I usually call the good microorganisms in our gut blessed bacteria. At first glance, if your are not familiar with all the wonders of the microbiome, it may not make sense – after all, we are used to thinking about bacteria as bad, disease provoking creatures. It is true that some bacteria or fungi can be really harmful, sometimes even fatal.
I mean...partially true, because when we have a healthy microbiome, the friendly bacteria which is our first line of defense, keeps the bad guys at bay. The good bacteria are involved in virtually all aspects of our health from allergies to depression and anxiety.
To say that one of our biggest health problems is a compromised microbiome is an understatement. When it comes to hormonal health, it is not possible to be hormonally balanced without having a diverse and thriving community of microorganisms. Our microbiome should be made up mostly – around 85% - of the good bacteria. Unfortunately, it is not what we see. There are so many medications, for instance, that destroy our bug friends. The worst of all, as you can guess, are antibiotics. Their negative effects on the microbiome can last for several years. Some studies now indicate that if a child takes several rounds of antibiotics in their first 3 years of life, their gut bacteria might never recuperate completely. Scary, right?
I have a friend whose 2 year-old daughter had scarlet fever and two ear infections in the last 6 months – all treated with antibiotics. She also has frequent colds, cough, stomach flus and some eczema. Clearly, her immune system is not in good shape. She was born through C-section and was breastfed just for a couple of months. Her food repertoire is very limited and she does not like most vegetables, whole grains and legumes, exactly the prebiotic foods that could feed her good bacteria and make them succeed to a certain degree.
If things don't turn around quickly this precious little girl could be a serious candidate for all kinds of hormonal imbalances when she grows up – from PMS to endometriosis and fibroids. Among other functions, the good bacteria help eliminate excess hormones, especially oestrogen which is the cause behind these conditions. Helping regulate blood sugar, the microbiome also has an important role on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), not to mention the two-way connection between the gut and thyroid. Not surprising that thyroid problems including autoimmune conditions are on the rise.
Now consider this: if a single hormone that is out of balance can impact several other hormones that, in turn, can influence numerous body functions – from metabolism to reproduction – when the microbiome is compromised and cannot act as the ally it is supposed to be to our hormonal network, we pay the price – we don't feel as ourselves, to say the least.
I mentioned antibiotics as the worst enemy of our good bacteria, but they are not alone. Steroid medications (corticosteroids for instance for asthma or for skin problems), Nsaids (pain-killers such as aspirin, Motrin and Advil) and birth control pill are also harmful to our microbiome. Even if you haven’t taken medication in a long time, there are still some common factors that impact your microbiome negatively, such as chlorinated water, artificial sweeteners, a diet relying mostly on processed and refined foods and stress.
Thankfully, there are strategies we can use to reverse, or at least, minimize the problem. One of them is consuming traditionally fermented foods on a regular basis. From kefir to miso, from pickles to sauerkraut, there is a wide variety of fermented foods to suit your taste buds and your specific needs. What is common to all of them is their importance in regulating our hormones and improving our overall health in addition to being the easiest and most affordable ways to use.
If you live in the Montreal area, don't miss my next workshop Blessed Bacteria: Fermented Foods and Hormonal Balance where you can learn more about the connection between gut bacteria and hormonal balance, overall health and the basics of fermentation, in addition to preparing fermented food and drink to take home. The workshop takes place Thursday, April 20 @ 7:00 p.m.. For more information, visit the following link: Blessed Bacteria: Fermented Foods and Hormonal Balance