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Digestive Health

menopause and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

By | Fact Checked |

Menopause and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a relationship that experts are still trying to understand completely. You can join us on this exploration of this transitional stage of life and how a common gastrointestinal condition that mostly affects women fits into the picture.

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic common disorder that impacts the large intestine. Approximately 25 to 45 million people in the United States and up to 10 percent of the world’s population have IBS. Two-thirds of those affected are female.

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Signs and symptoms of IBS include bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea and/or constipation, mucus in stool, and gas. Most individuals with IBS experience mild to moderate symptoms that can be managed by making changes to diet, stress management, and lifestyle. Although IBS can be life-changing, it does not damage the bowel or increase a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The main cause of IBS is a severe episode of gastroenteritis caused by a virus or bacteria. Similarly, this disorder may be caused by an excessive amount of bacteria (bacterial overgrowth) in the intestinal tract. Another cause may be significant stress early in life, as people who have experienced a lot of stress, particularly during childhood, often have more IBS symptoms. 

How is irritable bowel syndrome associated with menopause?

Both IBS and menopause have an effect on the gastrointestinal system as well as the symptoms associated with it. For example, declining levels of estrogen and progesterone during perimenopause and menopause can reduce the transport time of food through the gastrointestinal system. This in turn can lead to constipation, gas, and bloating, all symptoms of IBS. 

Irritable bowel syndrome can develop during the menopause years. In addition, women who already have the disorder before entering the transitional years may experience worsening symptoms. One study has also shown that postmenopausal women with IBS have worse symptoms than do premenopausal women with IBS. No similar worsening of symptoms with age were seen among men with IBS.

Estrogen and progesterone also play another role in the gastrointestinal system that can affect IBS. These hormones help the body make the stomach acid and bile necessary to break down food. Declines in these hormones can contribute to constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and acid reflux. Lower levels of bile affect fat digestion.

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How to manage irritable bowel syndrome naturally 

You can adopt several lifestyle changes that can help you manage irritable bowel syndrome naturally. Most of them involves dietary modifications.

Check your fiber intake. Most women don’t get enough fiber: 25 to 30 grams daily is recommended. If you experience constipation, adding fiber to your diet can help soften stool using a fiber supplement. Do so slowly: a few additional grams every few days until you experience improvement in bowel movements.

Cut the fat. If you have trouble digesting fatty foods, reduce your intake. However, be sure to still include healthy fats in your diet, such as avocado, olive oil, and nuts, in moderation.

Check out a low-FODMAP diet. This diet involves eliminating foods that can make IBS symptoms worse and then reintroducing them into your diet to identify which ones are causing symptoms. FODMAPs stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These substances are present in certain fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and grains. It is suggested you work with a professional who is familiar with FODMAP for best results.

Manage stress. Mild symptoms often can be controlled by incorporating stress reduction techniques into your life. Starting your day with a brief meditation, deep breathing exercises, or tai chi can help set the tone for the day, while ending the day with a relaxing routine that includes visualization and a hot cup of chamomile tea are just a few ideas.

Consider probiotics. Taking beneficial bacteria supplements and/or including probiotic foods in your diet may help relieve IBS symptoms, according to some research of nearly 1,800 individuals. The meta-analysis and review noted that use of probiotics when compared with placebo resulted in a reduction in pain and symptom severity. 

Try peppermint. If you experience diarrhea as a major symptom of IBS, then enteric-coated peppermint oil may help reduce abdominal pain, urgency, bloating, and pain while passing stool. A new 2022 study that involved more than 1,000 individuals notes that taking a specially coated tablet containing peppermint oil relieves IBS symptoms better than placebo, although there were more adverse effects in the peppermint oil group. 

Seek support. The emotional support and exchange of ideas you can get from joining a support group, real or virtual, can be priceless. Search online or ask your doctor about local groups in your area or visit any of the many websites about IBS.

When to see your doctor

If you experience persistent or prolonged changes in bowel habits or worsening of any of your IBS symptoms, contact your physician. You also should call your doctor if you notice unusual weight loss, rectal bleeding, iron deficiency anemia, unexplained vomiting, diarrhea at night, or trouble swallowing, or persistent pain that doesn’t go away or reduce when having a bowel movement or passing gas.

Bottom line

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder affecting women, and it can newly arise during menopause or cause worsening symptoms as hormones change. Dietary changes can be helpful in managing the bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other symptoms.

  • Didari T et al. Effectiveness of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome: Updated systematic review with meta-analysis. World Journal of Gastroenterology 2015 Mar 14; 21(10):3072-84.
  • IBS facts and statistics. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders
  • Ingrosso MR et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis: efficacy of peppermint oil in irritable bowel syndrome. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics 2022 Sep; 56(6):932-41.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. Mayo Clinic
  • Lenhart A et al. Postmenopausal women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have more severe symptoms than premenopausal women with IBS. Neurogastroenterology and Motility 2020 Oct; 32(10):e13913.
  • Sherrell Z. What to know about menopause and irritable bowel syndrome. Medical News Today 2022 Feb 17
Andrea is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) & Menopause Expert. Andrea is in menopause & has been researching for the last 5 years science-based ingredients and methods to help women manage their symptoms. She’s the Founder of—a multiple award-winning website. Andrea co-authored the book “Unjunk Your Junk Food” published by Simon and Schuster, as well as “Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart,” and “Label Lessons: Unjunk Your Kid’s Lunch Box.” Andrea co-hosts the Morphus for Menopause podcast and appears as a Healthy Living Expert on TV across North America. Andrea has more than 20 years of experience in the health & wellness space and is a multiple award-winning Influencer.