How does the microbiome affect mood in menopause?

Gut-brain axis

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The gut microbiome is packed full of microorganisms which are essential for digestion, immune function, and metabolism. Recently, there has been a lot of research into the connection the gut microbiome has with the brain, particularly the gut-brain axis. I’m interested in what this means for a woman transitioning through menopause, so let’s take a closer look…

What is the gut-brain axis?

The gut-brain axis is a complex bi-directional network (I like to think of it like the M25) which connects the central nervous system and the digestive tract through nerve signals including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is responsible for our stress response – most commonly know as the fight, flight, freeze response. Already this feels significant as our stress response can feel very heightened as we navigate menopause.

So, through the gut-brain axis, the brain has the power to influence intestinal activities (hence that dodgy gut right before a big meeting or exam) as well as the gut being able to have influence on mood, cognition, and mental health.

On the one hand, we’ve got the brain influencing how well food is digested and nutrients are absorbed from food and on the other hand the gut can influence our cognitive function, how we feel, and even our mental health as a whole.

What can happen to the gut in menopause?

This is a hot topic, because we are starting to make links between lowering levels of oestrogen and progesterone and less diversity of microbiome in the gut. Here’s a previous article, helping you to understand more about the gut microbiome.

We know that dysbiosis can occur; a condition where the gut is in a state of imbalance and the balance between beneficial microbes has been overthrown by pathogens, which are damaging to the gut. Dysbiosis has been linked with mental illnesses including anxiety and depression, although this hasn’t been studied sufficiently yet in the menopausal population.

But we can see why the potential impact of menopause on our gut microbiome is of interest. Is it forming an important piece of the puzzle in terms of the symptoms women experience through menopause and could it be one of the factors that dictate the different menopause experiences felt by women? We need the research to know for sure.

The gut-brain axis in menopause

This complex relationship between the gut microbiome and brain could potentially see an altered gut environment contributing to poor mood, cognition, and reduced mental well-being as well as poorer digestion and absorption of nutrients.

As part of the gut-brain axis, the gut microbiome is also the producer of many neurotransmitters including serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which affects our thoughts of happiness and controls our feelings of anxiety and fear in the brain.

The chemical serotonin is often referred to as the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, which plays a big role in mood regulation and how the brain expresses happiness. Similarly, GABA produced in the gut is important to relax the brain and control feelings of anxiety and fear.

As these chemicals are produced in the gut, supporting the diversity of the microbiome is key to their production.

How can my gut help my mood in menopause?

As the gut-brain axis research continues to develop, it is becoming clearer that looking after the gut microbiome is pivotal for a healthy body and mind. Nourishing our gut microbiome with a healthy, balanced diet full of fibre with some fermented foods thrown in for good measure is a great aim. This will give our guts a real helping hand and provide some resilience against the changes in diversity which can occur with fluctuating hormones.

nourish bowl to help moods

How can I improve my gut health in menopause?

A nurturing starting point with all this stuff is taking a curious look at our eating habits. Where are the easy wins? Where can we make adjustments that boost our fibre intakes with ease? I’m a big advocate of leaning into lunch. It’s often the only meal of the day we can truly please ourselves. We don’t have to try to ‘sell in’ the fibre to other less keen members of the household; we can boost the variety of fibrous and plant-based foods in the diet and allow our gut microbiome to feast all afternoon!

Lunch ideas inspiration for menopause

My Nourish Bowl resource is a brilliant investment for your health, your gut and your mood. You can access it here. Give your gut a helping hand today. Those that lean into lunch really do notice a big difference in their mood and health. I’ve had clients tell me it’s literally changed their life.

Get all the inspiration you need and a tailored menopause shopping list in this handy resource.

For the complete guide to managing your bloating, check out our Beat the Bloat Masterclass.

References

The Role of Diet on the Gut Microbiome, Mood and Happiness

Psychobiotics: Mechanisms of Action, Evaluation Methods and Effectiveness in Applications with Food Products

Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis

More To Explore

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