What does our hormone balance and immune system have in common? Probably more than you think! I’d even say they have everything in common as both systems share the same operating system: the gut microbiome.
Summer has arrived and we are learning to navigate the post-quarantine ‘new normal’. We can meet up with friends, go to restaurants and the beach donning masks and social distancing- or sometimes not. Instead of depending on a single-strain vaccination to save us, it makes more scientific sense to put our efforts into creating a healthy immune system to protect ourselves from rogue viruses.
What if our government & medical communities spent time and money educating the public about the importance a healthy immune system? We could dispel much of the fear-based propaganda and put positive effort and education into the miraculous healing qualities of our own bodies.
Our bodies were designed to be exposed and mount an immune response to foreign invaders. This is how we are made and have been functioning for thousands of years. As our society has become ‘hyper-hygienic’ combined with the standard American diet and overuse of antibiotics, our immune system has become more confused and our health has suffered.
The microbiome is our ally in creating a robust immune system. In fact, the microbiome consists of bacterial DNA outnumbering our own human DNA 10 to 1. It is no longer ‘we are what we eat,’ and probably more accurate to say ‘we are what our bacteria eats’.
The Gastro-intestinal system contains more than 80% of our bodies immune cells, so what we feed our microbiota matters for overall health and longevity.
Dr. Nasha Winters describes in her book, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, how the microbes in the microbiome actually train the immune system to recognize, respond and react to foreign invaders. When we don’t have this training, often due to the sterile environment of our modern times, the immune system doesn’t learn what is safe and what is the enemy and can lead to excess inflammation and autoimmunity.
Dr. Winters explains that 50% of hormone and environmental toxin detoxification is facilitated by good gut bacteria. She further describes how bad bacteria in our gut actually causes inflammation by secreting toxic substances.
An important marker of poor estrogen detoxification is an elevated beta-glucuronidase enzyme that can be found on a functional comprehensive stool test like the GI-Map from Diagnostic Solutions or GI effects test from Genova.
We also know that hormone imbalances in puberty, pregnancy and menopause also cause shifts in our microbiome which will then eventually go back to baseline when hormones are balanced again. Each person has a unique microbiome, like a fingerprint, that varies with diet, gender, age, hygiene, exposure to animals and emotional stress. Even being breastfed as an infant or born by c-section will determine the health of your microbiome.
How do we support our Microbiome best? We can feed the good bacteria what they need to stay diverse and balanced.
- Fiber: these are non-starch polysaccharides that come from plants (fruits & vegetables, grains and legumes) that feed the microbiome’s beneficial bacteria in the large intestine while also scrubbing the intestines for improved digestion and elimination.
- Soluble fiber: ground flaxseeds, brussel sprouts, asparagus
- Insoluble fiber: Cabbage, celery
- Strive for 40gms of fiber a day
- Probiotics: are live microorganism lactobacillus and bifido strains that have been studied to balance the microbiome. A second type are soil-based probiotics which don’t colonize the small intestine or feed the bacteria already growing there- so are best for people who suffer from SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). And a third type of probiotic is Saccharomyces Boulardii, which is a healthy type of fungus that can fight candida overgrowth.
- Take probiotics before bed, this is when our microbiota is most active
- Rotate probiotic brand every 3 months (if not getting fermented foods daily)
- Prebiotic and Probiotic Foods (not for low FODMAP diets):
- Leeks: 1 leek per week
- Jerusalem Artichoke: 1/4 portion
- Fermented foods: non-pasteurized kimchi, sauerkraut daily
- Asparagus: anti-bacterial properties at 1cup per portion
- Umeboshi vinegar: alkalinizing over vegetables and aids in digestion
- Radishes: arabinogalactans for immune health and butyrate
Some foods that have been shown to negatively alter the microbiome are sugar and artificial sweeteners, refined flour products, pesticides on our fruits & vegetables, excess alcohol intake and genetically modified foods.
In addition to adding good fiber and vegetables to your diet, it is also important to avoid antibiotics when possible and eat a generally plant-based diet. You may include organic, grass-fed animal protein that is raised without antibiotics and also avoid anti-bacterial soaps and toxic cleaning chemicals.
When we look back at the life-style decades ago when we ate less processed foods, did not consider hand sanitizer, allowed our children to get dirty, and ate vegetables right out of the garden – we also saw lower incidence of childhood allergies, asthma, autoimmune cases and cancer.
Your food and lifestyle choices have everything to do with supporting your microbiome in boosting your immune system. So why not try some new foods in your daily routine and have a healthy summer!
With love & gratitude,
ReNee Greenberg, RN, LAc, IFMCP
Founder of Women’s Hormone Health