Modern life’s stresses, paired with a not-so-great diet, and being perpetually under-hydrated, have made constipation a prevalent issue—a new “normal” for many. But beyond just the discomfort, going less than at least once per day can cause hormonal issues, particularly with estrogen, which kicks off a cascade of symptoms associated with excess estrogen levels.
Many women aren’t aware that their troubles with bowel movements are actually connected to hormonal symptoms too. Consider this: Do you frequently suffer from headaches, PMS, tender breasts, heavy periods, or hot flashes? If your answer is yes, it’s a sign you may be dealing with estrogen dominance, and the first place you should look is within your gut. Let’s dive in…
Understanding the Constipation-Hormone Connection
Healthy bowel movements provide an exit strategy for estrogen (and many other types of metabolic waste) once it’s done its job in your body. But before it arrives in your colon, it’s first shuttled to the liver where it’s converted to a form that prepares it for elimination, also known as a ‘methylated’ form.
This process converts estrogen from fat-soluble to water-soluble, and makes the bound hormones easier to excrete from the body. Once this happens, the bound hormones are then transported into the gut, where they can be safely excreted.
But, what happens when elimination is delayed, and estrogen stays in the body?
Constipation can cause estrogen to become unbound, separating it from the methyl group—and therefore no longer water-soluble. Then, it can recirculate within the body and become harmful to health (1). This is one way estrogen dominance symptoms can begin, especially for women who are perimenopausal or menopausal.
Moreover, imbalances in gut flora can increase beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that also contributes to estrogen’s reabsorption into the bloodstream (2). This is why it’s crucial to address gut health when you’re trying to balance hormones.
Why It’s Important to Properly Eliminate Estrogen
Constipation that happens every once in a while probably isn’t a red flag, but infrequent bowel movements on a regular basis could harm your health because of the effects of estrogen levels. The form of estrogen that gets recycled into your body if it’s not being properly eliminated is actually more toxic, and may even put you at increased risk of some estrogen-dependent cancers over time (1).
Headaches, PMS, frequent and heavy periods, as well as hot flashes & uterine fibroids can be more immediate indicators of hormonal imbalance and estrogen dominance.
Signs That Your Gut Contributes to Estrogen Dominance
Many hormone issues actually originate in the gut, and estrogen dominance is one of them. Here’s what to look for that should make you suspect estrogen issues in the gut:
- Infrequent bowel movements (less than one per day)
- Constipation or difficulty passing stool
- Indigestion after eating
- Bloating and gas after meals
- Food sensitivities and allergies
- Skin issues like acne or rosacea
Related: Signs You Have Estrogen Dominance
How to Improve Gut Health and Balance Hormones
Women experiencing estrogen dominance should address both gut health and hormonal balance—it’s also a good idea to work with a qualified hormone practitioner to test your hormones. In the meantime, here are some steps you can take to improve gut health and reduce estrogen dominance symptoms:
Increase Fiber Intake
For starters, a high-fiber diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and minimally processed grains (if your gut tolerates them) can support healthy estrogen levels. Prioritize non-starchy vegetables and fruits, emphasizing high-fiber options like raspberries. Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits & vegetables daily.
If you have trouble tolerating higher-fiber foods, try this method.
The association between a high fiber diet and lower estrogen levels isn’t new. In fact, it’s one mechanism that is proposed for explaining a lower risk of breast cancer among women with high fiber diets (3).
Physical activity, especially cardiovascular exercise, boosts metabolism and intestinal motility. Women should strive to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day.
Maintain a relaxed state while eating and for 30 minutes afterward, optimizing healthy bowel movements. Mindful eating gives the gut ample time to produce enzymes and other digestive components that help with estrogen metabolism, and break down and metabolize stomach contents (4).
This results in not only more comfortable, regular bowel movements, but better nutrient absorption as well.
Inadequate water intake is a common cause of infrequent bowel movements, which can worsen estrogen dominance symptoms. A good goal is to aim for at least half your weight in ounces per day—about 75 ounces for a 150-lb woman. If you’re active, be sure to adjust this measurement to your needs.
Consider Liver-Supporting Supplements
Because the liver is a crucial player in maintaining healthy hormone levels, supplements that support either estrogen detoxification in the liver, or liver health itself can be helpful with estrogen dominance (5).
Fermented Foods & Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can restore and maintain the natural balance of gut bacteria. You can support your estrobolome—the special collection of gut bacteria that help process estrogen in the gut—with probiotics and fermented foods.
These friendly bacteria also help support the digestive system and aid in nutrient absorption and immune function. Taking a daily probiotic supplement or eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut could be beneficial for women.
Hormone Imbalance & Gut Health Is A Two-Way Street
It’s not as common for hormone imbalances to cause constipation, but it can happen. Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone, can contribute to having less frequent bowel movements. This is because an underactive thyroid gland can slow down digestion, which then causes constipation.
Another hormone that can play a role in constipation is progesterone. Progesterone can lead to sluggish bowel movements as it relaxes smooth muscles in the intestines, causing them to move more slowly (8).
What to Remember
Proper elimination is crucial for maintaining a healthy hormone balance, in addition to overall health. If you’re experiencing estrogen dominance symptoms, like worsening PMS symptoms, headaches, mood swings, or tender breasts, it’s important to evaluate the health of your gut.
Irregular or infrequent bowel movements can have a significant impact on healthy estrogen levels (and hormone health in general). Over time, too much estrogen in the body can increase the risk of breast cancer, and other estrogen-related cancers. Eating a high-fiber diet, drinking an adequate amount of water, being physically active, and taking daily probiotics are all practical practices that can promote balanced hormones and maintain good gut health.