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Surprise “Players” in the Hormone Equation: Gut Bugs and Glucose and Estrogen Metabolism

By Beth Heller M.S.

New research is pointing to some unexpected “soldiers” in the battle for good blood sugar and hormone health.

Experimental evidence has shown that diets enhanced with probiotics (beneficial gut bacteria) have a beneficial effect on glucose metabolism in mice.  Recently, randomized controlled research in women has also found that probiotics supplementation plus dietary counseling improved glucose metabolism better than dietary counseling alone during pregnancy.  The mechanism of action is not yet well understood, but researchers hypothesize that beneficial gut bugs:

  • Limit the proliferation of other “bad bugs” that can break down polysaccharides (starches) in the large intestine which would otherwise be excreted.  The breakdown of these starches by the bad (“saccharolytic” bugs) into sugars increases the glucose load to our body.
  • Improve gut immunity and limit inflammatory action which has been associated with insulin resistance and obesity.

It turns out that the beneficial bacteria in our gut also play an important role in the excretion of estrogen metabolites and hormone-like environmental toxins.  When “beneficial bugs” are in good supply, the elimination of waste is speedy and regular and estrogen is excreted quickly.  However, when good gut bacteria is compromised due to inflammation, allergy, antibiotics or other conditions, pathogenic intestinal bacteria begin to thrive.  These less friendly critters secrete the enzyme β-glucuronidase, which re-digests estrogens in the large intestines, releasing estrogen back into the body.  High levels of β-glucuronidase are associated with breast and colon cancer and may contribute to hormone imbalances associated with infertility.

Stay tuned to our blog for more tips on improving gut health!

Sources: Friebe et al. 2008, Verstraelen  et al 2005

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