Your Digestion: Menopause Edition
Most of us heard about the hot flashes and mood swings of peri/menopause long before we experienced them —but why didn’t anyone tell us about the digestion issues? Many women in peri/menopause experience increased gastrointestinal issues like bloating, nausea, indigestion, and irregularity due to declining hormone levels, which have an overall impact on the gut microbiome. In particular, a decrease in estrogen hormone levels and an increase in cortisol hormone levels are associated with a higher occurrence of gastrointestinal discomfort.
But just because they’re common, doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about them.
Preventing Menopause-Related Digestive Issues
As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And this saying absolutely applies to perimenopausal GI issues and symptoms related to them.
Some prevention is symptom-specific. For instance, if you’re experiencing heartburn, you should avoid acidic food and drinks that could trigger it, while people who do not can probably continue to enjoy their citrus fruits and kombucha. Other prevention tactics are simply good practices for all of us: Avoiding saturated fat, getting adequate amounts of fiber, and enjoying a plant-based diet are all good rules of thumb for supporting gut health and decreasing the risk of gastrointestinal distress.
Other ways to prevent digestive issues include:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. As we age, we are at greater risk of dehydration — so you’ll want to pay more attention to how much water you consume in a day than you did in the past. Drinking enough water
aids digestion so there is less irritation and improved regularity — and that’s just one of the many health benefits you can reap from drinking enough water each day.
Eat smaller meals more often. When you eat a big meal, it’s easy to overload the digestive system, making it more likely that you’ll run into some digestive problems. But while eating smaller meals helps prevent that, you still need to eat enough for adequate nutrition — so don’t start skipping out on meals altogether. Aim to consume five to six mini-meals a day.
- Enjoy probiotic foods. As mentioned above, hormonal fluctuations can have a negative impact on your gut microbiome and the colonies of microorganisms that live there. Eating a variety of probiotic foods introduces “good bacteria” to your gut which, in turn, aids and improves digestion. Plus, many of them have the added benefit of being delicious.
Treating Menopause-Related Digestive Issues
But between the unpredictability of life and menopause-related hormonal fluctuations, preventing digestive issues isn’t always in the cards. Having digestive issues from time to time is normal, and luckily, there are many well-known home remedies fo mild digestive discomfort.
Peppermint tea has an antispasmodic effect on the body, making it a great choice for relieving stomach problems like nausea and indigestion.
Baking soda is basic, so it naturally tempers increased acidity in the stomach. Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to 4 ounces of warm water and drink to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, or acid indigestion. This is a great option if you don’t have any OTC antacids on hand.
- Yoga is a great way to relax the body and distract the mind from your digestive symptoms. Plus, the gentle movement and various twisting poses can help release gas from the system, relieve bloating, and instigate bowel movements.
Persistent digestive issues that resist prevention and at-home treatment should be addressed by your doctor. Certain gastrointestinal disorders necessitate a doctor-monitored elimination diet to determine triggers that should be cut out of the diet completely. Furthermore, some GI issues are best treated with medication or even surgery. But the most important reason to talk to your doctor about your digestive issues is to rule out that it is actually a symptom of a bigger problem such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, or gallbladder disease. After all, all of the major and minor systems in our bodies are intrinsically connected. Addressing even a seemingly insignificant issue can make a big impact on your overall well-being and quality of life.