We know they do, but just exactly how do hormones affect your mood, energy and gut health?
Interplay between the gut and sex hormones
Among all hormones, sex hormones control not only fertility, but also many other basic body functions. They naturally fluctuate with age and the female menstrual cycle. They are also the easiest to fall out of balance.
Females tend to be at least twice as likely to get irritable bowel syndrome than males. Women are also more likely to have constipation, bloating, abdominal pain, whilst men tend to complain about diarrhea. Why this difference?
You probably guessed it – the sex hormones. Research has shown that sex hormones can influence the barrier functions, inflammation and microbial compositions in the gut. Luckily for the guys, the male hormone testosterone has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help explain why women are more susceptible to gut problems than men.
Not only do sex hormones affect the gut, our gut bacteria can also determine the level of sex hormones. The term “estrobiome” describes gut bacteria that metabolise and balance the levels of oestrogen.
When gut health is not optimal because of poor lifestyle, stress or other factors, oestrogen levels can suffer and contribute to increased risks of diseases such as endometriosis and mood disorders.
Mood and energy levels ride with female hormones
Some women know all about mood swings at different times during a menstrual cycle, especially in the days leading up to a period. This is thought to be due to the rise and fall of your hormonal levels such as oestrogen and progesterone.
In the first two weeks of a menstrual cycle, oestrogen is the dominant female hormone and has a positive effect on the mood. It increases the brain’s happy hormone, serotonin.
After an egg is released at the end of week two, progesterone starts to rise in the second half of your cycle and peaks before a period. It has the opposite effect of oestrogen by binding to the calming GABA receptor.
GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps you relax and sleep. While you are sleeping better, you may notice that energy levels during daytime are also lower.
So, when your female hormones are in balance, the first half of the month should feel slightly more uplifting and energetic whilst the second half feels calmer.
Stress can mess up sex hormones
A prominent problem with our modern lifestyle is stress. This causes the adrenal glands to produce too much stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
The tricky thing here is that our body uses the same building block, pregnenolone, for making several hormones. Oestrogen, progesterone and cortisol all come from pregnenolone.
When the adrenal glands produce more cortisol in response to chronic stress, the body has to re-distribute the pregnenolone that was meant for making sex hormones to instead make cortisol. Since there is only limited supply of this building block, oestrogen and progesterone production are slowed or put on hold.
This phenomenon is known as the “Pregnenolone steal”, and it is the culprit behind many mood disorders, including:
- mood swings and irritability
- depression and anxiety
- inability to concentrate
How to balance your hormones?
If you are experience symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance, the first thing is to understand what is causing the imbalance. Is it nutritional deficiency? Lack of exercise? Stress or a medical condition that is affecting your endocrine functions?
As women age, female sex hormones naturally decline, which also have far-reaching impacts on gut health, mood, and energy levels.
So what can you do to try and naturally balance your hormones during your cycle and reduce your PMS symptoms.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle is usually the first solution. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and ease up on the sugar intake as sugar can mess with your energy and make you feel sluggish.
- Prioritise exercise in your daily routine. Exercise releases healthy hormones that balance out toxic cortisol. Less stress can usually help with pregnenolone steal and restore stress- related hormonal imbalance.
- Get plenty of rest and good quality sleep. Trouble falling or staying asleep can point to underlying imbalances in your oestrogen and progesterone levels.
- Also, be aware that if you are taking “the pill” you may be adding synthetic hormones into your body, which are not metabolised in the same way as natural oestrogens and progesterones. If after following the first 3 guidelines, you are still experiencing mood swings and symptoms of hormone imbalance then it may be worth getting your levels checked with a healthcare practitioner who specialises in women’s health. Balance is the key word when it comes to hormones and sometimes fine tuning of these hormones is necessary to improve or reduce symptoms.
You can start a discussion regarding your hormonal balance with our consulting nutrition practitioner below.
- Yano, J., Yu, K., Donaldson, G., Shastri, G., Ann, P., Ma, L., Nagler, C., Ismagilov, R., Mazmanian, S., & Hsiao, E. (2015). Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis. Cell, 161(2), 264–276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.047
- Mulak, A., Taché, Y., & Larauche, M. (2014). Sex hormones in the modulation of irritable bowel syndrome. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 20(10), 2433–2448. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i10.2433
- Baker, J. M., Al-Nakkash, L., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2017). Estrogen–gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas, 103(C), 45–53.
- Bäckström, T. M., Andréen, L., Björn, I., Johansson, I.-M., & Löfgren, M. (2007). The role of progesterone and GABA in PMS/PMDD. In The Premenstrual Syndromes: PMS and PMDD (pp. 117–120). CRC Press.