3 Things That Can Improve Gut Health
Hormonal fluctuations during women’s lives can have significant effects on other areas of the body. These hormonal changes can start occurring as early as 35 in most women. As women transition into menopause, these changes can become more and more erratic, causing various symptoms and additional health concerns to arise.
Finding ways to help maintain steadier hormone levels as they begin to decline in menopause is key to maintaining overall health and supporting menopausal symptom relief. So how can we more effectively maintain balance as hormones drop?
There are three things that the body can use to regulate itself better and help support the balance of hormones, probiotic strains, fiber, and diindolylmethane (DIM).
Probiotics are strains of healthy bacteria that help populate the gut microbiome. They are essential to the function of the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the collection of bacteria that lives inside the digestive tract, and it plays a variety of essential roles.
Gut bacteria are responsible for absorbing nutrients that the body gets from food. When food enters the digestive tract, gut bacteria release vital enzymes that help break down food particles. Once these food particles are broken down, gut bacteria take nutrients from them and pass them through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. This process helps supply the body with essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, and information to regulate itself from the brain to the bones.
So why is it important to maintain a healthy gut microbiome as hormones change? The gut starts to change as women get older and undergo more changes to their hormones. Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the gut microbiota that impairs the function of your gut microbiome. It makes it more difficult for your body to gain vital nutrients and can contribute to the development of certain diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, and even cardiovascular disease.
Of course, populating the gut with healthy bacteria is just one step toward maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. It’s essential to maintain healthy populations of balanced, good bacteria to help keep the gut microbiome healthy. That can only happen when the gut receives prebiotic substances, and the best source of prebiotic compounds is fiber.
Dietary fibers are compounds that can’t be digested by the human stomach. They can, however, be consumed (to a degree) by gut bacteria. There are two types of dietary fibers that help maintain the health of the gut microbiome: soluble and insoluble fibers.
Insoluble fibers, unlike soluble fibers, don’t dissolve in water. Because of this, they aren’t fermented by gut bacteria the way that soluble fibers are. So what does this mean for the gut microbiome’s health? Although insoluble fibers are not fermented by gut bacteria, they can help reduce the amount of time available for bacterial buildups of non-digested food particles to occur. This is especially important to maintaining the health of the intestines and the colon, as bacterial buildups in these areas can cause pain, discomfort, bloating, and even certain infections.
Soluble fibers are fibers that dissolve in water. These are the fibers that the gut bacteria feed off of. When soluble fibers reach the gut microbiome, they help slow down the digestion process. This allows gut bacteria more time to effectively gain nutrients that then get absorbed into the bloodstream. With enough soluble fibers, gut bacteria can more effectively gain nutrients from foods and grow to healthy levels within the gut microbiome.
Diindolylmethane (DIM) is a compound that the body naturally produces after eating cruciferous vegetables (i.e., broccoli and brussels sprouts). Although a healthy gut microbiome must first be populated with beneficial probiotic strains and fed a sustainable food source via fiber, DIM’s properties can help further improve the health of the gut microbiome.
Research studies on DIM have looked into its modulating properties and their effect on gut microbiota. The gut microbiome isn’t just made up of only bacteria; there are also immune cells that work alongside your gut bacteria. When the microbiome receives nutrients from food, some of these nutrients help better regulate the immune cells that work alongside gut bacteria.
However, when the microbiome is imbalanced or populated with more “bad” bacteria than “good” bacteria, it has an effect on the immune system’s response. A study through Johns Hopkins found a correlation between imbalanced gut bacteria and abnormal immune response. When certain bacteria rose in numbers, the immune system triggered an inflammatory response in the gut in an attempt to help lower the number of bacteria, as they were seen as a potential threat to the body.
DIM’s properties may help alleviate the inflammatory response by helping modulate certain immune cells. Macrophages are specialized immune cells that detect and destroy bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. They also play a critical role in the inflammation process. When the immune system senses foreign bacteria, macrophages help initiate the inflammatory response by releasing molecules called cytokines that help activate other cells to inflame them. DIM helps modulate the behavior of macrophages that may help lower inflammation in the gut. This process can help benefit the stability of the gut microbiome and reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBD).
How Do They Work Together?
So what happens when you put all these three things together? More importantly, why should women be consuming these three things before the start of menopause? Each of these elements is specific to the health of the gut microbiome. By using them together, the gut microbiome can become balanced with beneficial bacteria, be fed the right foods to keep bacterial populations at a healthy size and help the gut microbiome better regulate inflammation and immune system health.