digestive system, but may not be always be experienced as digestive distress.
All the symptoms that females experience during their hormonal cycles are related to their digestive system
These experiences can include skin outbreaks, greasy hair, mood swings, fatigue, bloating, constipation, loose bowels and headaches.
Underlying all of these experiences is the change in hormone levels which affect the digestive system, particularly the liver and the gut.
During the ovarian cycle, the body goes through a rise and fall of two hormones in particular, oestrogen and progesterone. This fluctuation can have a significant impact on how we feel, what we want to eat and how we digest.
Week 1: our hormones are at their lowest level
On average, the female ovulation period/cycle is four weeks.
In week one of our menstrual cycle, oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest level.
Week 2: oestrogen on the rise, cortisol on the decline
After week one, oestrogen steadily rises until it peaks around the end of week two.
Oestrogen keeps cortisol, our stress hormone, in check. With low cortisol levels mean we will feel relaxed, our appetite is stable, and we find ourselves free from cravings.
We may also get a boost in libido around this time, as our bodies get ready for pregnancy.
After reaching its peak at the end of week two of the ovarian cycle, oestrogen will steadily begin to decline and progesterone takes over.
As cortisol rises, our digestive capacity is reduced
The stress hormone cortisol begins to increase, and we may feel the symptoms of what we call ‘PMS’.
As cortisol rises, our digestive capacity is reduced and we produce less stomach acid, feel hungrier and may begin seeking that quick sugar fix to respond to the increase in cortisol. This can also translate into cravings for carbohydrates.
The mix of high carbohydrate cravings and reduced digestive capacity can lead to many women feeling constipated, bloated and moody or having very loose bowel movements.
As our digestion slows in response to the fall of oestrogen, fatigue after eating can become more frequent and our need for digestive assistance increases.
To reduce feelings of bloating and food cravings, a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme such as Digest Gold™ from Enzymedica UK, can offset some of the digestive stress by helping the food to break down more efficiently.
Digestive enzymes are substances produced by our bodies that help us digest and break down the foods we eat.
As food travels through your digestive system, different enzymes break down specific food types. For example, lipase (produced by the gut) supports the conversion of fat into fatty acids and cholesterol, and amylase (also in the gut) is used in transforming carbohydrates into simple sugars.
Utilising the nutrition enhancing effects of a digestive enzyme supplement and foods that natural contain these enzymes we can help provide the nutrition that is needed to support our bodies through the process and reduce the more negative experiences such as the bloating, reflux and constipation that accompany changes in the menstrual cycle.
Foods that contain digestive enzymes:
Weeks 3 to 4: progesterone peaks
When oestrogen begins to decline, progesterone, the hormone that is responsible for maintaining a pregnancy begins to rise.
Just as it does during pregnancy, progesterone acts as a smooth muscle relaxant, and so we can become constipated due to relaxed bowel muscles.
During this time, a digestive enzyme can help to reduce the severity of constipation to keep the bowels moving.
a digestive enzyme can help to reduce the severity of constipation
As the bowels slow down, our ability to detoxify our circulating hormones is decreased. This is the time we need to eat lots of fibre and drink plenty of water to facilitate easier movement of the bowels.
Progesterone also increases our basal body temperature, and our metabolism begins to speed up. Our energy level increases, and the bloating that we felt in the oestrogen phase begins to abate – so we no longer need to wear stretchy trousers.
Perimenopause and menopause: falling levels of oestrogen
The journey to menopause is marked by a steady and consistent decline in oestrogen.
Now that we know oestrogen keeps our bowels moving and our stress hormones in check, it is easier to understand why a steady decline of oestrogen will cause an increase in stress and bad moods as the body tries to balance itself.
The average age of menopause is between 45 and 55, a time when our digestive capacity and stomach acid secretion is also declining.
A good digestive enzyme is a must for this period of life
Around this time, the foods that we would normally handle with little problem begin to generate heartburn and constipation.
A good digestive enzyme is a must for this period of life, to facilitate the healthy breakdown of proteins and fats, two food groups that are essential for health.
Nutrients and hormones
Nutrients play a huge role in overall hormonal balance, and this increase and decrease in digestive capacity will reduce the level of nutrition a woman is receiving at any stage of her cycle.
Once a female begins to menstruate, her nutritional needs become a vital part of maintaining hormone balance as her body goes through continuous cycles of change and renewal.
As hormones rise and fall throughout life, a woman falls pregnant, breastfeeds, and then moves into perimenopause then menopause and beyond – her nutritional status is the stabilising factor that will keep her hormonal fluctuation from negatively affecting her.
All nutrients come from adequate digestion of food, which is why females must ensure they are effectively digesting the foods they eat as they move through life.
In addition to supplementing with a digestive enzyme, eating foods that contain natural enzymes, such as pineapple and papaya, is an easy way for women to ensure they are benefiting nutritionally from the food they eat.
The rise and fall of hormones is an inevitable fact of life for females, and an imbalance can trigger substantial discomfort which is why we find ourselves Googling ‘why am I bloated?’