Perimenopause and menopause mark a significant shift for your body, one most women have come to associate with frustrating inconveniences. Weight gain, hot flashes, digestive issues, low energy and depression are just a few of the things we’re told are inevitable as our menstrual cycles cease, and progesterone and estrogen levels plummet.
Menopausal symptoms can leave many women feeling out of control, but there’s absolutely a way back to feeling like yourself again. Providers who work with hormones are starting to connect the dots between hormones and your gut. Supporting your microbiome health can have a huge effect on preparing your body to transition through perimenopause and menopause, especially if you already deal with gut health issues.
Whether you’re preparing for perimenopause, already in the throes of menopause, or even experiencing menopause following surgery, here’s everything you need to know about supporting the gut-hormone connection as your body prepares for its next chapter.
The Relationship Between Your Microbiome, Hormones, and Menopause
The microbiome is a hot topic in health these days – and for good reason. Your microbiome is the community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live inside you, and they have a huge role to play in your health. A diverse and healthy microbiome can help balance digestion, immunity, mood, and even hormones.
Some microbes in your microbiome, called the estrobolome, actually specialize in supporting your estrogen metabolism. When your estrobolome is healthy, these tiny organisms ensure that just the right amount of estrogen is present in your body. An unbalanced microbiome however, called dysbiosis, can cause all sorts of problems for your body, including throwing a wrench in your hormone levels. The relationship also works in the other direction – and the shifts in your hormones during menopause can actually change your microbiome’s composition.
Without the proper support, this hormone-gut feedback can become a vicious cycle.
@drjolenebrighten Your gut is kinda big deal #guthealth #microbiomecare #hormone #hormonebalance #hormonedoctor #estrogendominance #hormoneimbalance #pcos #gutimbalance #happygut #hormonesmatter #didyouknow ♬ original sound – Dr. Jolene Brighten
How Menopause and Hormonal Changes Affect Your Microbiome and Gut
Menopause is marked by a steep decline in estrogen and progesterone levels, either because our ovaries stop ovulating regularly as we age, or as a result of a surgical hysterectomy. Perimenopause is the in-between time, when your body is transitioning from menstruation to menopause. It’s basically puberty in reverse, rollercoaster hormones included.
This decline in hormones directly affects the estrobolome, and plummeting estrogen can seriously upset even a balanced microbiome. Common frustrations like weight gain, IBS, insulin resistance, and digestive issues during menopause can often be linked to gut imbalances caused by this hormonal shift.
Your risk for obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and depression also increase after menopause, changes that are also linked to estrogen and progesterone’s roles in regulating blood sugar, fat storage, bone formation, and inflammation. These risks are further increased in postmenopausal women with an unbalanced estrobolome.
How Your Microbiome Can Affect Menopause and Perimenopause Symptoms
The relationship between your gut and your hormones is a two-way road. This means that changes or dysbiosis in your gut microbiome can also affect your hormones, and make symptoms of menopause and perimenopause that much worse.
Certain bacteria in the estrobolome produce an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. This enzyme acts on deactivated estrogen in the gut, and actually re-activates it to be recirculated in your body. In a healthy, balanced estrobolome, these guys produce just the right amount of beta-glucuronidase to maintain an estrogen balance. Dysbiosis in this population could cause a drop in estrogen, which can be especially difficult when hormone levels are already plummeting from menopause.
The health of your gut microbiome also directly affects your vaginal microbiome. Studies show that promoting a healthy vaginal microbiome can help alleviate bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, vaginal dryness, and UTIs. Many of my patients come to me complaining of painful sex and urinary symptoms beginning with menopause. They’re often surprised to hear that my approach starts with supporting their guts!
Probiotics, Gut Health Supplements, and Menopause
Perimenopause and menopause bring a rush of changes and frustrations to our bodies over just a few years. While some women navigate menopause smoothly, these changes can leave others feeling helpless and out of control of their own bodies. The good news is, you can give your body the support it needs by improving your gut health.
Some of the best studied, and most effective probiotic strains are bacteria in the Lactobacillus genus. These beneficial bugs are key ingredients in probiotic supplements, and fermented foods such as yogurts or kimchi.
In studies using menopausal mouse models, Lactobacillus reuteri and Lactibacillus rhamnosus supplementation helped to protect from bone loss, leaky gut, and inflammation normally caused by low estrogen levels.
Another study on PCOS in rats showed that supplementation with a general Lactobacillus probiotic helped rebalance out-of-whack estrogen and testosterone levels. Oral probiotics may also be a very effective way to balance your vaginal microbiome as well. Taken together, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus could help improve microbiome diversity in the vagina, potentially protect against bad bacteria like E. coli, and may even reduce itching and discharge.
It’s pretty amazing that supporting your microbiome with the right bugs could actually heal symptoms that researchers previously thought were controlled only by hormones. This opens up a whole new possibility of going after menopausal symptoms with probiotic supplementation, before jumping straight to hormone replacement therapy.
This research and more helped me to develop my Women’s Probiotic, specifically designed with both Lactobacillus strains, prebiotics and phytonutrients to help support women's health at all stages.
Best Practices for Gut Health Before, During, and After Menopause
No matter where you are in your journey through perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause, it’s always a good time to start loving your gut. And the best part? Your microbiome is incredibly receptive to change, meaning that good changes can start to take effect in just weeks. Here are my top quick tips to improve gut health, and prepare your microbiome to best support you through menopause and beyond.
Incorporate fermented foods in your diet
Fermented foods include foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir. These have live probiotic strains that can replenish beneficial bacteria fast, plus they are an affordable, delicious way to add more good bugs to every meal.
Take a daily probiotic
Look for a high-quality probiotic supplement, especially one specifically designed for women. Choose probiotics that include Lactobacillus strains, as well as prebiotics to help them establish strong colonies. My Women’s Probiotic is specifically formulated to support hormone health and balance your gut and vaginal estrobolome. Clinically researched ingredients combine the benefits of Lactobacillus probiotics, with phytonutrients and SIBO-friendly prebiotics to help establish good bacterial colonies, regulate vaginal pH, and reduce inflammation.
Avoid unnecessary antibiotics
Antibiotics are often prescribed to kill harmful bacteria that cause infections. The downside is that they also kill the good bacteria that help keep you healthy. When antibiotics are necessary, consider pairing them with a beneficial probiotic to help replace the good bacteria, and keep your populations in check.
Avoid processed foods and refined sugars
The foods you eat feed your microbiome too, and bad bacteria and yeasts love nothing more than a sugar rush. Sugary foods can also mess with your hormones, and cause spikes in cortisol and inflammation. If you're looking to get started eating a hormone-friendly diet but not quite sure how, download my free hormone meal plan + recipe guide to find the foods that support your optimal hormone and microbiome health!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Gut Health and Menopause
How Can I Improve My Gut Health During Menopause?
Supporting your gut microbiome can actually help reduce the painful and frustrating symptoms of menopause. Before, during, and after menopause, your gut helps regulate hormone levels, mood, and weight. You can improve gut health by taking daily probiotics containing Lactobacillus and prebiotic fibers, eating more fermented foods, and reducing your intake of sugary or processed foods.
Do Probiotics Help With Menopause?
Probiotics are a powerful tool to help curb symptoms of menopause. As estrogen levels plummet during menopause, your gut microbiome can shift, sometimes killing off the good bacteria needed to regulate estrogen levels, maintain a healthy weight, and support bone health. Even with low estrogen, supplementing with beneficial probiotics can help alleviate these symptoms.
Does Your Digestive System Change with Menopause?
Menopause causes changes in your digestive system and gut health, which could result in an increased risk of obesity and heart disease in postmenopausal women. During menopause and perimenopause, your ovaries start producing less and less estrogen. Not only does estrogen help your body regulate fat storage, it also helps support a healthy gut microbiome. As estrogen plummets, it’s important to incorporate probiotics to help maintain the good bacteria needed for healthy digestion.
Is Kefir Good for Menopause?
Kefir and other fermented foods help support gut health during menopause. Diversity in your gut microbiome is important for regulating hormone levels, and can also support your mood, weight, vaginal health, and bones as your body changes during menopause.
If you’re concerned with gut health heading into perimenopause, or just having a rough time with the symptoms of menopause, it’s always a good time to start taking a daily probiotic, and focusing on supporting the gut community that supports you.
After years of helping my patients heal their guts through menopause, I’ve taken all that I’ve learned to develop my new Women’s Probiotic. This once-a-day supplement is designed specifically to support the needs of women throughout all stages. Combining beneficial probiotics and prebiotics for gut and vaginal health, along with immune-friendly antioxidants and phytonutrients, this blend aims to keep a healthy vaginal microbiome in balance.
A strong, diverse microbiome could add a layer of defense against conditions that are rooted in imbalances, such as UTIs, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis.
While menopause and perimenopause can be incredibly frustrating, they don’t need to be downright debilitating. Supporting your gut health can be a potent, and FAST way to improve gut health, and ease menopause symptoms at home.
- Perimenopause Symptoms and Treatment – Dr. Jolene Brighten
- Best Herbs for Menopause
- Seed Cycling to Balance Pre and Post-Menopausal Hormones
- 7 Causes of Early Menopause + 5 Ways to Eliminate Symptoms – Dr. Jolene Brighten
- Gut Health and Your Menstrual Cycle: What Women Need to Know
- How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement
- ClinicalTrials.gov. (n.d.). The relationship of the intestinal microbiome and the menstrual cycle - full text view. Full Text View. ClinicalTrials.gov.
- Vieira AT, Castelo PM, Ribeiro DA, Ferreira CM.. Influence of Oral and Gut Microbiota in the Health of Menopausal Women.. Front Microbiol. 2017. 8. 1884.
- Becker SL, Manson JE. Menopause, the gut microbiome, and weight gain: correlation or causation?. Menopause. 2020. 28(3). 327-331.
- Lizcano F, Guzmán G.. Estrogen Deficiency and the Origin of Obesity during Menopause. Biomed Res Int.. 2014. 2014. 757461.
- Serino M, Blasco-Baque V, Nicolas S, Burcelin R.. Far from the eyes, close to the heart: dysbiosis of gut microbiota and cardiovascular consequences. Curr Cardiol Rep. 2014. 16(11). 540.
- Li JY, Chassaing B, Tyagi AM, Vaccaro C, Luo T, Adams J, Darby TM, M. Weitzmann MN, Mulle JG, Gewirtz AT, Jones RM, Pacifici R.. Sex steroid deficiency–associated bone loss is microbiota dependent and prevented by probiotics. J Clin Invest.. 2016. 126(6). 2049-2063.
- Peters BA, Lin J, Qi Q, Usyk M, Isasi CR, Mossavar-Rahmani Y, Derby CA, Santoro N, Perreira KM, Daviglus ML, Kominiarek MA, Cai J, Knight R, Burk RD, Kaplan RC. Menopause Is Associated with an Altered Gut Microbiome and Estrobolome, with Implications for Adverse Cardiometabolic Risk in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. Amer Soci Microbio.
- Baker JM, Al-Nakkash L, Herbst-Kralovetz MM. Estrogen-gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas. 2017. 103. 45-53.
- Kim JM, Park YJ. Probiotics in the Prevention and Treatment of Postmenopausal Vaginal Infections: Review Article. J Menopausal Med. 2017. 23(3). 139-145..
- Caretto M, Giannini A, Russo E, Simoncini T.. Preventing urinary tract infections after menopause without antibiotics. Maturitas. 2017. 99. 43-46..
- Britton RA, Irwin R, Quach D, et al. Probiotic L. reuteri treatment prevents bone loss in a menopausal ovariectomized mouse model. J Cell Physiol. 2014. 229(11). 1822-1830.
- Guo Y, Qi Y, Yang X, et al. Association between Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Gut Microbiota.. PLoS One. 2016. 11(4). e0153196.
- Russo R, Edu A, De Seta F. Study on the effects of an oral lactobacilli and lactoferrin complex in women with intermediate vaginal microbiota.. Arch Gynecol Obstet.. 2018. 298(1). 139-145..
- Heczko PB, Tomusiak A, Adamski P, et al.. Supplementation of standard antibiotic therapy with oral probiotics for bacterial vaginosis and aerobic vaginitis: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. BMC Womens Health. 2015. 15. 115.