What’s Gut Got to Do with It? The Correlation between Gut Health and Menopause

By on March 1, 2013

By Ellen Dolgen –

Approximately 70 million Americans suffer from digestive issues.[i] That’s crazy! Afflictions range from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and from celiac disease (the inability to process gluten) to acid reflux (GERD). Even certain cancers and lactose intolerance fall into this category of digestive despair that seems to be taking over a huge portion of our American population.

If you’re feeling bloated, gassy, or that maybe your gut has decided it’s on lock-down, then you’re not alone. What’s changed in the last ten years to make your stomach hate you? You still love it…somewhat…Digestive issues are definitely part of menopause, but what does gut health have to do with it? As IF we need another thing to worry about, and worrying makes it worse! Grrr…

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First of all, the most common period in one’s life to develop a digestive disease is either immediately following onset of adulthood (usually very early 20’s), or the few years leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause.[ii] This stage typically occurs in the late 30’s to mid-40’s.

When digestive issues occur around the time of perimenopause, symptoms usually include bloating and excessive gas, which is completely linked to a hormonal imbalance.[iii] There’s also (eek!) constipation to worry about. This, on its own, brings on a whole new set of digestive concerns. It’s as if once the ball starts rolling, it will just keep on, gathering speed, until it hits a roadblock.

So, what’s this roadblock I speak of?

The good news about digestive issues is that typically, they are fully controllable by you. You need to initiate the roadblock. Too many women (woman are twice as likely to suffer from digestive problems as men are.[iv] I know—no surprise there…) assume that digestive issues that stem from the onset of menopause are inevitable and untreatable. Not so, ladies! Read on…

Here are some ways to combat digestive problems and improve overall gut health during menopause:

1- Think about what you are eating. Every bite of food than enters your body will have an effect on your gut. By supplying your tummy with foods that are easily digestible and full of nutrients, you can help your body ward off most symptoms, such as constipation, gas, and bloating. A friend of mine, who has written extensively about gut health, recommends the following:

–       Know where you’re at in regards to lactose intolerance. People who cannot process dairy products easily (this is MOST of us) are much more likely to have way more gas and bloating. Dairy contains lactose, which is sugar. When sugar is broken down, it creates gas. Which brings us to…

–       Limit your sugar. This includes alcohol. (Don’t cry—I said limit…) Sugar equals gas. Gas equals bloating. Plain and simple.

–       Know if your foods are high in animal hormones. Extra hormones from our food contribute highly to extra hormones in our bodies. Menopause is NOT the right time to allow extra hormones to run amuck. Cows raised for beef have often been injected with a ton of growth hormones. Same for dairy cows. If you eat alot of red meat and dairy, opt for organic products, because those have not been hormone-injected.

–       Drink alot of water. Water detoxes your body, and this is important. It also helps to flush out fat, which we all know is a major issue for menopausal women. That spare tire around your middle should not be inevitable when you combine the right hormone treatments with the correct diet.

–       Think “nutrient-dense.” Everything you eat should contribute to cell growth and repair, ideally. When your body is fighting through menopause, you can give it a leg up by supplying it with foods that are extremely high in vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, fiber, etc. Fiber helps with constipation, and the rest helps to create an optimal state of health; particularly in the gut. I also take 400 mg magnesium caps once a day, every night, and this has helped me with this issue. Ask your doctor!

–       Consider taking digestive enzymes and probiotics. These magical little pills make a world of difference to your gut flora. They can help break down sugars, starches, proteins, etc. If you are sensitive to a certain food, or perhaps just have an overworked, overloaded gut, these health-food store superstars could become your new BFFs! (Just don’t tell Susan- she wouldn’t understand.)

2- Move that body! Exercise helps to stable hormone levels, improve mood, and…regulate the digestive system! By going for twenty-minute walks every day, you can improve menopause symptoms, as well as combat constipation.

3- Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT). By regulating your hormones, you will regulate your digestive system, and, in turn, improve gut health.

4- I realize that this is easier said than done, but try to limit stress. Stress is disease-provoking, and creates a situation within the body called “fight or flight.” When this occurs, systems that your body deems temporarily unnecessary are slowed down. One such system is the digestive system. Chronic stress creates a slow, inefficient gut. This increases constipation, and diminishes overall health. Perceived stress also is very much tied to the gut, itself. A little known fact is that we have just as many nerve endings in our gut, as we do in our brain and spinal cord. Since menopause can be very stressful, please try and practice stress-relieving techniques that will help your emotional health, as well as your digestive health. Practices such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing help reduce menopausal symptoms (and improve digestive health) considerably.

Since digestive disorder numbers are only on the rise, prevent yourself from being a statistic. By practicing good habits for improved gut health, you will also improve your experience with menopause. Who doesn’t want a truly great menopausal experience?! If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re staring your food down, western-style, begging it to show you some kind of goodness that you can benefit from, then it’s probably not a good food. Good food doesn’t have to justify itself- bad food does. If you are having a hard time deciding what food is good or bad- just go with your gut!

Remember: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in Silence is OUT!

Ellen is the author of Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness — a cut-to-the-chase book on perimenopause and menopause that’s filled with crucial information, helpful guides, and hilarious and heartfelt stories. For more from Ellen Dolgen: Visit her at EllenDolgen.com and subscribe to her Menopause Mondays newsletter. Like Ellen on Facebook, follow Ellen Dolgen on Twitter, Pinterest, Klout, Google + and watch her videos on YouTube.

About Ellen Dolgen

For Ellen Dolgen, menopause education is a mission. Spurred by her own experience struggling with the symptoms of menopause, Dolgen has devoted the last ten years of her life to helping other women during this often difficult time. While she’s not a doctor or scientist, she’s “talked the talk” with countless menopause experts, so that she can “walk the menopause walk” and share the keys to this menopause kingdom.

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What’s Gut Got to Do with It? The Correlation between Gut Health and Menopause