Digestive problems during menopause are a common complaint, yet many women don’t realize their hormonal changes play a role in the accompanying symptoms. However, once you know about the intimate connection between these two situations, you will be more prepared to not only understand it but also do what it takes to alleviate symptoms naturally.
What digestive problems do women experience during menopause?
Digestive symptoms associated with menopause can range from flatulence to bloating, weight gain, tummy pain, constipation, heartburn, and more. Some of these issues are covered in other articles on Morphus, so here we are going to concentrate on constipation, gas, and bloating.
Why do digestive problems occur during menopause?
Hormonal changes trigger a number of health issues throughout the body, and the digestive system does not get by unscathed. As estrogen levels decline and the calming effect of the hormone fades as well, those of the stress hormone cortisol rise, and the ability to handle stress can decline.
Since there is a direct line of communication between the gut and the brain (called the gut-brain axis), an increase in stress can translate into tummy troubles. Elevated cortisol levels also slow down digestion, reduce the release of stomach acid, and slow the transport of digested food into the small intestine, all of which can lead to constipation, bloating, and gas.
How can you manage digestive problems naturally?
A number of lifestyle changes and supplements can help you manage digestive problems during menopause.
Try magnesium. This versatile mineral helps with many premenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal symptoms, including constipation and other digestive issues. Include more leafy greens in your diet as well as figs, avocados, bananas, pumpkin seeds, sweet potatoes, and whole grains. A magnesium supplement is another option. I personally love magnesium glycinate for everything as it is gentle on the stomach, but if you're looking to move your bowels, magnesium citrate and/or oxide may be helpful.
- Feast on phytoestrogens. Including more phytoestrogens in your diet can help relieve symptoms associated with a loss of natural estrogen. Some of the foods that provide good amounts of phytoestrogens include fermented soy such as tempeh & miso, beans, dates, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, chickpeas, pomegranate, oats, ginseng, and fennel.
Pick probiotics. Beneficial bacteria can help keep that vital gut-brain axis communicating well. Since estrogen and progesterone levels decline and both hormones feed your gut bacteria, you need some probiotics to keep things moving. Consider both fermented foods (kimchee, kefir, sauerkraut, miso) if you can tolerate them, and try adding a probiotic supplement. Allow several weeks for probiotic supplements to kick in.
Fill up on fiber. Most of us don’t get enough fiber (25-35 g/day is recommended). A word of caution here is to increase fiber ingestion gradually. If you don’t, you could increase your digestive problems by experiencing stomach pain, excessive gas, and lots of bloating. Great sources include green veggies, beans, peas, broccoli, raspberries, blackberries, whole grains, and artichokes.
Chew, chew, chew. Let’s face it; we don’t pay a lot of attention to how we chew. Good digestion and bowel movements begin with well-chewed food. Your food should be liquefied by the time you swallow it. Chew slowly to break down our food well and avoid swallowing lots of air, which increases gas and bloating.
Manage stress. Again, the gut-brain connection is in play. When you practice stress-reduction techniques (e.g., yoga, progressive relaxation, meditation, visualization, exercise), you calm the mind and gut and thus promote better digestion.
Drink coffee. If you’re not already a caffeinated coffee drinker, then skip this suggestion. However, caffeinated coffee may provide a 60 percent stronger impact than water, stimulating your gut to help move traffic along in your intestinal tract. NOTE: Caffeine and coffee can also trigger hot flashes and night sweats for many of us menopausal women, so be mindful of that.
- Ditch dairy. Dairy intolerance is common, and it can cause constipation, gas, and bloating. To see if dairy foods may be a problem for you, eliminate them from your diet for one to two weeks and notice how you feel. If your symptoms improve, chances are dairy is contributing to your problems. Be sure to get your calcium from other sources such as leafy greens, oranges, sardines, and vegetables like collard greens, spinach, kale, bok choy, and Swiss chard.
When to see a health provider
In some cases, digestive problems during perimenopause and menopause mimic symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as persistent abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. If you also experience unexplained weight loss and urinary urgency frequently, you should see your physician.
As women get older, sensitivity to different foods can change. If you suspect you may be experiencing constipation, gas, or bloating from carbohydrates or sugar, for example, you may reduce your intake of these foods and see how you respond. If your constipation, gas, and/or bloating become disruptive to your lifestyle, you should talk with your doctor.
Digestive problems are not uncommon during menopause, and they may begin during perimenopause as well. Constipation, gas, and bloating are among the more common digestive complaints, and you can greatly relieve these symptoms by adopting some simple lifestyle changes.