The interplay between gut microbes, hormones, and overall health has become a subject of great scientific interest in recent years. Women’s health, in particular, is influenced by hormonal imbalances that can significantly impact their lives. The gut microbiome, consisting of trillions of microorganisms, plays a crucial role in regulating estrogen levels in women’s bodies, with implications for various physiological processes and conditions such as PCOS, which affects up to 10% of women globally. As research in this field progresses, a comprehensive understanding of the complex relationship between gut microbes, hormones, and overall health is expected to emerge, leading to effective interventions for a range of health conditions.
by Yutaka Shimokawa
Throughout history, women’s health has been lumped together with that of men owing to the once male-dominated nature of the healthcare industry, which was prepared to consider the male body the standard for research and study. This one-gender-fits-all approach marginalised women’s health issues and considered their deviations from the norm. But the underrepresentation of female health problems in the past has pushed modern healthcare and science to understand them better.
Approaching the Uniqueness of Women’s Health and Hormones
Women’s health has always been a subject of great interest and complexity, with hormones playing a significant role in determining the overall well-being of women. The intricate interplay between gut microbes, hormones, and overall health has become a topic of increasing scientific inquiry in recent years. Hormones play a unique role in women’s health, and these so-called chemical messengers are compounds secreted by the endocrine glands and control bodily functions. These functions include hunger, metabolism, energy levels, sleep, body temperature, the immune system, the reproductive system, and overall mood.1
Women may experience uncomfortable symptoms due to hormonal imbalances, which can significantly impact their lives. These imbalances can occur for various reasons, including age, illness, or environmental factors. Symptoms may include weight gain, fatigue, bloating, reduced skin elasticity, loss of sexual drive, depression, and more.
The prevalence of female hormonal imbalances is high among women of all ages and ethnicities, and their impact can vary depending on several factors such as age, race, and geographic location. In the US, approximately 50% of women report experiencing symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances,2 while 43% acknowledge the detrimental impact of hormone dysregulation on their holistic well-being, as revealed by a recent online survey. According to the Endocrine Society (2022),3 PCOS, a hormonal disorder common among females of reproductive age, affects up to 10% of women globally.
The study of female hormones is a complex and fascinating field of research that has been ongoing for many years. There is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that there is a commonality in female hormonal health that needs to be better understood.
The Bi-directional Relationship between the Gut and Estrogen
To understand the role of gut microbes in women’s hormonal health, it is first essential to explore the concept of the microbiome. The microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that reside in our bodies, with the majority found in the gastrointestinal tract.4 Apart from the gut microbiome, there are four other significant areas, namely the skin,
stomach, oral, and vaginal, which are interdependent. Each of these areas has its own distinct microbiome that plays a vital role in sustaining our general health and wellness. These microbes play a crucial role in various bodily functions, such as digestion, metabolism, and immune system regulation.5
In women, the gut microbiome has a unique connection with estrogen. The gut microbiome produces enzymes, such as β-glucuronidase, that modulate the metabolism of estrogen in the body.6 This means that changes in the gut microbiome can affect the levels of estrogen in the body, which can have significant impacts on women’s health. For example, imbalances in the gut microbiome have been associated with conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and breast cancer.7
Estrogen, recognised as the primary female hormone, is predominantly synthesised within the ovaries of females. Its fundamental role is to facilitate the development and maintenance of female reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics, including the regulation of the menstrual cycle.8 Furthermore, estrogen performs other vital roles in the body, including preserving bone density, controlling cholesterol levels, and promoting cardiovascular well-being.
The gut microbiome is a key regulator of estrogen levels in the body, notably for women. It affects a wide range of physiological processes and has important implications for brain function, digestive health, the female reproductive system, and other aspects of women’s health. The relationship between the gut microbiome and estrogen is bi-directional: gut microbes can influence estrogen levels, while estrogen can shape the composition of the gut microbiome.7
As research in this area continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly clear that the gut microbiome plays a crucial role in overall health and well-being and that understanding this complex relationship is key to developing effective interventions for a range of health conditions.
Impact on Women’s Bodies
Women experience hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives, especially during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. During puberty, estrogen plays a crucial role in developing feminine features such as breasts and hips and preparing the body for pregnancy by thickening the uterine lining and initiating the menstrual cycle. However, as women age, hormonal imbalances can lead to various issues, such as acne and PMS. Irregular periods are also a common occurrence during puberty and menopause.9
These periods of hormonal change often come with various ailments, such as cramps, bloating, mood swings, and skin problems. Emerging research has suggested that alterations in the gut microbiome can contribute to these issues.10
A strong interdependence exists between the gastrointestinal milieu and its resident bacterial communities. For instance, an imbalance in gut microbiota can lead to increased intestinal permeability, commonly known as “leaky gut”. This phenomenon facilitates the transfer of toxins from the gastrointestinal tract into the circulatory system. One common type of skin irritation is hormonal acne, caused by an imbalance of hormones in the body, specifically an increase in androgens. Androgens stimulate the small sebaceous glands in the skin, causing them to produce more oil, also known as sebum, which can clog pores and lead to acne breakouts.11 The highest rate of acne production occurs when there is a surge or fluctuation in levels of progesterone in the body, and that is mainly during the premenstrual period.
Hormonal imbalances can also affect the overall health and appearance of the skin. For example, high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can lead to increased inflammation and decreased collagen production, leading to premature ageing and wrinkles.12
Furthermore, such imbalances may aggravate symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that exhibits a higher prevalence in women than men.13 Although palatable and prevalent in numerous dishes, overconsumption of gluten-laden foods, such as bread and noodles, as well as sugar-rich delicacies, may also significantly contribute to an imbalanced gastrointestinal environment. It is worth noting that females have been observed to experience higher levels of stress compared to their male counterparts, a factor that further exacerbates digestive complications.
To improve the body’s microbiome and alleviate the impact of hormonal fluctuations, adopting a holistic approach to wellness is crucial. This includes consuming a diverse and balanced diet rich in fibre, fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods, which can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.14 Regular exercise and stress management are also essential, as they have been shown to positively influence gut microbial diversity and overall health.15
A Holistic Approach to Wellness and Beauty
Adopting a holistic approach to wellness and beauty entails taking into account the entirety of an individual—encompassing the mind, body, and spirit—instead of concentrating on a single aspect. This methodology acknowledges the interconnectedness of all facets of our lives and recognises that our physical health, mental wellbeing, and emotional state all contribute to our overall health and beauty. Embracing a holistic approach can address underlying issues that may be impacting our health and beauty rather than merely treating symptoms. This can result in sustained enhancements to our overall well-being instead of just temporary solutions.
By prioritising the health of their microbiome, women can unlock a multitude of benefits that extend beyond their physical health. In fact, a healthy microbiome can also enhance natural beauty, both internally and externally. In the end, a clear and radiant complexion is often a visible indicator of one.
It is imperative for women to adopt a comprehensive approach to their health and well-being, given that it is influenced by a multitude of factors, including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects. Embracing a holistic approach entails incorporating practises such as regular exercise, healthy eating, stress management, social support, and spiritual practises. This well-rounded approach can aid women in identifying and addressing underlying issues that may be contributing to health problems, particularly those related to hormones.
Beauty starts from within, and taking care of our gut health is an essential part of achieving healthy skin. The skin is the largest organ in the body and plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being. To maintain healthy skin, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and take care of our gut health.
With microbiome-friendly skincare, we aim to promote healthy skin by nurturing the natural balance of bacteria on the skin’s surface. These microbiome-focused products are formulated with prebiotics and probiotics that work together to support the skin’s microbiome. Maintaining a healthy and balanced microbiome can help reduce inflammation, prevent acne breakouts, and improve overall skin condition and, ultimately, female hormonal health.
For achieving the best skin health, it is essential to adopt a comprehensive skincare approach that not only deals with the symptoms but also recognises and resolves the underlying cause. This approach provides a complete solution that promotes the natural ecosystem of the skin. While real beauty comes from within, we also prioritise nutrition and offer microbiome dietary supplements to support the body’s nourishment from the inside out.
Certainly, the interplay between gut microbes, hormones, and overall health is a complex and fascinating topic that has become the subject of increasing scientific inquiry in recent years. Hormones play a unique role in women’s health, and the gut microbiome can have a significant impact on hormone production and regulation. As research in this area continues to grow, it is likely that we will gain a better understanding of the intricate relationship between gut microbes, hormones, and overall health. [APBN]
About the Author
Yutaka Shimokawa – Founder and CEO of KINS
Prior to launching his skincare brand, Yutaka Shimokawa graduated from the faculty of dentistry at Okayama University and was the President of a medical clinic association that treated patients with chronic diseases. Involved in the latest microbiome research with one of Japan’s top universities, Yutaka Shimokawa aims to educate people on the benefits of a microbiome-centred skincare approach. He established KINS with the concept of “bacterial care” to create a world where it is natural to cherish bacteria as various bodily functions can be improved by adjusting the bacteria.