what exactly is your microbiome?
This is the collective DNA of the microscopic critters that live in your body, primarily in your gastrointestinal tract (gut). Why are we concerned with their DNA? The more we learn about all the things your microbes do for you, the more we learn about the sophisticated communication between their DNA and yours . . .
Over time, we humans have evolved in harmony with these microbes – we give them a home, we feed them, and they do crucial things for us. In fact, it’s really important to have plenty of beneficial bacteria, and the more diverse the better. What do these beneficial bugs do for us? They . . .
- Build a strong gut lining.
- Make vitamins.
- Control inflammation.
- Make you lean.
- Defend against pathogens
- Process your hormones.
- And much more!
Your pcos microbiota can make you perpetually fat and hungry
For years, scientific research has demonstrated that people with obesity and insulin resistance have an altered (or unbalanced) microbiota compared to people who are lean and metabolically healthy. Now, research shows that women with PCOS also have an altered microbiota compared to women without.
How is it altered? An altered gastrointestinal (GI) microbiota is known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis involves both an overgrowth of certain undesirable microbes, coupled with a low population of beneficial species.
This recent study showed that women with PCOS had higher levels of certain microbes (Escherichia/Shigella and Streptococcus) that increase BMI and testosterone levels, and reduce the effect of your appetite suppression hormones. This research also showed that certain species (Akkermansia and Ruminococcaceae) that regulate weight and sex hormones were low. In fact, Akkermansia is known as one of the key beneficial microbes that make you lean.
To translate this: With PCOS, you likely have an overgrowth of microbes that tend to make you fatter and hungrier. To top it off, if you gain belly or abdominal fat, this fat makes you even fatter, as explained in Belly Fat: Is it PCOS?
Your pcos microbiota can mess with estrogen
You need the right gut bacteria, in the right amount and in the right place (your large intestine) to effectively regulate your sex hormones like estrogen.
Dysbiosis (again, an overgrowth of a few rogue microbes, often coupled with too few beneficial microbes) causes a slow-down in estrogen breakdown. In most cases of PCOS, estrogen metabolism by gut microbiota is altered. This results in reabsorption of estrogens that were supposed to be eliminated. This leads to a condition called estrogen dominance. What is estrogen dominance? It means that your estrogen is higher than it should be relative to your other primary female hormone progesterone. The ratio of estrogen to progesterone is really important. Progesterone is often low in PCOS, which makes symptoms of estrogen dominance worse. What are the symptoms of estrogen dominance?
Symptoms of estrogen dominance include:
- Decreased sex drive.
- Irregular or otherwise abnormal menstrual periods.
- Bloating (water retention).
- Breast swelling and tenderness.
- Fibrocystic breasts.
- Headaches (especially premenstrually).
- Mood swings (most often irritability and depression).
- Weight and/or fat gain (particularly around the abdomen and hips).
- Cold hands and feet (also a symptom of thyroid dysfunction).
- Hair loss.
- Thyroid dysfunction.
- Sluggish metabolism.
- Foggy thinking, memory loss.
- Trouble sleeping/insomnia.
your pcos gut microbiota makes more androgen hormones
With PCOS you often have high androgen hormones. These are often called our “male” hormones, like testosterone and DHEA.
You need the right amount of androgens to feel healthy. But too much testosterone or DHEA can give you unwanted symptoms of PCOS, including irregular periods, unwanted hair growth, adult acne, and hair loss.
Well it turns out that dysbiosis raises androgens! This is a major concept to absorb. Dysbiosis, or an altered microbiota, increases androgen hormones.
Your pcos microbiota can make you more inflamed
PCOS always involves inflammation, period. With dysbiosis, it’s a perfect storm for inflammation, because dysbiosis is also inflammatory. Let’s delve into this . . .
Dysbiosis usually includes an overgrowth of undesirable microbes that secrete a toxic substance called LPS (or lipopolysaccharide). We call these LPS endotoxins, toxins that are produced inside your body from your gastrointestinal microbes.
LPS endotoxins are very inflammatory, and not just in your GI tract. They easily pass through the lining of your intestines, travel through your bloodstream, and create inflammation throughout your whole body – including your lower belly and pelvis.
LPS endotoxins cause systemic pain and inflammation. So even if you don’t feel any symptoms related to your gut, you can feel inflammation in other areas of your body.
LPS endotoxins can cause the pain and inflammation of:
- PCOS and heavy periods.
- Insulin resistance.
- Weight gain.
- Interstitial cystitis (bladder inflammatory pain).
- Pelvic floor pain.
- Premenstrual syndrome.
- Fibromyalgia, general aches and pains.
- “Mysterious” arthritis and joint degeneration.
how do you know if you have dysbiosis?
The only way to know for sure is by microbiota lab tests (a stool test for your large intestine is the place to start). There is also a breath test for small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and a urine test for fungal overgrowth.
Also, symptoms are a big clue. Symptoms can be in your gut (bloating, constipation, reflux, loose stools, odorous gas, etc), or away from your gut (anxiety, joint and muscle pain, allergies).
Another physical sign is not pooping completely every single day, with a “poop score” of #4 (or an occasional #3 or #5) on this Bristol scale. Remember pooping well is not just a sign of a healthy balanced microbiome, its a major way for us to get rid of toxins (excess hormones) in your body.
Lastly, Candida (fungal) overgrowth commonly occurs with bacterial overgrowth. If you have ever taken antibiotics, chances are that you grew some extra candida in the process – they are very opportunistic! Take this Candida Screening Questionnaire and see how you score.
how can you change this?
Think of your gut microbiota as a garden. Sometimes you need to pull weeds (get rid of bad bacteria, yeast or parasites). Maybe you may need to fertilize (feed) the plants you want to grow. Perhaps you need to “seed” these plants. In a nutshell, it’s a process of:
This is actually quite an art, that takes testing, trial and error, and feedback. When you do the above labs with a seasoned practitioner, then you can get specific. However, if you forgo testing you can still certainly feed and seed . . .
FEED with prebiotic foods and fibers. These include fiber rich foods like vegetables and beans – in particular onions, garlic and artichokes. There are also excellent prebiotic fiber powders to add to smoothies, food or water (examples include inulin, acacia, arabinogalactan). Remember that beneficial bacteria (probiotic) diversity is KEY so you need to vary their food! Switch up your veggies and beans! Don’t eat the same ones over and over. If you take a prebiotic fiber powder, take a mixed blend, or alternate frequently.
SEED with probiotics. Take a probiotic supplement, and eat probiotic foods. These include foods that are cultured to produce probiotics, like sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles, kefir and yoghurt.
A caveat: Let’s say you react to prebiotic foods and fibers, or to probiotic supplements or foods. “React” means you get symptoms, such as bloating, gas, or histamine reactions (think wheezing, congestion, hives). So, this signals you probably need to weed. And, it is best to test before weeding.
Fix your pcos microbiota in the pcos solution program!
In our PCOS SOLUTION program, we focus on microbiota overhaul for the entire program, and it’s our primary focus for a FULL week. Join us!