A diverse and healthy microbiome will be reflected in many aspects of our health. The microbiome is made of the colonies of bacteria, fungus and virus that we live with, in symbiosis. They are in high number anywhere the outside world meets our inside world: mouth, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, bladder, vagina, nose, ears, eyes. . . did I miss anything? What are some key food components and habits you need to employ to benefit this complex ecosystem that lives with us?
When our diets lack diversity, espcially diverse forms of fiber, the rest of us will notice! This in- cludes not only our GI function but also immune function, brain function, hormonal balance and associated disorders for women specifically, such as: PMS, depression, bloating, pelvic pain, anxiety, IBS and vaginal bacteriosis.
What is fiber? It is considered to be 'indigestable carbohydrate' (not glucos, fructose or galactose which we assimilate for energy production). Cellulose is the main non-starch for that we get from grains, seeds, root and leafy vegetables, beans and some fruits. It does not get fermented (digested) by gut bacteria but serves as a means to modulate our immune function. A high cellulose diet in animals was proctective for developing colitis.
Other carbohydrates such as lignan, inulin, pectin, fucto-oligosaccharides and galacto-olosaccharised are water soluble and are able to be fermented by gut bacteria. The bacteria convert them to butyrate, acetate and proprionate, all of which are short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) used in : metabolism of cholesterol, keeping the function of 'tissue barriers' strong, and modulating immune function. We need the SCFAs for healthy cells lining the intestine, to help absorb water, keep the tissue healthy and reduce inflammation.
What of fiber and estrogen? These SCFAs have been shown to regulate the expression of estrogen receptor, and in the gut, healthy bacteria express beta-glucuronidase (BG). This enzyme helps to break down insoluble fiber, but can also help estrogen get back into circulation (blood) rather than be metabolized and excreted. So this is a two-way street, where too high of levels of BG could lead to a situation of estrogen dominance (cramping, bloating, fatigue, moodiness, sore breasts, heavy menstrual bleeding, weight gain) affecting many aspects of health and contributing to breast cancer, endometriosis, ovarian and endometrial cancer and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Why would one have estrogen dominance? Stress is the #1 culprit, because as you need to secrete more cortisol from the adrenals in the stress response, progesterone production is harmed. This leads to a relative imbalance of these two primary steriod hormones. There are other reasons this can happen, but stress and poor dietary habits are the most common.
On the other hand, if estrogen levels are low, the body will upregulate BG (by shifting the microbial balance in the gut) to help retain more estrogen for homeostasis. This is needed when moon cycles are irregular, in depression, with hot flashes, increase in urinary or vaginal infections, Certain bacteria will be responsible for this upregulation of BG. Fiber will support growth of Bacteriodete species which express this enzyme.
What should you avoid doing or eating if you want to positively affect your microbiome? Avoid alcohol! Alcohol tends to raise estrogen levels by slowing the breakdown of estrogen in the liver, and upregulating the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. Avoid ultraprocessed foods (from boxes) as this will decrease the microbe diversity. Limit sugar which can lead to 'dysbiosis' or imbalance of gut bacteria.
What can you do to support the Estrobolome? Live a healthy lifestyle with adequate exercise, optimize your sleep, work in the garden (exposure to beneficial bacteria), and eat a variety of fiber. Aim for 30 different fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts/seeds and grains every week! Also, add fermented foods or drinks (kombucha, kefir) as these increase the diversity of gut bugs! All of these thing will nourish you and your microbiome, help to keep your estrogen in homeostasis, and thereby enhance your overall health!
You can learn much more, especially about stress resilience and supporting health in my new book: Eat, Sleep, Relax, Protect, Forget: An Endocannabinoid (ECS) Guide to Systems Wholness for Women