Menopausal? Here's What To Eat & Avoid For The Sake Of Your Gut Health
Right around the time I turned 40, I felt like I was aging at warp speed. I watched as the hollows deepened under my eyes, the wrinkles in my neck got more prominent, and my hair became thin.
I started playing the blame game: I blamed my fatigue on my busy life as a working mom; I blamed my belly fat on my pregnancies; I blamed my wrinkles on my years of sun exposure; and I blamed my inability to lose weight on my metabolism.
I know I'm not alone in this experience. The hormonal shifts of menopause leave many women in midlife feeling frustrated, tired, and anxious.
But to understand what's causing these body changes during menopause, we actually need to look inward at what's going on in our gut.
Why your gut health might change during menopause
Gut health, brain health, and hormonal health are all closely linked1. In fact, the gastrointestinal tract has its very own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, or ENS, which sends information to your brain through a nerve that runs from your abdomen to your brain stem.
Given this close connection, here are a few reasons that your gut health might change during the menopausal period:
Declining estrogen levels: During menopause, your estrogen levels drop so you no longer ovulate. One of the principle regulators2 of estrogen is the gut microbiome. When estrogen levels are altered, you could experience weight gain or brain fog.
Loss of collagen: By age 40, collagen production declines by around 1 to 1.5% a year. Collagen contains glycine, which helps stabilize the gut, so when you hit menopause, it's necessary to replace the collagen you are naturally losing. If you're looking to get more collagen in your diet, here are nine science-backed options vetted by a nutrition scientist.
Increased stress: So many midlife women I talk to say they are stressed. Some are stuck in self-defeating patterns of overexercising and overeating. Others have become empty-nesters and are not sure what to do with the second part of their lives. When we are stressed, we tend to reach for comfort foods—easy-to-access processed foods or fried foods—which could negatively impact the gut microbiome3 even more.
How to feel better again
Menopausal changes are inevitable, but they don't have to be debilitating. Here are some ways to adapt—and even thrive—in the face of gut health challenges during this time of life:
Fuel your microbiome with "energy carbs."
The health of the gut microbiome is so important to every aspect of our bodies. The microbiome is filled with trillions of microbial cells, most of which are a mix of good and potentially harmful bacteria. When our guts are overfilled with "bad bacteria," we start to feel tired, sluggish, and bloated. During every time in your life—but especially as you get older—it's important to keep the gut cleansed, not clogged.
If a person comes to me feeling drained or depleted, the first place I look is their diet. Oftentimes, I find that people are not eating the right type of carbohydrates for their body. Energy carbs are those that give you energy without spiking your blood sugar too much. They also provide your body with important nutrients like antioxidants and fiber to support digestion and gut health. Some of my favorite energy carbs are sweet potatoes, jicama, and apples.
Fill up on fiber (particularly chia seeds).
If your gut had a favorite food, it'd be fiber. Fiber may also help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, improve cholesterol, and help keep blood pressure in check. Learn all about the lesser-known benefits of dietary fiber here.
I recommend that menopausal women fill up on fiber in the form of fruits, nuts, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Seeds are also beneficial sources of fiber—especially chia seeds. Two tablespoons of chia seeds have almost 10 grams of fiber—that's around 40% of the recommended daily intake4. Chia seeds contain soluble fiber: The same way the seeds gel in your smoothie over time, they gel in your stomach to support digestive ease and regularity5. They are also very satiating and highly nutritious, containing omega-3s and magnesium6.
Drink bone broth.
Drinking bone broth is a great way to replace the collagen you start to lose during midlife. In addition to being high in collagen, bone broth also contains the amino acids glycine and proline—both of which help your body build collagen on its own7. Plus, the glycine in bone broth supports healthy serotonin levels, encouraging deeper and more restful sleep8 (another thing that can take a hit during menopause).
The menopausal period can come with some new gut health challenges. But by making a few changes to your diet, you can help ward off hormonal imbalances and head into this next stage of your life with the confidence to thrive.
Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, M.S., N.D., is a world-renowned expert and leading voice in health and wellness. A frequent contributor on Nationally Syndicated TV programs like Good Morning America, The Talk and Good Day LA, she is also the host of her own highly rated PBS specials. In addition, Dr. Kellyann is a regular contributor to publications like USA Today, Forbes, Everyday Health and Bloomberg. She reaches 428K people across her social media platforms and 3.2M unique visitors to her website monthly.
A New York Times Best Selling author of 10 books translated into 9 languages, Dr. Kellyann’s most recent success is The Bone Broth Breakthrough (2022). Debuting as number 1 in multiple Amazon wellness categories, The Bone Broth Breakthrough was named a number 1 new release and Dr. Kellyann is listed as a Top 10 author on the prestigious Publisher’s Weekly List.
As a naturopathic physician who works with many well-known celebrities, Dr. Kellyann helps people reduce dangerous belly fat, heal digestive discomfort, and feel slimmer, younger, and better. With her simple-to-follow lifestyle changes, Dr. Kellyann empowers others to take control of their health.