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The Effect of Hormonal Disbalance on the Gut

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Do you sometimes feel like you are constantly hungry? Or maybe nervous or agitated for no reason? Your hormones may be behind this!

What are hormones? Hormones are substances that are naturally produced in our body, and their role is to regulate the activity of various cells and organs. The levels of the different hormones increase and decrease during the day, throughout the month, and at certain stages of life, such as pregnancy or menopause. Medications, poor nutrition, stress and various health problems have an effect on the hormonal system and may disrupt the natural hormonal balance.

The main hormones in a woman's body are estrogen and progesterone. Did you know that these hormones have a massive effect on the female digestive system? When there is an imbalance in one of these hormones, many women may suffer from unpleasant digestive symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, bloating, abdominal pain, lack of appetite, or excessive hunger. The roles of estrogen and progesterone in the body

Let's explore the role of estrogen and progesterone and the effect of hormonal disbalance on the gut. Our digestive system has a direct connection to our hormonal system. The different hormones in our body are the ones that dictate the feeling of hunger, the desired amount of food, the timing of meals, and the rate of metabolism. In order to perform these functions, the digestive system uses neural and endocrine pathways to communicate with different centers in the brain and in the brainstem. These properties allow the digestive system to directly influence weight and control the energy balance. Estrogen Estrogen is a general name for a group that includes three hormones: estrone, estradiol, and estriol, which are female sex hormones produced and secreted mainly in the ovaries and in small amounts in the adrenal cortex and in the placenta. Estrogen is responsible for many roles in the woman's body, including sexual maturation, thickening of the endometrium to receive a fetus, the development of the milk ducts in the breasts, growing of the follicle, the development of the wall of the fallopian tube muscle, the contraction of the uterus during menstruation and childbirth, and more. There are other roles that estrogen covers in our body, such as cell growth, reducing cholesterol, boosting memory, balancing mood, influencing libido, appetite, and cravings for different types of foods (especially sweet). Too much estrogen can cause breast tenderness, cysts, suppression of thyroid activity, and even cancer. Estrogen deficiency on the other hand may disrupt the activity of leptin, also known as the "satiety hormone" or the "slimming hormone", a hormone that is produced in our fat cells and signals the brain about a feeling of satiety (feeling full). This disruption causes an וncrease in appetite level, with an emphasis on sugar and sweets, which leads to weight gain.

Progesterone Progesterone is a female hormone secreted during ovulation from the corpus luteum in the ovary. This hormone is also produced in small amounts in the adrenal cortex and placenta. Progesterone is responsible for thickening the endometrium before and during pregnancy. It is also an important hormone for the digestive system. It maintains the integrity of the intestinal wall and prevents the occurrence of a "leaky gut" - a general name for a problem in which the intestine becomes permeable and allows undigested harmful substances to enter the bloodstream and cause health problems. Progesterone also affects the reduction of inflammation, so keeping an eye on its levels is very important, especially during Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's and Ulcerative colitis. High levels of Progesterone may decrease the motility of the gut by acting directly on the smooth muscle in the intestines, which reduces their contraction (this is why pregnant women often suffer from constipation). For this reason, excess levels of progesterone may encourage constipation, gas, bloating, and a "pregnant belly" that often forms at the beginning of the menstrual cycle, when progesterone levels are at their peak. Excess progesterone can also cause acne, headaches, nervousness and irritability, fatigue, swelling, tenderness and swelling of the breasts, weight gain, and other PMS symptoms. A lack of progesterone, on the other hand, is manifested in fertility problems, decreased libido and depression. It's all about balance

One of the warning signs of hormonal imbalance is increased appetite, weight gain and fluid retention. When we feel irritable or sad, as can happen when estrogen levels drop (and progesterone levels increase), we tend to eat more. Estrogen, as I mentioned, monitors the activity of leptin and thus encourages appetite. Therefore, a decrease in estrogen levels in favor of progesterone is associated with weight gain. On the other hand, when estrogen levels are too high and not balanced by sufficient levels of progesterone, many women tend to accumulate fluid. Progesterone is a diuretic hormone, so a sufficient amount of it is necessary to clear the accumulation of fluids from the body.

To sum it up for you:

low estrogen + high progesterone = constipation, increased appetite, and weight gain.

High estrogen + low progesterone = water retention, fertility problems and depression. A point to think about

Can birth control pills, which supposedly provide the body with "balanced" amounts of estrogen and progesterone, help the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome? The studies say- no. There is no difference in IBS symptoms between women who take pills and those who do not.

hormones and the digestive system
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