Please keep in mind that today’s post is for information purposes and is not medical information. If you have questions about improving your gut health, talk to your health care provider.
Today I want to talk about something that may not be the most glamorous topic, but it’s incredibly important: gut health. As women, we often put a lot of emphasis on our performance, energy levels, and what we put into our bodies to look and feel our best. But what about what’s going on inside? Our gut health plays a crucial role in our overall health and wellbeing, from our digestion and immune system to our mental health.
So, why is gut health so important?
Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, both good and bad. When our gut is in balance, meaning there’s more good bacteria than bad, it helps keep our immune system strong, aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients, and even produces neurotransmitters that affect our mood and cognitive function. On the flip side, when our gut is out of balance, it can lead to a host of problems such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, and even depression and anxiety.
Now, the good news is that we can improve our gut health through a few simple lifestyle changes.
*Please note that this is not medical advice and simply intended for informational purposes. Always consult your doctor or health care professional before making any fitness or nutrition changes.*
Gut Health for Women: Why it Matters and How to Improve it
Here are some tips:
Eat a diet rich in fiber:
Fiber feeds the good bacteria in our gut and helps keep things moving smoothly. Aim for at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day from sources such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. A helpful strategy: track your fiber! I like Chronometer and My Fitness Pal.
Incorporate probiotic-rich foods:
Probiotics are live bacteria that can help boost the good bacteria in our gut. Foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi are all sources of probiotics.
Avoid processed and sugary foods:
These types of foods can feed the bad bacteria in our gut and lead to inflammation and other issues. When you do have these foods, enjoy them, and move on with your life. I just don’t recommend making them the staple or focus in an everyday diet.
Chronic stress can negatively impact our gut health, so finding ways to manage stress such as meditation, yoga, or simply taking a walk in nature can be incredibly beneficial.
In some cases, supplements such as probiotics or digestive enzymes may be helpful in improving gut health. I love the Sakara probiotics! (My code is XOGINAH for 20% off)
5 Foods That Can Boost Gut Health for Women
Yogurt and Other Fermented Foods: Rich in Probiotics
Berries and Leafy Greens: High in Fiber and Polyphenols
Whole Grains: High in Fiber and Nutrients
Nuts and Seeds: Rich in Fiber and Healthy Fats
Prebiotic Foods: Promote Growth of Good Bacteria
The Link Between Gut Health and Hormones in Women
Gut Microbiome Plays a Role in Hormonal Balance
The gut is home to trillions of bacteria that make up the gut microbiome. These bacteria play a vital role in the production and regulation of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Research has also shown that hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can impact gut health, with fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone affecting bowel function and inflammation in the gut. Furthermore, stress hormones such as cortisol can disrupt the gut microbiome and cause inflammation, leading to digestive issues and hormonal imbalances.
Hormonal Changes During Menstrual Cycle Can Affect Gut Health
Changes in the menstrual cycle can affect gut health in several ways. During the menstrual cycle, there are fluctuations in the levels of estrogen and progesterone, which can affect bowel function and inflammation in the gut. For example, higher levels of estrogen during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle can lead to slower transit time in the digestive tract, causing constipation and bloating. On the other hand, lower levels of estrogen during the menstrual phase can lead to diarrhea and abdominal pain. The hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can also affect the gut microbiome, leading to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria and increased inflammation. Additionally, menstrual pain and stress can further exacerbate gut issues, leading to a vicious cycle of gut-brain-hormone interactions. It’s essential to support gut health through a balanced diet, probiotics, and stress management techniques to minimize the impact of menstrual cycle changes on gut health.
Stress Hormones Can Negatively Impact Gut Health
Stress hormones, such as cortisol, can significantly impact gut health. When the body experiences stress, cortisol levels increase, triggering the “fight or flight” response. This response can cause changes in the gut microbiome, leading to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria and increased inflammation.
Inflammation in the gut can damage the gut lining, potentially leading to leaky gut syndrome, where harmful substances can leak into the bloodstream and trigger an immune response. This can cause digestive issues such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Additionally, stress can lead to poor dietary choices, such as overeating or different food choices (oh hey, plate of stress brownies), further exacerbating gut issues. Chronic stress can also lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Therefore, managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and mindfulness practices can help support gut health and minimize the impact of stress hormones on the gut.
Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection and Its Impact on Women’s Health
Gut and Brain Are Connected Through the Vagus Nerve
The gut and brain are connected through the vagus nerve, a long nerve that runs from the brainstem to the abdomen. The vagus nerve acts as a two-way communication system, allowing signals to be transmitted between the gut and the brain. The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” because it contains millions of neurons that can communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve. This communication pathway is known as the gut-brain axis and plays a crucial role in regulating many bodily functions, including digestion, mood, and immune function. The gut microbiome also plays a role in this communication, with gut bacteria producing neurotransmitters that can affect brain function and behavior. Furthermore, stress and emotional states can impact gut function, with the brain signaling the gut to change digestive motility and secretion in response to stress.
Good Gut Health Can Improve Mood and Mental Health
Good gut health can have a significant impact on your mood. The gut contains millions of neurons, including cells that produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in regulating mood and emotional states. In fact, up to 90% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness and well-being, is produced in the gut. When the gut is healthy, it produces a diverse range of beneficial bacteria that can produce these neurotransmitters and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression.
Poor Gut Health Can Potentially Lead to Anxiety and Depression
On the other hand, poor gut health can lead to inflammation and dysbiosis, a condition where there is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, leading to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, poor gut health can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can also impact mood and cognitive function. Therefore, maintaining good gut health through a balanced diet, probiotics, and stress management can help support a healthy gut-brain axis and improve mood and emotional wellbeing.
4 Ways to Improve Gut Health Through Lifestyle Changes
Eating a Balanced and Varied Diet Rich in Fiber and Probiotics
Set up your plate with a balance of protein, carbs, fats, and make sure to include your veggies and probiotics
Managing Stress Through Exercise, Meditation, or Relaxation Techniques
Take even 5 minutes each day for a stress management technique that you enjoy and that works for your life! Take a short walk, meditate, journal, call a friend, snuggle with your puppy, listen to an uplifting podcast, anything you need to do to help relieve stress.
Getting Enough Sleep to Support Gut Health and Hormonal Balance
Sleep affects so many processes in the body, especially mood, immune function, insulin sensitivity, and cravings. Set up a solid wind down routine each night, and make sleep a priority. Someone once told me that nothing good happens after 9pm and while I’d LOVE to stay awake later watching TV or reading a book, it’s true.
Avoiding Antibiotics and Excessive Use of Antibacterial Products
OF COURSE take whatever meds your doctor recommends and keep yourself, you know, hygienic and all that. Buuuut use these things responsibly, with the understanding that they wipe out all bacteria (good and bad!) and it can take a while to rebuild the beneficial bacteria.
Later this summer, I’ll be certified to run functional medicine labs (through IHP!) that will help us determine toxicities, deficiencies, and get key insights into your gut health. If you’re interested in being first on the list for these new coaching options, please apply here and I’ll reach out! (Keep in mind that the rates reflected on the application are for 6-month packages and I currently offer 3-month options, too.)
I will definitely be looking for some testers as I practice these new skills. 🙂