The ‘other change’ behind menopausal weight gain and disease risk

The older we get, the longer it takes damaged cells in our body to repair themselves. It’s just a fact of life.

But when the cells in our intestine are slow to repair or don’t fix themselves completely, the result is an “open door” through which harmful microbes and toxins enter the bloodstream, causing a range of metabolic diseases and conditions from diabetes and thyroid disorders to irritable bowel and chronic fatigue syndromes.

This “open door” is better known as leaky gut syndrome.

If you’re a post-menopausal woman, you’re even more vulnerable to leaky gut than men your age. Why?

It comes down to hormones and why when we lose them, we not only gain weight but also gain a higher risk for metabolic diseases…

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Menopause changes women’s gut microbiome

The gut microbiome refers to all the microbes in your intestines, which act as another “organ” that’s crucial for your health.

A new study has shown that the gut microbiome interacts with the loss of female sex hormones that occurs after menopause. This hormone loss exacerbates metabolic diseases, including weight gain and type 2 diabetes, fat in the liver and the expression of genes linked with inflammation.

As early as 2005 researchers began looking into how the microbiome could contribute to obesity, which is associated with metabolic conditions. At the time, however, most research was done on males.

Using models of mice with and without ovaries, first author Tzu-Wen L. Cross, a professor of nutrition science and the director of the Gnotobiotic Animal Facility at Purdue University, shared that “This is the first time it has been shown that the response of microbiome to the loss of ovarian hormone production can increase metabolic dysfunction.”

“The mice that were recipients of the gut microbiome of ovariectomized mice gained more weight and fat mass, and they had greater expression of genes in the liver associated with inflammation, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and atherosclerosis compared with those in the control group,” says Dr. Kelly Swanson, corresponding author of the study.

They also found that the mice without ovaries and those fed the high-fat diet had lower levels of these proteins in the liver and colon, which suggested their gut barriers were more permeable, compromised by either their diet or the absence of female hormones.

In other words, the gut microbiome of mice without ovaries, which hormonally resembles that of post-menopausal women, was much more vulnerable to the metabolic diseases impacted by leaky gut.

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How to protect your gut

Unfortunately, there’s not much we can change about the loss of our female hormones.

But a previous study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition in 2021 saw a polyphenol-rich diet improve intestinal permeability in older people — and that may be the first step in the right direction.

Polyphenols are natural antioxidants found in a variety of foods. In the gut, they increase helpful bacteria, reduce harmful bacteria, and prevent the inflammation that’s behind heart disease and other chronic metabolic conditions.

The study showed that including up to three daily portions of apple, cocoa, dark chocolate, green tea, cranberries, oranges or pomegranate juice — all polyphenol-rich foods — improved intestinal permeability by making specific changes in the intestinal microbiota.

When fecal and plasma samples were analyzed, there was a positive correlation between the polyphenol foods and an increase in products of cell metabolism that improved the health of the gut. There was also a decrease in the kind that caused intestinal permeability.

The next step would be to steer clear of a high-fat diet since it also correlated to intestinal permeability in the recent mice study.

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Metabolic diseases may be driven by gut microbiome, loss of ovarian hormones — Science Daily

Gut microbiome responds to alteration in female sex hormone status and exacerbates metabolic dysfunction — Gut Microbes

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.