How to navigate the tricky nutrition game for optimal health during menopause and after and why optimizing gut health is key to feeling good by Esther Blum, women’s health expert and author of See Ya Later, Ovulator!
A menopot is a special kind of muffin top that happens after the age of forty when women enter menopause. Many of us experience weight gain (and feel like we gain weight just by looking at food), clothes that fit differently (or not at all), low libido, and brain fog.
What is the reason for that damn menopot? It all starts with gut health. The gut has a huge influence on our hormones. The healthier your gut function going into menopause, the better your experience will be throughout menopause.
Our small intestinal tract has its own endocrine organ of good, healthy bacteria called the microbiome, with bacteria, funguses, viruses, and trillions of bacteria that make up our human genome– the complete set of genes present in our bodies.
A collection of bacteria in the gut called the estrobolome metabolizes the body’s circulating estrogen. In a healthy and balanced gut, the estrobolome maintains estrogen balance, which in turn impacts weight, libido, and mood. So optimizing our gut health is key to keeping our hormones in balance.
If your gut is out of whack you can have either too much or too little estrogen and a wicked time starting menopause. (And also, an increased risk of osteoporosis, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.) And to make things worse, low estrogen can also create gut symptoms like IBS, bloating, and weight gain, too! This is why even if you’ve had a partial or complete hysterectomy, you can still have menopausal symptoms.
Gut health is so vital to our health because the microbiome has many functions:
Makes and regulates hormones and neurotransmitters
• Nutrient absorption
• Immune function
Regulates estrogen levels in the body
• Fends off pathogens and parasites, and keeps healthy bacterial balance in check
Estrogen and progesterone fuel the good bacteria in our guts. Without adequate levels we can develop dysbiosis, and its wide range of digestive disturbance symptoms including diarrhea, cramping, constipation, bloating, and indigestion.
When the gut microbiome is healthy, the estrobolome produces optimal levels of an enzyme called beta glucuronidase. As the liver metabolizes estrogen, it delivers this conjugated estrogen to the bile for excretion into the gut. A healthy estrobolome minimizes reabsorption of estrogen from the gut, and instead helps you poop it out. However, if you’re constipated and not pooping daily, or have an excess of bacteria producing beta glucuronidase, you can keep recycling estrogen in the gut and become estrogen dominant.
Diet plays a huge role in your gut health and I will be covering this more in Chapter III. A low glycemic index diet – one that limits sugar and simple carbohydrates – contains a diverse rainbow plate of fruit, vegetables and fiber that are high in phytonutrients. This is key for building a wide variety of healthy gut bugs. Healthy bacteria need fiber to eat so they can thrive. They also thrive on the various nutri- ents found in color-dense food, so the more rainbows in your diet, the better!
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and artichokes contain compounds that help detoxify estrogen.
Prebiotics and probiotic-rich foods are bacterial darlings. Gut bacteria love to munch on prebiotic foods like garlic, onion, aspar- agus, and bananas. Probiotic foods such as kefir, kombucha, kim-chi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods bring beneficial bacterial strains, like lactobacillus, to the gut.
Read Esther’s advice on skin health during menopause here
Esther Blum, MS, RD, CDN, CNS is an integrative dietitian, certified nutritionist, and menopause expert. She is the bestselling author of Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat, Eat, Drink and Be Gorgeous, Secrets of Gorgeous, and The Eat, Drink, and Be Gorgeous Project. Her upcoming book, See Ya Later, Ovulator!, will be released on October 4th. Widely respected as an industry expert, Esther was voted Best Nutritionist by Manhattan Magazine. She has appeared on Dr. Oz, the Today Show, Good Day NY, Fox News Live, and the goop podcast. She’s been quoted in E! Online, In Touch, TIME, The New York Post, The Los Angeles Times, In Style, Harper’s Bazaar, Self, Fitness, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Well + Good. Follow Esther on Instagram or Facebook.