Your body is an ecosystem. It’s not a stretch to say that every function relies in some form or fashion on microbes – trillions of them that live inside or on the surface of you.
Friendly microbes, the compounds they produce, and the genetic information they pass along make up your microbiome. As strange as it may sound, without your gut microbiome, you would not be you. What’s more, your microbiome has its own signature. It is as unique to you as your fingerprints.
Over the past fifteen years or so, research has started focusing on what constitutes a healthy gut microbiome. The results might surprise you.
In this article, we explore insights from this research and look at how beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract influence not only gut health, but also the menopause transition and the age process. These insights can guide how you protect and care for your microbiome. We’ll show you a step-by-step way to start and sustain a practice of befriending your gut microbiome. We will also explain how to restore healthy gut flora.
What Makes a Healthy Gut?
The many bacteria that make up gut health are key for digesting food and allowing us to eat comfortably. The esophagus, stomach, intestines all work together in the process of digestion without any discomfort.
A healthy gut is one with a thriving population of beneficial microbes, and an impressive diversity in them. These good gut bacteria support overall human health but they also prevent harmful bacteria from taking over—aka those pesky bad actors that can contribute towards inflammation or changes in your weight.
Your Gut Microbiome and Menopausal Symptoms
In recent years, researchers have tried to pen a closer connection between the gut microbiome and what you call “my body.” This relationship is so intimate that some researchers refer to the gut microbiome as a second immune system.
What’s interesting about the immune system is that you can’t find it in one place like, say, the liver or your heart. It’s everywhere. And guess what educates and regulates your immune system? Microbes – single-celled organisms that can’t be seen with the naked eye.
What’s even more extraordinary: Gut flora (another term for inhabitant microbes) interact with one another and your body like a single organ.
And while these insights about the microbiome-immune system relationship do not encompass all the gut microbiome’s functions, they do address one eye-catching feature about many menopausal symptoms. That is, healthy microbiome helps keep unchecked inflammation . . . well . . . in check.
Which brings us to completely different, growing bodies of research that show menopause symptoms, when they are troublesome, are often linked to unchecked systemic inflammation.
Estrogen, Inflammation, and Menopausal Symptoms
Estrogen has anti-inflammatory protection. As estrogen levels decline, we lose some of that protection. That’s when you may notice a sudden shift in weight (i.e., weight gain), bloating and the blossoming of extra belly fat, hot flashes and night sweats, mood swings or depression, brain fog, and even hair loss.
All these menopausal symptoms have been linked to unchecked systemic inflammation. The same is true for bone loss.
There’s no turning back the hands of time to reclaim the estrogen and progesterone levels of our youth. But recall that we started this article by saying the body is an ecosystem. Components of an ecosystem work together to support the whole. In the same way, aspects of your body’s ecosystem, namely a robust gut microbiome, can fill in some gaps created by declining hormones.
More plainly put: nurturing a healthy microbiome can remedy systemic inflammation that contributes to menopause symptoms.
Gut Microbes, Weight, and Mood.
Gut microbes affect appetite, food transit time through the gastrointestinal tract, nutrient absorption, and energy expenditure. They are not unsuspecting bystanders when it comes to your weight. They have their say in whether you tend toward lean or overweight.
Studies have shown that overweight and obesity are linked to less microbial diversity in the gut. Restoring that diversity has been shown to help with maintaining a healthy weight.
Gut microbiota (communities of microbes) also produce and regulate feel-good and stress hormones that are responsible for mood and mental health. This connection is especially important for the shifts in progesterone levels during and after the menopause transition.
Progesterone is a calming hormone. When it declines, you’re more likely to feel anxious, edgy, irritable – moody, in a word. Low progesterone is partially responsible for the irritability and bloating of PMS.
Not only do good bacteria in the gut produce and regulate progesterone. They also produce and regulate serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), among other feel-good hormones. These are calming, uplifting neurotransmitters. What’s more, they help quiet midlife aches and pains.
During and after the menopause transition, a healthy gut microbiome can help regulate the signaling from declining sex hormones and produce and regulate feel-good hormones.
Your Gut Microbiome as You Age
Menopause can be viewed as the gateway to the second half of life.
It sets the stage for how we age. Caring for your whole body-self now – including your microbiome – is the best promise for a healthy you in the years to come.
Here’s where things get especially interesting. On the question of what is a healthy gut microbiome?, researchers thought to ask: What can we learn about the microbiome’s role in healthy aging?
They began conducting stool samples of healthy centenarians (people who live to be 100 and older) and discovered something fascinating. Those who have a long healthspan show more uniqueness of their microbiomes with each passing year. In other words, their gut microbiome signature becomes more their own, less like anyone else’s.
Why this is so remains a mystery. But the conclusions are solid: Your microbiome and you are a kinship. The better you care for your gut microbiome, the better your microbiome cares for you.
It also highlights another matter: There’s no exact formula for a healthy microbiome. What stands out as healthy is 1) diversity, 2) abundance, and 3) the presence of some specific families of bacteria, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
But let us back up a step and clarify something. The centenarians who participated in the research are, for the most part, living active, healthy lives not burdened by chronic diseases. We’re not pushing an anti-aging agenda and pressing for an endless lifespan. Rather, we stand to learn a great deal from people who have aged in good health.
Keeping systemic inflammation in check has been linked to a longer healthspan.
We’re also beginning to get glimpses of women’s potential healthspan by looking at the severity of menopause symptoms. Severe menopause symptoms have been linked to chronic diseases that limit healthspan.
Easing the menopause transition and continuing a life of radical self-care can set the stage for healthy aging.
Nurturing a Healthy Gut Microbiome for Menopause & the Years to Come
Living in a stressed world stresses our microbiomes. Of course, there are all kinds of modern-day stresses, but we want to focus your care on one: food.
Intensive agriculture relies on chemicals that alter soil microbiomes and the nutrient content of our food. The ultra-processed foods so many of us rely on out of convenience assault our microbiomes. Both pave the way for inflammaging – accelerated aging due to inflammation.
To protect and care for your gut microbiome, we encourage you to take back the reins of control from an increasingly unhealthy food system and eat as close to the Earth as you can. Your body and microbiome will ease into thanksgiving and a healthy you when you do.
This guidance is simple but not always easy to do.
Let’s go in steps. Allow yourself to go at a pace you can sustain. Nothing ever changes for long if we can’t sustain the change. Baby steps.
1. Color your plate with fresh, whole food that’s close to the source.
If you look inside a box of packaged food, ask yourself: Do the contents resemble the ingredients when they were first plucked from the Earth?
The further food strays in looks from its source, the more processed those ingredients are. When was the last time you saw something fruiting from the Earth that looked remotely like an orange-dusted, cheesy-flavored salty snack or a lucky puff of charms?
Ultra-processed “foods” are no friend to your microbiome or you. Fresh healthy food, in contrast, is nutrient-rich and high in dietary fiber, which feeds your microbiome.
We encourage you to get creative and play. Make every day a food adventure, coloring your plate with plant foods , including fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and culinary herbs. Make time for feeding your body well – even if you think you don’t have time.
2. Eat organic and close to home.
Pesticides and antibiotics from conventional produce and meats wipe out your gut microbiome. This problem has become so significant to the modern diet that it’s seriously wiping out whole families of beneficial bacteria from our guts.
Organic foods protect your gut microbiome and introducing a microbiome diet can encourage healthy bacteria to grow in the digestive tract.
Many small farmers use organic practices even if they aren’t certified organic. If you have access to local farmers’ markets or nearby roadside stands, get to know a few local farmers. Don’t hesitate to ask if they use organic practices, and do let them know how important it is for your and your family’s health.
3. Enjoy sweets sparingly.
Sugar is a leading cause of metabolism problems. (Trans fats in processed foods are the other.) Sweets also shift the balance of gut microbiota, swinging toward more harmful microbes. Both issues put you on the fast track to systemic inflammation.
If you have a sweet tooth, you might try satisfying your craving with fiber-rich fruit, and don’t be shy about dark chocolate (70% or more cocoa content). Chocolate feeds feel-good hormones, including dopamine and serotonin. It’s also a potent antioxidant that quiets gut inflammation.
If you want to stave off sweets entirely, try bitters after a meal. They “short-circuit” the sweet tooth. Today, you can find excellent non-alcohol bitters.
4. Drink purified or spring water.
Chlorinated municipal water is a boon to community-wide sanitation. But that chlorine has a cost to your gut microbiome. It kills harmful bacteria in the water, which means it also kills beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Purified water and filtered water are not the same. Filtered water (think plastic water bottles) is often no more than bottled municipal water. For water to be completely free of chlorine and chemicals, it needs to be either purified or sourced from a spring or well.
Since most of us don’t live near spring-fed water or a well, purified water is our healthiest choice to keep healthy gut bacteria. There are a few excellent countertop water-purifying systems on the market. Over the long haul, they are much cheaper (and legions better for you and the planet) than bottled water.
5. Add fermented foods.
Fermented foods add lactic acid-producing bacteria (LAB) to your gut. LAB produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help regulate your metabolism, calm inflammation, and keep your gut happy. Keeping your gut happy keeps your immune system healthy and your hormones in harmony.
You might try adding fermented foods or beverages at least once a day: probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, jun, non-diary kefir, and non-dairy probiotic yogurt are excellent sources of LAB.
6. Include a multi-strain synbiotic in your daily routine.
Synbiotics are supplements that combine probiotics and prebiotics to add diversity and abundance to your gut microbiome.
A good synbiotic contains multiple types of probiotic bacteria, prebiotic, and an acid-resistant capsule that can get past the stomach into the intestines. On the label, you want to see
- The types of microbes: Genus species (strain). For instance, Bifidobacteria animalis (PTA6750) or B. animalis (PTA 6750).
- Also, look for type(s) of prebiotics and their source – for instance, organic powdered chicory root.
- If the synbiotic is stearate-free, all the better.
Our Synbiotic: FLOURISH
FLOURISH is a daily multi-strain synbiotic formulated to provide a unique blend of probiotic, prebiotic & digestive nutrients that mimic the good gut bacteria found in young adults.
The powerful natural ingredients in FLOURISH alleviate the symptoms of menopause, such as night sweats, trouble sleeping, hot flashes, and aging skin, letting you enjoy a more comfortable, healthy, and active lifestyle.
A final thought: We have found it helpful to think of the microbiome as a partner in health. Take good care of your gut microbiome, and you will feel the impact of your care by how you feel now and in the years to come.