What is the Estrobolome?
The Estrobolome is a group of bacteria in the gut capable of metabolising and modulating levels of circulating oestrogen. The microbiome contains trillions of bacteria that have a huge impact on our health, physiology and wellbeing. This means that the gut microbes also play an important role in oestrogen metabolism.
It is not only desirable, but essential to support this delicate collection of bacteria to ensure that our oestrogen metabolism functions as smoothly as possible.
Oestrogen balance is therefore dependent on the interaction of the gut, a healthy balance of gut bacteria as well as good liver function; all of which work to escort end of life or ‘spent’ oestrogens out of the body.
Understanding oestrogen detoxification
Once oestrogen has completed its job in the body it is usually excreted to make way for new oestrogens. The number one organ for metabolising (detoxing or bio transforming) our oestrogen is the liver via its phase 1 and phase 2 pathways.
The liver picks up this oestrogen and packages it up into a parcels, so that the oestrogen becomes deactivated. This is known scientifically as conjugation. Once deactivated, oestrogen can be removed from the body by the urine or the gut via the faeces.
This means that many of these oestrogen parcels are carried along the bile duct and handed over to the gut and the microbiome/ estrobolome.
Let’s dive in a little deeper.
Some bacteria in the gut estrobolome can produce an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. Beta-glucuronidase works like a parcel unwrapping service in the gut, unpacking the deactivated oestrogen parcels, opening them up to see what is inside, and in the process unwittingly recirculating the contents. So what is this enzyme even doing in our gut in the first place? It is actually there for a reason, mostly to:
- Break down difficult to digest carbohydrates called mucopolysaccharides.
- Help us to recycle our bilirubin for reabsorption.
Not every bacteria in the gut produces beta-glucuronidase, but some do, especially strains such as Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringes and many of the Bacteroidetes bacteria.
As an added drawback, beta-glucuronidase can also unwrap parcels containing other compounds including oestrogen disrupters, including pesticides and medications and other xenoestrogens.
What are xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens are oestrogen synthetic compounds that can bind to the oestrogen receptors on our cells. The only difference is that rather than supporting our body these oestrogen ’mimickers’ can disrupt our natural endocrine balance, giving inappropriate and sometimes harmful messages to our body. They include some pesticides (organophosphates), plastics (e .g. bisphenol A, BPA, PCB’s) and phthalates (plastic softeners), some skincare ingredients, such as benzophenone (in sunscreens) and insecticides. Again, they are parcelled up in the liver for removal via the gut. Enter pesky beta-glucuronidase which can unpack these parcels and recirculates these imitators back into the bloodstream.
What causes high beta-glucuronidase?
Luckily, modern stool tests used by many Nutritional Therapists and Functional Medicine Practitioners can accurately pick up levels of beta-glucuronidase in the stool, which can help identify if the gut is playing a role in a hormone related symptoms. It may also be possible to identify which bacteria present in the gut might be responsible.
Unbalanced gut bacteria are usually to blame, which is known as dysbiosis. This is a state where either the numbers of bacteria are out of balance or the diversity of different species is limited and falls out of a healthy range. Dysbiosis can occur when our diet is limited, post antibiotics, or where our diet lacks sufficient and varied sources of soluble fibre.
How to lower elevated beta-glucuronidase?
It may be possible to correct elevated beta-glucuronidase levels with a gut rebalancing programme designed rebalance your existing gut microbes. Certain foods; the introduction of probiotics, prebiotics, and even certain supplements can all help to reduce beta-glucuronidase levels.
Effects of constipation on oestrogen balance?
The more often we evacuate our bowels the greater the chance that we eliminate the deactivated oestrogen parcels effectively. Ideally women want to have a bowel movement every day! If we get constipated, we are more likely to recirculate our unwanted oestrogens. This means that they are more likely to keep turning up again in our body, bringing with it some degree of misfortune.
However, constipation can also be a symptom of lower oestrogen in the perimenopause. Follow some of the tips below and be sure to read my article on constipation if this sounds familiar.
Complications of unbalanced oestrogen levels?
The reactivation of oestrogens and xenoestrogens back into our circulation may be a problem in the following health conditions.
- PMS symptoms – breast pain, bloating, headaches, mood swings, anxiety, heavy periods, painful periods, food cravings, weight gain
- Perimenopause symptoms. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, heavy periods, weight gain etc.
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Hormone related cancers
6 ways to improve your gut bacteria and estrobolome.
1. Increase your intake of plants!
- Eating sufficient FIBRE is crucial for the health of our microbiome. It is not only important to eat fibre, but that we eat different sources of fibre. Eating different plants and vegetables encourages DIVERSITY in our microbiome which can dramatically decreases the risk of dysbiosis.It is the FIBRE that is important in the vegetables, as well as the nutrients and phytonutrients they contain, some of which act as prebiotics. These phytonutrients are often their pigments (which is why we should try to eat a rainbow at every meal). These pigments support the immune system because they act as antioxidants and are often anti-inflammatory in the body. The more colourful the vegetable or fruit, generally the better it is for us.
- Aim for around 30 plants a week. This can also include seeds, nuts, grains, herbs, pulses and soya.
- If using non-organic, wash thoroughly in a vinegar/water solution and peel hard fruits and vegetables. Aim for 7-8 servings per day and include a variety of colours (red, yellow, green, purple etc.) If you work better in grams – aim for 700-800g of fresh veg daily! Frozen vegetables can be as healthy as fresh as they are frozen at peak ripeness.
- Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, watercress and cauliflower and sulphur containing vegetables (onions, garlic) all help to support liver function and hormone control.
- Fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants and cherries are powerhouses for antioxidants and phytonutrients. Make these your go to fruits and aim for 1 apple a day.
- Aim for 5 vegetables a day and 2-3 fruits daily.
- AIM to fill HALF your plate with vegetables (cooked, raw, as a salad, stir-fried, as a soup. This could be 2 fistfuls per MEAL or around 250g for lunch and 250g for supper.
- FIBRE SUPERFOODS. Add in some fibre superfoods such as Flaxseeds or chia seeds. Adding 10g of psyllium husk powder can add an extra 8.5g fibre to your diet. We should be aiming for at least 30g fibre every day!
- Add beans and lentils into your soups and salads for additional soluble fibre.
- Eat porridge oats with chia seeds for breakfast!
2. Eat Probiotic Foods
- Increase consumption of fermented and live foods. These are foods that naturally contain probiotic bacteria and include foods such as live yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables. Consider taking a good quality probiotic.
3. Increase prebiotic foods.
These are food for our gut microbes and act like fertiliser in our gut, supporting the replication of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotic foods include vegetables and fruits, especially: flaxseeds, chia seeds, root vegetables, beans and lentils, apples and pears, artichoke, nuts and seeds, grains such as quinoa, rye, oats, sweet potato and cooked cooled rice and potato. Psyllium husk as well as FOS, GOS, inulin, and partially hydrolysed guar gum (PHGG) are all great prebiotics.
4. Reduce intake of oestrogen disrupters/ xenoestrogens
- Avoid all plastic bottles, even if they are BPA free – better still use glass or steel
- Do not reuse bought plastic bottles or leave them in the sun
- Use glass containers or jam jars to store food and never reheat food in plastic packaging. Remove supermarket packaging wherever possible from food and put into glass containers.
- Avoid cling-film touching the food
- Choose organic, locally-grown and in-season foods.
- Try to eat organic ‘hormone-free’ or grass fed, free range meat and poultry.
- Opt for organic milk and dairy products to reduce overall oestrogens and pesticide residues. Enjoy organic, free range eggs.
- Peel non-organic fruits and vegetables or soak in a water vinegar solution to help remove pesticides. These may not be water soluble.
- Opt for wild fish as opposed to farmed fish which can be a source of dioxins and organophosphates. Currently low toxin, sustainable fish include Sardines, Mackerel, Anchovies, wild Salmon and Herring, think S-M-A-S-H.
5. Increase plant phytoestrogens
- Phytoestrogens are substances which occur naturally in plants that can have a positive effect on our hormone balance. This is because they can have a mild oestrogenic effect in the body. Phytoestrogens can be helpful if we have low oestrogen levels, but may also be helpful when we have too much. There are 2 major kinds of phytoestrogens so they are found in a variety of foods.
- Lignans: found in flaxseeds, beans, lentils, peas, rye, oats, sunflower and sesame seeds and some vegetables and fruits: such as apples, carrots and berries.
- Isoflavines: found in soya based foods. Soya is best eaten in its fermented form such as miso, tempeh and tamari soya sauce, however tofu and other soya foods such as Edamame beans, soya beans, and soya yogurt can also have a benefit.
Easy ways to Increase your Plant Phytoestrogens:
- Sprinkle flaxseeds into your yogurt, smoothies or porridge. Flaxseeds are the richest food source of food lignans. See my blueberry smoothie recipe on my website.
- Add chick peas, beans, lentils, rye bread, flax as well as celery, apples, garlic, plums and even sprouted seeds, such as red clover to your food. Use in soups, casseroles, salads and smoothies.
- Eat smaller amounts of soya products, such as Tofu, Miso, Tempeh and edamame beans are probably the best forms. It is easier to eat too much soya in the diet, when we add in soya milks and yogurts.
6. Eat wholegrains/carbohydrates mostly in a wholegrain or complex forms
Whilst we need carbohydrates (vegetables are carbohydrates too!) to support our energy levels and gut bacteria, too much of the wrong kind is not a good idea, especially when hormones are out of balance.
- Whilst we need carbohydrates (vegetables are carbohydrates too!) to support our energy levels and gut bacteria, too much of the wrong kind is not a good idea, especially when hormones are out of balance.
- Good carbohydrate choices are slow release energy carbohydrates such sweet potatoes, parsnips, oats, potatoes, quinoa, amaranth, spelt, bulgur, brown rice, wild rice, rye, spelt, wholemeal pasta, unsweetened granola, oat cakes, wholegrain crackers, sourdough rye, wheat or spelt breads.
- This food group provides many nutrients (especially B vitamins needed for energy production) and minerals (especially magnesium, zinc, iron and chromium) alongside FIBRE to keep digestion running smoothly.
- Avoid ‘white’ breads, fluffy white carbohydrates and cereals wherever possible as these are very low in vital minerals, vitamins and fibre, and can upset blood sugar balance.
- Keep wholefood carbohydrates to no more than 1/4 of your plate to avoid blood sugar spikes. These spikes can disrupt oestrogen balance. Eating a balanced diet is key for keeping your oestrogen in a healthy range.
About the Author, Dominique Ludwig, Nutritionist MSc and Nutritional Therapist mBANT
Dominique Ludwig is an accomplished Nutritionist with over 30 years’ experience as a qualified nutritionist and almost 20 years as a nutritional therapist. The secret weapon of many high-profile clients and A-list celebrities, Dominique has been voted one of the top 15 nutritionists in the UK. She is a double award winning nutritionist (Most Outstanding Nutrition Programme 2023, UK), and is the founder of the Nutrition and Lifestyle Programme Renew Reset Recharge®, a pioneering nutrition, weight management and lifestyle programme that has been carefully created to support gut health and hormone health. To find out more CLICK HERE for details.
Working out of her own busy practice and The Meyer Clinic, Dominique has helped over a thousand clients, globally, live healthier lives. She is a regular contributor to The Times, The Sunday Times and Times 2.