The topic of gut health is all the rage right now. I hear it everywhere, chats about gut microbiome, probiotics and good/bad bacteria. It’s popping up on commercials, radio and my Facebook ads. What if I told you your gut health could be the underlying cause of your irregular cycles? The gut microbiome is known as the collective billions of different bacteria that inhabit our intestines. These bacteria that are present can have a huge impact on our health in terms of our reproductive health, immune system, digestion, and brain health.
Trust me, I’ve seen first hand that gut health can be directly related to hormone imbalances, especially in PCOS.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition that affects women in terms of their reproductive and metabolic systems. Currently, to be diagnosed with PCOS a patient has to meet the Rotterdam Criteria which includes 2 out of the 3 of the following:
- Hyperandrogenism in the blood or clinical signs of high androgens such as acne or hair growth on the body.
- Oligo-ovulation (irregular ovulation) or anovulation (not ovulating)
- Polycystic ovaries on an ultrasound.
In the Research:
We now have some research to support this theory that our gut health can impact our hormone health in terms of PCOS. In a recent study in 2017, they found that zonulin, which is a regulator of tight junction function in the intestines was significantly high in PCOS patients – which could result in leaky gut. They also found that blood levels of DAO (a marker for damage to intestine cells) was significantly high in PCOS women.
The study also concluded that stool samples from PCOS patients had less diversity in bacteria. Remember – the more diversity the better it is for our gut and overall health!
What does all this mean?
Zonulin is an inflammatory protein found in the gut. Levels in the blood can increase especially due to inflammatory foods such as gluten. The accumulation of zonulin can cause the connections between cells in the gut to break and spaces are created. These spaces allow for protein, and molecules to pass through which activate the immune system causing a rise in inflammatory cytokines. These are chemical messengers that are known to be high in PCOS patients and can lead to insulin resistance.
To keep on going…
Another study found a strong relationship between blood zonulin levels and obesity, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and severity in menstrual irregularities.
So what can you do?
Well – determining if you have leaky gut as a result of high levels of zonulin is key! There are two different ways to test, either using a blood test or a stool test. We know in animal models that using prebiotics and probiotics can help to improve the intestinal barrier of the gut and insulin resistance. Talking to a Naturopathic Doctor about your gut health can be one of the first and foremost steps in determining what is going on with your hormones!
Guo, Y., Qi, Y., Yang, X., Zhao, L., Wen, S., Liu, Y. and Tang, L. (2018). Association between Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Gut Microbiota.
Zhang, D., Zhang, L., Yue, F., Zheng, Y. and Russell, R. (2018). Serum zonulin is elevated in women with polycystic ovary syndrome and correlates with insulin resistance and severity of anovulation.