Diet is becoming a crucial factor in maintaining estrogen levels in post menopausal women.
Menopause and health, diet is crucial
The number of women living with the menopause is growing, therefore more people are at risks from illnesses connected with life after the menopause. A recent study investigating estrogen levels and gut health in post menopausal females found a relationship between microbial diversity (the different types of microbes) and circulating estrogen. The implications of this are huge because low estrogen is linked to a wide range of health issues. Typically the diversity of microbes in the human digestive system (gut microbiota) can be altered with changes to diet, for example a greater emphasis on plant based foods, and the use of probiotics and prebiotics. This suggests that women’s health generally, including fertility might be improved simply through alterations to diet.
One of the most important factors in the amount of circulating estrogens in women is the gut microbiome (the population of microbes in our gut). The greater the diversity of gut bacteria generally speaking the higher the levels of estrogen will be. Low levels of estrogen are associated with a wide range of illnesses in older women such as: obesity, cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, heart disease and even cognitive function. It is suggested that bariatric surgery, fmt and medication (metformin) can alter the gut microbiome and therefore limit estrogen-driven disease. But the evidence suggests that changes to diet alone may be able to have a significant impact on estrogen levels
I’d like to highlight four of the issues raised by the research:
There appears to be a strong relationship between what women eat and levels of circulating estrogen.
Different treatments exist to increase estrogen, but dietary changes alone might deliver significant benefits.
The benefits of increased circulating estrogen through improved diet may be available to women of any age and might be linked to improved fertility.
This study reflects a general pattern in health seen in human microbiome research, that a healthy gut is linked to reduced risks of developing a wide range of illnesses.
What is gut health? How much does science really know. Where can you get more information from?
The interconnected relationship between microbes and humans is an increasing object of research and general public interest. Microbial communities are all around us, on the equipment you are using now to view this article, in your home, place of study or work. Crucially microbes have a significant presence on our skin and inside our bodies, particularly in the digestive tract, with the highest concentrations found in the colon. It should be pointed out the the consumption of fermented foods is linked to a positive, increased richness in gut flora.
Over the last decade advances in technology have led to improved understanding of the collection of bacteria, fungi and archaea (single cell microorganisms) that make up the human microbiome. More importantly there are ongoing attempts to understand the relationship between an individual’s microbiome and their health and wellbeing. In scientific terms the study of the human microbiome is in its infancy, but there are already a wide range of studies linking microbes living in the human gut to health and wellbeing. Elizabeth Bik has written a journal article outlining this general area of research and its challenges and opportunities. I would recommend The Hoops, Hopes, and Hypes of Human Microbiome Research to anyone wishing to get an overview.
The Bik article was published in 2016, and reflects one perspective (albeit a particularly well informed insight). A search on Google Scholar this morning (13th February 2018) for the term microbiome found over 20,000 entries; each entry likely to correspond to a journal article, book/book chapter, or other document. The point being, that this is a rapidly evolving area of enquiry. The types of human experience which appear to correlate with the microbiome is growing and includes; memory, obesity, depression, cancer, Crone’s disease, the immune system and much, much more. However as Elizabeth Bik points out in her article, the fact the certain microbes are correlated with a particular condition does not necessarily mean they cause it or are caused by it.
If you have a particular interest in gut health my advice is to find some good quality journalism as a starting point. If you need something more then go to the best scientific papers available. In my humble opinion, using one article or piece of research rarely builds a full enough picture. If you find out anything interesting feel free to email us or add it to the comments section below.
There is a two way communication system between the gut and brain, this is one way that gut microbiota mediate our health.
The growing excitement over the role of gut bacteria is being fuelled, in part, by the realisation of the potential role of the gut – brain axis. The gut-brain axis is the hard wiring between the digestive tract and the brain. That is to say a direct communication link passing information between neural, hormonal and immune systems. A key point to make is that the communication is bi-directional, that means the brain talks to the gut and that the gut talks to the brain. Thus the microbiota (gut bacteria) and metaboloites (small molecules that are the product of metabolism) may be in reciprocal communication with different parts of the brain. While this has a direct and obvious impact on processes related to eating and digesting, there is rising evidence that our gut flora may be significant factors in physical and mental health.
The relationship between emotions and the digestive system is one of which we are intuitively aware. For example, feelings of love often manifest as ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. Engaging in team sports enables you to observe pre-match nerves in both yourself and others; the digestive system often plays an obvious role in how some people deal with tension! There is evidence that stress is a mediating component in gut microbiota, perhaps through increasing or decreasing the optimal conditions for certain types of bacteria to flourish.
New studies are suggesting that individual microbiota may be influential in functions as apparently disparate as memory and fear. It is not known what the basis of the relationship is, where the causality can be found. But that there is a correlation between what is in our gut and how we experience life in terms of mental and physical well being. The take home point is that many of the things we eat and drink are able to positively and negatively influence our health. By taking more interest in what goes into your stomach you might do yourself a power of good.
Can memory and stress be altered by what you eat? The evidence suggests it might be possible.
The more scientific research I am exposed to the less inclined I am to expect simple solutions to complex problems. That said, a report from 2015 highlighted in The Guardian was one of the first accounts of probiotics that turned me on to the potential of gut flora to influence different aspects of health and wellbeing. It was reported that participants in an experiment took a capsule containing Bifidobacterium longum 1714 for a month. As a result they enjoyed lower levels of stress when compared to the control group that took a placebo. Stress was measured in terms of the levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) found in the participants.
A second result of the investigation was that when taking the probiotic, memory function also seemed to be enhanced. The people taking part in the experiment took either the placebo for a month or Bifidobacterium longum 1714, then switched. It was a blind test so the participants didn’t know when they were taking the probiotic or the placebo. The effects of the reduced stress and improved memory were described as small but significant, make of that what you will. But the same effects were found in a similar experiment carried out on mice.
I’m not a great fan of experimentation on animals, not because experiments on animals are rarely replicated in a similar way on humans, or that it generally support poor science. Just because its cruel and not very ethical. However as the data exists I will draw your attention to it. Another study from 2015 indicated that B. longum 1714 had a positive impact on mice cognition and an apparent reduction on fear. So one probiotic strain appears to have an influence on both fear and a narrow range of cognitive function (or that both memory and fear/stress have a commonality that can be meditated by B. longum 1714). The fact that both mice and humans appear to have been effected in the same way is interesting. Although these are tentative findings and more studies demonstrating the same effects are necessary (replication).