Healthy Hormones, Healthy Gut, Happy YOU
Written by: Meghan Marfise
One of my favorite things about taking a holistic approach to health is the way you look at the body as an interconnected web and ecosystem. This philosophy is critical when approaching any hormone or gut-related issues; neither can be isolated, because your body is one big ecosystem – what happens to one part directly influences the other.
As a Women’s Holistic Health Practitioner, my most common “hormonal” complaints from clients are having lack of energy, no sex-drive, PMS, mood swings, weight gain, slight depression (or just a lack of zest or excitement in their lives), fertility issues and period issues. However, after we begin chatting and I ask more questions, they tend to throw in the, “well, I just have the normal amount of bloating and gas,” or “yeah, I tend to be constipated unless I have coffee in the morning” comments.
It is very rare that I have a client have a hormone issue without it being accompanied by some other gut or stress related symptoms. The problem is that, since we so often have deemed what is “common” to be “normal,” so many of us think that bloating, gas, constipation, heartburn, etc. are normal, everyday experiences.
Well, I’ve got some news… they are not!
Any GI issue is a symptom of a kink in our interconnected web and we need to find the starting place – or root cause – of that kink, otherwise we will simply be masking the symptoms.
The Hormone-Gut Connection
There are numerous ways your hormones and gut directly affect each other, but for the sake of this article, I’m just going to focus on one and it’s name is cortisol.
Cortisol is our main stress hormone. It’s produced by the adrenal glands and it runs the show. It’s main jobs are to increase blood pressure, raise blood sugar and modulate inflammation. I could go on and on about the effects of cortisol on other parts of our body and how it affects our hormones, but for today’s focus, I am going to stick to how it modulates inflammation.
We all know what inflammation is – when you jam a finger, it swells and becomes red and inflamed. However, the problem is that you also have internal inflammation that you can’t see, one place being in your gut and your body sees this type of inflammation the same as it does any other type of stressor. What happens in response is an increase in cortisol.
An increase in cortisol is all fine and dandy when there is an emergency or an actual true stressor in life. This is what cortisol is meant for, to save us from danger (i.e. the fight or flight response to run from a robber or tiger). However, the problem now in our modern society is that we are in a heightened sense of arousal all the time. Whether this be because of financial stress, traffic, relationship problems, internal digestive stress, physical stress, or worry, your body sees this all as stress and increases cortisol.
This constant increase in cortisol eventually leads to some type of adrenal fatigue and dysregulation, which causes exhaustion, burnout, the “tired yet wired” feeling, a decreased immune system and imbalanced sex hormones (like estrogen and progesterone).
Now, back to how cortisol relates to the gut.
If you have some type of food sensitivity, parasite, pathogen, bacterial or yeast overgrowth, these are constant internal stressors, so your body will continually send messages to increase cortisol. Again, your body doesn’t discriminate as to what type of stress or inflammation is happening, it just senses “danger” and pumps out cortisol.
Cortisol and SIgA
Not only is an increase in cortisol problematic for our energy levels, immune system and sex hormones, it also regulates a vital part of our gut called secretory immunoglobulin A, or SIgA for short.
Yes, I know that is a mouthful, but what you need to know is that SIgA is basically a lining of antibodies that act as a protective barrier in your gut and other mucous membranes. This barrier protects your gut against potential foods that could be reactive or cause a problem and it protects you from potential pathogens like bacteria, parasites or yeast.
Like I said, cortisol regulates SIgA, so when your cortisol levels increase, your SIgA is going to decrease and then your gut lining becomes a target for pathogens, infections, or foods that you might be sensitive to.
Just as adrenal fatigue becomes more advanced with constant stress, your intestinal lining protection becomes weaker as well. At first you may not see the GI issues, but as the adrenals get more burned out, so does the gut.
So now you’re getting hit in all directions; fatigue, exhaustion, a low immune system, low sex-hormones and a weakened gut. Eventually, the immune response in the gut can completely fail and you can start to develop more serious symptoms like chronic diarrhea, constipation, food allergies, reactions to specific foods or gluten, etc. (see, I wasn’t kidding when I told you that cortisol ran the show!).
Overall, the key to remember is that burned out adrenal glands from a constant heightened state of cortisol can lead to damaged gut lining, resulting in a plethora of gut related issues. It can often become a “chicken or the egg” scenario.
Did gut issues or pathogens lead to an increase in cortisol, which then weakened the gut lining even further, or did mental/emotional stress and heightened cortisol lead to decrease in SIgA and a weakened gut lining? This is why, as holistic practitioners, we treat the entire body and don’t isolate just one body system, because they are so interconnected and overlapped.
The Next Steps
At this point, you might be nodding your head and relating to some of these signs and symptoms, but thinking, “okay, so what do I do about it?” In order to heal your gut or your hormones, it really takes an integrative approach of healing both together.
If you can, I highly recommend working with someone who can guide you through this and put you on a program, as it can become overwhelming and exhausting on your own and each person is unique in where they are at in their health. I would also recommend getting some lab tests done, particularly an ASI, which measures your cortisol at 4 different points throughout the day.
However, no matter what stage or point you are at, there are a few diet and lifestyle practices that everyone can benefit from.
1. Get at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night and be in bed by 10:00pm. This will help reset the natural circadian rhythm of cortisol. If you can, allow your body to wake naturally without an alarm in the morning.
2. Work on your reaction to stress and cut out perfectionism. There are multiple takes on stress and it is up to you how you perceive it, so choose a way that empowers you! This truly is the key to managing cortisol.
3. Cut out processed sugar, coffee and refined carbs. These raise your blood sugar, which in turn increases cortisol.
4. Include probiotics and fermented foods daily.
5. Incorporate healing, nourishing foods, such as homemade bone-broth and omega-3 rich foods, like wild caught salmon
If you’re ready to balance your hormones and your health but need a starting point, feel free to contact me for a free consultation or join my Blissfully Balanced Hormones E-Course, where we cover the gut-hormone connection in great detail and provide you with very specific, step-by-step protocols on what to do to heal from the ground up.
Meghan Marfise is a Women's Holistic Health Coach and founder of BlissfullyBalanced Life, a company dedicated to balancing all things hormone related! This includes period issues, preparing for conception, enhancing fertility naturally, increasing sex-drive, weight loss and much more! Meghan’s nurturing demeanor and inquisitive nature, helps her in her passion of finding and treating the root cause of health conditions, not just the symptoms.
Through her step-by-step protocols and her online Blissfully Balanced Hormone E-Course, Meghan supports clients locally and internationally by taking a holistic approach that uses nutrition, herbs and supplements, as well as lifestyle adjustments to help women feel glorious, energized and glowing again. She also trains other health coaches and alternative healers in hormone balancing protocols to use with their clients.
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