When oestrogen (estrogen), progesterone and testosterone levels decline in women during menopause this can affect her gut microbiome diversity. Gut microbiome diversity is based on how many different strains of bacteria thrive within it which affects how the gut microbiome works. to support overall health.
The gut microbiome needs approximately 30g of fibre daily to maintain or improve it's diversity.
But how do these changes in our gut microbiota impact our health during menopause, and what role does our gut play in all of this? In this article, we’ll talk about the main health risks that come with menopause, why gut health is so important, and what we can do to stay healthy.
What's does the gut do?
Your gut is your personal chemistry lab with trillions of good and bad bacteria, other wise known as the gut microbiome. Gut microbiome vary from person to person. The microbiata (the different microbe populations present in your large intestine, including bacteria, archaea, and viruses) interact with each other converting your food into usable or bioavailable forms of nutrients.
These nutrients are transported to your heart, brain, sex organs, liver, kidneys, skin etc to keep them healthy and functioning. A healthy gut microbiome has an abundance of microbiata bacteria working together.
What is a healthy gut?
A healthy gut is one with a diverse range of strains of bacteria and viruses which, working together, help to keep our immune system working to fight off viruses and our overall health robust. A healthy gut contributes to keeping us free from intestinal inflammation, will keep us going to the loo regularly and gas and bloating to a minimum. A healthy gut microbiota will work to
- Generate energy from food
- Support our brain
- Produce vitamins
- Help to regulate hormones
- Manage cholesterol
- Protect us from disease
- Increase our immunity levels
How do you know when you have an unhealthy gut?
An unhealthy gut is a gut which does not have a wide range of intestinal microbiota. If the gut microbiota lacks richness this can cause an environment which precedes illness as the 'system' isn't balanced and can't do it's job.
Symptoms of an unhealthy gut with a limited range of intestinal microbiota can be varied. Bowel movements may be infrequent ( constipation) or too loose ( diarrhoea) and the digestive system not working as well as it could which can result in a weakened immune system, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disease, problems with the digestive tract and metabolic disease.
Overall health and mental health can suffer when there isn't enough beneficial bacteria which can be down to a diet with a lot of processed foods or antibiotics which can cause one or several key species to disappear from the community.
How does menopause affect gut health?
The gut microbiome is the collective name for the good and bad bacteria that live in the gut. The gut microbiome also benefits from the support of oestrogen ( estrogen) to keep it working well.
Studies such as this one have shown a link between menopause and the gut microbiome. It’s because gut microbiome diversity is linked to oestrogen levels.
Oestrogen helps the gut microbiome to thrive and the gut microbiome helps to distribute oestrogen around the body to support other bodily functions. When oestrogen starts to decline during menopause, so does gut bacteria diversity.
What is the Estrobolome - is that gut bacteria?
The estrobolome is a specific subset of gut microbes in the gut microbiome that influence the metabolism of oestrogen and is made up of over 50 strains of bacteria. These are collectively known as the estrobolome, and the estrobolome secretes an enzyme called β-glucuronidase which turns unavailable oestrogen (which would be excreted through the urine) into 'bioavailable' oestrogen which can be transported to oestrogen receptors throughout the body and used to support processes and functions the body needs to work well.
Post-menopause health risks
One recent study featured showed that women who have been through menopause had, on average, higher blood pressure, higher blood sugar levels, more body fat, chronic sleep disruption, and a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease during and after menopause.
What’s really interesting, though, is that the research suggests all of these changes were found to be at least partially caused by the species of bacteria found inside the women’s microbiome. And that the decrease in hormones during menopause also had an effect on the gut bacteria.
Before we get into the importance of gut health, let’s take a closer look at some of these menopause associated health risks and why they occur.
You may be surprised to hear that heart attacks account for the deaths of about one-third of all females worldwide. Mortality rates due to cardiovascular disease amongst women are higher than rates amongst men and in fact, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women around the globe.
The prognosis for women is usually worse as well. Higher levels of visceral fat – the type of fat that accumulates inside the abdomen and around organs – puts us at increased risk. And, as we touched on earlier, this type of weight gain in menopause is extremely common in women.
Higher blood pressure
The hormonal changes responsible for menopause weight gain ( the decline of oestrogen) can also cause high blood pressure. This is because oestrogen promotes blood flow by keeping blood vessels open and supple, and when oestrogen levels drop, they can become harder and narrower.
Higher blood sugar levels
As oestrogen levels fall, the body can become less responsive to insulin – a condition known as insulin resistance. The main symptom of this is high blood sugar. And this can of course put women at increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Other risk factors, such as age, carrying more weight around the middle, and high blood pressure can also contribute to the development of diabetes.Diabetes and Menopause - What's The Link?
A diverse gut microbiome is good for overall health
The gut is where your hormones, vitamins and minerals are converted into bioavailable forms and from there distributed throughout the body. Making sure you keep that control centre well stocked with a diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics to nurture your good bacteria during menopause is good for your overall health and symptom management.
How can you get a healthier gut?
So, is there any way in which we can lower our chances of losing our gut bacteria and developing serious health problems during and after menopause? The answer is yes! Researchers has concluded that by looking after our gut and consuming food which can help us achieve good gut health we can lessen the impact of these changes on our overall health. Let’s take a look at how.
Add more prebiotic foods to your diet
Prebiotic foods induce the beneficial qualities of probiotics. They're basically food for the good gut bacteria in your gut. Not all fibre is prebiotic. Most soluble fibre is prebiotic while most non soluble fibre is not. Insoluble fibre is often referred to as roughage and is not touched by our digestive system but passes straight through. Fibre is a reliable source of prebiotics but so are plants which is why a vegetarian diet is associated with a more balanced gut. Sourdough bread is a good source of prebiotics. Prebiotic foods include
- Savoy Cabbage
- Chicory Root
- Sourdough bread
Focus on a plant rich diet
You don't need to have a vegetarian diet but if you want to nurture a healthier gut, eating a balanced diet with lots of plant foods is definitely the way to go to feed your beneficial gut bacteria. The recommended amount of plant points per week is 30 which may seem like a lot. According the Megan Rossi, The Gut Health Doctor, the '5 a day' is outdated. We have 40 trillion microbes living and each of those strains needs different plant foods to thrive. You should aim to increase the range of plant foods you eat if you want healthy gut bacteria.
Try vegetarian days
Vegetarian diets aren't boring, far from it. There are tonnes of vegetarian recipes and if you're not that keen to get into the kitchen big salads made with peppers, tomatoes, radishes, mange tout, cucumber and lemon juice can be very satisfying, tasty with the benefit of low calories. For plant-based dietary fibre, look to plant foods legumes, fruit, vegetables, and beans. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale are great sources of fibre, too.
Eat beans for healthy gut bacteria
Beans increase the bacteria in your gut as well as being dense and satisfying. Evidence suggests resistant starch and beta-glucan, the dietary fibre found in beans, has positive health benefits for the gut microbiota. Stay away from processed beans though - go for dried beans and soak them before cooking.
Eat fermented foods to improve gut health
Fermented foods modify and help to rebalance your gut microbiome. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled cabbage and kvass are all great for helping to introduce new strains of anti inflammatory gut bacteria. These foods can help improve digestive health and balance the gut microbiota.
Try a raw food diet for a week now and again
The raw food diet effects on the gut microbiota have not been extensively studied. However, some research suggests that consuming raw foods can have a beneficial impact on the human gut microbiota and support human health.
One study showed a raw food diet for a week showed a significant increase in beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacterium, when compared with their levels the previous week. Additionally, the levels of Bifidobacterium remained heightened even after the participants stopped the raw food diet. So give it a bash once in a while.
How much fibre should you be eating?
It can be tricky to get enough fibre from your diet alone. In the UK, according to the NHS the average fibre intake for adults is 60% (18g) as the recommended daily intake of fibre for healthy adults is 30g.
What does fibre do?
There are many different kinds of fibre, and they have different effects. Some fibres influence how quickly food moves through our gut, adding bulk to your stools and helping to 'keep you regular’. Some fibres can impact our blood cholesterol and how quickly we absorb sugar from foods and drinks, and some can influence the types and amounts of bacteria in our gut.
Plant based prebiotic fibre
Gut health drinks and shakes and supplements can be useful to help you improve gut health.
Eve Biology meal replacement for menopause contains 5.3g of plant based prebiotic fibre in each serving, which is clinically proven to increase bacteria in the gut, which also helps to reduce glycaemic response and decrease the amount of visceral fat in the body.
Foods which can negatively affect your gut bacteria
You may also be wondering if there are any foods you should avoid. Well think of all your favourite foods and guaranteed you'll find some of them on the list! Red meat, fried foods, highly processed foods, artificial sweeteners, refined sugars, alcohol, and caffeine can negatively affect gut health and compromise your immune function, and you should cut back on them wherever you can.
The bottom line
Gut health is a complex topic, and more research is needed on how it impacts women’s health after menopause. What we do know, though, is that our gut is at least partially responsible for the increased risk of developing health problems like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure after menopause.
An unhealthy gut microbiome can cause irritable bowel syndrome, bacterial infections, chronic sleep disruption, weight gain, insulin resistance and a compromised immune system. Low dose aspartame consumption is detrimental to gut health and you should try to stay away from food and drinks which contain this.
Research suggests that having more days where you focus on a vegetarian diet can improve your gut health even if you only do it periodically. It can also improve your heart health and blood pressure. Focus on eating a healthy, high-fibre diet with lots of plant based food to increase and maintain the diversity of your microbiome and to reduce the risks associated with limited gut microbes.
What are the best supplements for gut health and weight loss?
Fibre supplements and probiotic gut health drinks are good for restoring a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. Incorporating these into a balanced diet rich with plant food can be beneficial for weight loss, too.
What are some symptoms of bad gut health?
Digestive problems such as constipation, bloating, gas, and heartburn are some of the most common symptoms of poor gut health and indicate all is not well with the gut flora.
How can I restore gut health after antibiotics?
Antibiotics can destroy some of the good bacteria in your gut, so it’s important to restore them after you finish your course. Gut health supplements like probiotic drinks can help, and eating plenty of plant-based fiber is a good idea, too.