Gut Check: Digestive Issues During Menopause - Joylux

Gut Check: Digestive Issues During Menopause

Menopause is a transitional period that marks the end of one chapter of your life and the beginning of another. Unfortunately, menopause can bring with it uncomfortable symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, and mood swings that can leave you stressed, sleep-deprived, and even depressed.

Yet, there is another aspect of menopause that is less frequently talked about, and that is the effect it can have on your gastrointestinal (GI) health. If you are in perimenopause or menopause and you have been experiencing digestive issues, you are not alone. While no one wants to talk about embarrassing bodily functions, the fact is that digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and irregularity are amongst the most common signs and symptoms of menopause.

Fortunately, knowing how hormone changes during menopause affect the GI tract can help you make changes that can provide relief from uncomfortable digestive issues.

How Hormones Affect GI Health

So why exactly does menopause cause digestive issues in so many women? It essentially all comes down to declining levels of estrogen and progesterone that begins during perimenopause, which can throw your digestive system for a loop.

The main job of your digestive system is to break down the food that you eat to facilitate the absorption of nutrients in your body. As estrogen levels in your body decline, this can affect other hormones in your body that play a part in digestion such as cortisol and adrenaline.

These hormonal changes can slow down the movement of food through your digestive tract, leading to gas, bloating, discomfort, acid reflux, stomach cramps, constipation, and even nausea. Additionally, changes in hormone levels during menopause might exacerbate symptoms for those already struggling with conditions such as IBS and could even influence the development of what is often referred to as 'leaky gut syndrome,' a term used to describe increased intestinal permeability.

Common GI Issues During Menopause

As we previously mentioned, decreasing amounts of estrogen and progesterone during menopause can slow down the process of food passing through the GI tract. When the digestive process takes longer, this causes more water to be reabsorbed into the body, which can lead to constipation, gas, and bloating. This gas buildup can also lead to stomach pains or abdominal cramping.

Digestive issues during menopause can occur in the upper GI tract (which includes the mouth, esophagus, and stomach) and/or the lower GI tract (which includes everything from the small intestine to the anus). Some of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms women experience during menopause include:

  • Bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn/Acid Reflux
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Gas 
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Stomach Pains or Cramps
  • Bowel Urgency

Mitigating Digestive Issues During Menopause

While menopause can throw your digestive system for a loop, making simple tweaks to your daily routine can go a long way in alleviating your symptoms. If your digestive symptoms have been giving you trouble during menopause, here is a look at a few lifestyle changes that can provide relief. 

Dietary Recommendations

Making small changes to your diet is often one of the easiest things you can do to improve digestive health. In particular, it is essential that you ensure you get plenty of fiber in your diet. Fiber plays a crucial role in digestion by helping keep things moving in your digestive tract, which can help reduce constipation, gas, and bloating. Try incorporating high-fiber foods into your diet such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains, or talk to your doctor about trying a fiber supplement.

If you have been struggling with constipation, bloating, or gas, you should also try upping your water consumption to at least 64 ounces daily. Staying hydrated is essential to digestive health, as it helps keep things running smoothly by aiding in the breakdown of nutrients and softening stool. Drinking plenty of water can also alleviate other (peri)menopause symptoms such as headaches and hot flashes.

You may also find it helpful to eat small, frequent meals to improve digestion. Smaller meals are easier for your body to digest, which can reduce the risk of acid reflux, gas, and stomach pain.   

Lifestyle Modifications

In addition to modifying your diet, lifestyle changes can also help significantly improve GI health. In particular, it is important that you take steps to reduce your stress levels, as the stress hormone cortisol can slow digestion, leading to gas, constipation, and bloating. 

If you're experiencing digestive distress during menopause, try utilizing some tried and true stress-management techniques such as meditation, yoga, and mindfulness breathing exercises. You can also try getting more exercise, as physical activity can reduce stress and help improve digestion. Implementing an exercise routine is then one of the most effective things you can do to improve gut health. 

Supplemental Support

If diet and lifestyle modifications aren't enough to alleviate your symptoms, you may want to try supplements to improve gut health. The fact is that estrogen and progesterone fuel bacteria in your gut, so a decline in these hormones can reduce healthy gut flora and disrupt digestion.

Introducing healthy bacteria to your gut with probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kombucha, and fermented foods like kimchi may help restore balance to your gut flora. This restoration of balance could potentially ease symptoms associated with 'leaky gut syndrome'—a term some use to describe certain digestive irregularities. If diet and lifestyle modifications aren't enough to alleviate your symptoms, you may want to try supplements to improve gut health.

Alternatively, you could choose to take a probiotic supplement to improve gut health. However, it is always important to talk to your doctor before starting any supplements or over-the-counter medications to make sure that it is safe for you to do so.

Seek Professional Guidance and Personalized Care

While digestive problems are a normal occurrence during menopause, it is still important that you talk to your doctor if these symptoms become frequent and/or interrupt your daily life. The fact is that while your digestive problems may be menopause related, they could also indicate more serious conditions such as colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, or stomach ulcers.

If home remedies have done little to alleviate your symptoms, it is essential that you seek professional guidance. Your doctor can run tests such as a colonoscopy, a gastroscopy, or an abdominal ultrasound to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. If your doctor believes that your symptoms are menopause-related, they will likely talk to you about possible treatment options such as probiotic supplements or hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Discussing GI problems can be embarrassing for many women, but it is important that you talk to your doctor if you believe that you are experiencing menopause-related digestive issues. Finding treatments to relieve your symptoms will not only make your life easier, but feeling better physically can also help improve your mood, reducing the mental toll menopause can take.

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