• Allison Fahrenbach

Are Digestive Issues & Hormone Imbalances.... Linked?

I recently have began working with several female clients, all of whom have varying degrees and combination of hormonal imbalance and digestive illness.

The other day I posted something about the relationship between digestive issues and hormone imbalances on my IG page (search #allifitness or user @allisonmoyer) and got a lot of response through direct message.

The fact that so many women responded to my post only confirms my suspicions that many women are dealing with both digestive issues and hormone imbalances, and that the two are inextricably linked.

Digestive system health and hormone balance are strongly connected.

If you think about it- this is logical. Everything in the body is intricately connected and as a result, health issues usually do not stem from a single factor. Digestive struggles and an unbalanced endocrine system will not just affect how you feel, but also how you look and how easily (or not easily) your body loses fat or weight, and gains muscle. Achieving a lean physique and optimal health is not always about what you eat. Sometimes you need to go beyond nutrition.

A compromised digestive system can either start at birth or become compromised through outside influence... or a combination of both.

Being born via a C- section, being bottle fed (both of which may not always be avoidable), taking antibiotics, eating processed food, stress, medication, and toxins are just some of the things that can contribute to poor gut health over time. 

Sometime symptoms of a compromised digestive system aren’t even present or can show up in subtle ways.  The typical signs include constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pains, bloating, excess or smelly gas, excessive burping, skin issues like eczema, acne, rashes, or psoriasis, and food intolerance’s. 

Other unusual symptoms can include headaches, mood swings, fatigue, coughing, sinus congestion, agitation, anxiety, depression, joint aches, autoimmune conditions and more. 

Whether these symptoms show up regularly or occasionally, these symptoms can be a sign of a compromised digestive system. 

But how are hormone imbalances connected to digestion?

The microbiome (bacteria in your gut) plays a big role in our hormones. One way in which digestion impact hormones is by way of how the good bacteria in your body metabolizes and recycles hormones.

For example, estrogen, circulates the body and when it reaches the liver is inactivated. In a normal functioning digestive system, this inactivated estrogen is then sent to the intestines where it will be excreted in stool. But if there is an imabalance of bacteria in your microbiome (for example an overgrowth of bad bacteria or an under growth of good bacteria)  the estrogen can REACTIVATE and be released back into your body where it continues to circulate and can cause estrogen dominance. 

However when your digestion is working well and things are moving smoothly (normal and appropriate elimination) excess hormones like estrogen can be excreted out of the body in your stool instead of being reabsorbed. The inability to properly excrete hormones can lead to problems like excess circulating hormones. Since the body likes BALANCE, an excess of one hormone can then lead to overproduction or underproduction of another hormone. 

Remember everything in the body impacts something else. Using the estrogen example- the body will acknowledge that free circulating estrogen is elevated and then may shut down the ability to make new hormone or may adjust production of other key hormones as a result. 

Many people today are dealing with low stomach acid and can be experiencing heartburn, GERD, or undigested food in their stool. 

Your stomach acid helps to digest proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The process of breaking down these macronutrients makes the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) available for hormone production. 

Many nutrients are important for health hormones including zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and so much more.  If you aren’t digesting properly, breaking down food well, or even poorly absorbing nutrients, your hormones can suffer.

Intestinal permeability (popularly called "leaky gut") is when the junctions (or space) between the cells of your digestive system lining remain open allowing toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles to leak into your bloodstream. 

This leakiness is a stressor and that can raise cortisol (stress hormone), which is produced in the adrenal glands. When stress is high, the body puts priority on trying to deal with that stress instead of on your other hormones.

Intestinal permeability also causes nutrient deficiencies by way of malabsorption issues, which means that your body doesn't get the raw materials essential for it to properly execute and run vital processes- one of which includes the balance and manufacturing of hormones.

And sex hormones themselves can influence the digestive system. This is why changes in bowel habits can be experienced with menstruation and menopause.  Imbalances of estrogen and progesterone can influence the movement of food through the intestines.  They can either speed up the process (causing diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain) or they can slow things down (causing bloating or constipation).  

Altered estrogen levels can also cause hyper-responsiveness to stress, which may promote an immune response and could contribute to intestinal permeability. And intestinal permeability (as I mentioned) can cause nutrient deficiencies which can then also impact the balance of your body's hormones.

There are numerous strong connections between the digestive system and our hormones. Through coaching my own clients I have observed the connection between hormones and digestive health over and over and over. As I mentioned, MANY of the women I work with are typically dealing with both and so much of what we focus on is not just what to eat and how to train, but how to heal and optimize the hormone and digestive systems through supplements, nutrition, supporting the liver and the bodies natural detox mechanisms, getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, and much more.

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