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Women Have More Frequent & Severe GI Issues Around Menopause: Here's What To Do

Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
Author:
December 22, 2022
Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor
By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor
Gretchen Lidicker earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”
Young Woman With Hand on Stomach
Image by Jimena Roquero
December 22, 2022

The bodily changes that occur during perimenopause and menopause make many women feel like they're on a hormonal roller coaster. It's common to feel out of control and like you're not quite sure what's around the next bend. Symptoms like anxiety, irritability, and hot flashes tend to get a lot of attention during these phases of life, but according to one new study1, women over 50 also often experience more severe gas and bloating than they do during other times of their lives. 

Let's dive into what the researchers learned about these gastrointestinal symptoms—and what might help mitigate them. 

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Studying indigestion, nausea, and bloating during menopause.

Published in the journal Menopause, this study analyzed data from more than 1,000 women to explore the link between menopause status and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. It found a statistically significant association for both the number and severity of symptoms.

The results showed that women are statistically more likely to experience nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, heartburn, weight gain, and bloating during premenopausal, perimenopausal, and postmenopausal states. Interestingly, the only GI symptom that wasn't more prevalent and more severe during these states was weight loss. 

Some of the study's most striking observations were racial and ethnic associations. For example, Asian participants reported a lower number and lower total severity of GI symptoms, while non-Hispanic white participants had higher total severity scores than other groups, especially for nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and loss of appetite. Meanwhile, Hispanic participants were more likely to have higher severity scores for constipation, weight gain, and bloating. 

The estrogen-gut health link to know about.

The hormonal changes that accompany menopause typically start well before age 50 and are characterized by a gradual loss of female sex hormones—mainly estrogen. As the primary female sex hormone, estrogen plays a role in breast development and mood and menstrual cycle regulation, as well as other more surprising aspects of well-being like bone, heart, and skin health. As you near menopause, your ovaries produce less estrogen, causing your body's estrogen levels to decline. According to the study, this change in estrogen levels likely explains the flair in GI symptoms experienced during this time. 

As it turns out, there's a well-known link between estrogen and digestion. For example, a review of 18 studies2 found a clear link between times of declining or low ovarian hormones and an increase in GI symptoms, suggesting that estrogen (and progesterone, the other main female sex hormone) withdrawal may contribute either directly or indirectly to GI distress. If you've ever found yourself running to the bathroom before or during your period, you've already experienced this connection in action. 

There's still quite a bit of mystery surrounding the ins and outs of the relationship between hormonal health and gut health, but previous research has shown that there's a lot of interplay between sex hormones and the microbiome. The authors of one study3 explain that sex hormones influence the gut microbiota due to their involvement in microbial metabolism, and in turn, the gut microbiota influence sex hormone levels. 

According to the North American Menopause Society, levels of cortisol (often referred to as the main "stress" hormone) also increase during menopause. This can initiate an increase in adrenaline, which can lead to changes in digestive function. As this organization explains it: "For example, gas could build up with bloating. Foods could go through the GI tract without being fully broken down, resulting in constipation." For many of us, this is pretty relatable. It's common to end up with a stomachache, bloat, or heartburn during stressful periods in our lives. 

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All-in-one support for hormone and gut health.

So, now on to the most important issue at hand: If there's a link between hormonal health and gut health, how do you promote a healthy relationship between the two? Fortunately, there's a superpower tool at your disposal to simultaneously support both hormone and gut health. Enter: probiotic-rich foods and supplements.

You've probably heard about probiotics before. These "friendly" bacteria are found naturally in fermented foods (think kimchi, yogurt, and kefir) and can be a powerful tool for promoting overall health. A well-formulated probiotic supplement can also ease digestive distress and holistically support your gut microbiome throughout all stages of your life, regardless of your age or gender. In fact, it has also been shown that poor gut health can affect testosterone production4 in men, so investing in a healthy microbiome really behooves us all. To get you started, here's a list of our favorite probiotic supplements

The takeaway.

New research finds that women over 50 tend to experience more severe gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable GI symptoms—yet another important reminder to prioritize gut health throughout all stages of life using probiotic-rich foods and supplements.

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Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor

Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.