Food sensitivities & digestive troubles during menopause

Eileen Durward
Ask Eileen

24 April 2017

Read the full video transcript below

Today's topic

Hello and welcome to my weekly video blog. And today on A.Vogel Talks Menopause, I'm going to be talking about sensitivity reactions to food. Now, for those of you who watched a couple of weeks ago, you'll know I was talking about hayfever, and how certain things in the menopause can make us more sensitive to all sorts of things like air pollution and pollen and fur and feather. 
But a lot of women find that during the menopause, they start to get sensitivities to certain foods.

Food intolerance / sensitivity symptoms

Now, these could be foods that they've never had a problem with before, and then suddenly they find that if they take these particular foods, they can end up getting things like terrible indigestion, or bloating, or even constipation, or itchy skin. They can get headaches. Some foods can actually trigger hot flushes.

Reasons behind food sensitivities during menopause

So there's a whole raft of reasons why this can actually happen, and it's all to do with the falling oestrogen. So we know that first of all as your oestrogen starts to fall, it can interfere with what's called your gut motility.

Gut motility

Now, gut motility just basically means the time it takes for your broken down food to move from one end of the digestive tract to the other.
If you have a good transit time, then you're unlikely to get bloating and all sorts of discomfort. But if your gut motility slows down, the food may actually end up spending another day or two inside the digestive system. And when this slows down, you'll end up getting fermentation, you'll get gases produced, and this will give you the bloating feeling. And because it's been sitting in there a lot longer, your stools are likely to be harder, and it can be more difficult to pass, and that will then give you the constipation.

Liver stress

We also know that the falling hormones can stress the liver. Now, one of the things the liver does is it produces bile, and bile is known to help with breaking down your fats, but bile also triggers gut motility as well.

So, if you're getting poor liver function and your oestrogen slowing the gut down, you can then compound the problem. And if your liver is a bit stressed, sometimes you can start to feel a bit nauseous after certain foods, especially if you've had quite a high fatty food, you might find yourself feeling very uncomfortable and all this kind of bloating and just feeling not right going on.

Emotional stress

We know that stress can be a big issue, and it has lots of things that it does in the menopause. But what happens here is, if you are suffering from stress and anxiety in the menopause, that will affect your digestive system. You go into this flight or fight mode, and that can end up switching your digestive system on and off throughout the day. If your digestive system is switched off, wherever the food is in the gut, it will just start to ferment, it will give you all this bloating and discomfort all over again.

Not enough friendly bacteria

Now, the other thing that's really important here, and this is where possibly the food sensitivity start to appear. We know that your friendly bacteria are very important in the menopause. They're very important for your digestion and for your elimination. So, if the whole aspect and everything that goes on in the menopause starts to affect the level of our friendly bacteria in the digestive system, they can fall, and that will not only affect your digestion and elimination, but it will also affect your immune system. Seventy five percent of your immune system functions from the gut, and your immune system needs the friendly bacteria there.
So if you're eating certain foods that, throughout all these different things that are happening, is sitting there in the digestive tract for longer than normal, then your immune system can actually get a bit worried, and start off seeing it as something foreign, and you then end up with food sensitivities, which means that each time you eat that food, you will get some kind of reaction to it, either extra-digestive problems or, as I mentioned before, you might find that you get the headaches, the itchy skin, or even the hot flushes.

Common food culprits to avoid

Now, what sort of foods are likely to do this? It could be anything. You know, it could be your favorite food, it could be something quite healthy. But on the whole, it tends to be foods such as wheat and dairy, high salt and sugar foods, alcohol and caffeine, and it's amazing how many women actually get in touch with me and say, "I can't cope with alcohol anymore. The minute I take it, I feel sick, or it gives me a headache, or... Caffeine gives me the palpitations, or I end up getting really, really, really itchy skin when I eat chocolate cake." So, you can end up with a whole raft of symptoms. And as I say, it could be just any food that you're eating.
And I know for some people it can be things like tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, and fruits. Especially acidic fruits can be another group of culprits as well.

How you can help yourself

So what can you do to help yourself in this situation? First of all, if you're starting to get a lot of these symptoms and you're not quite sure which food it is, then have a little diary. I love diaries because they can really show what's going on, that you wouldn't normally notice if you were just going through your daily tasks. 

Keep a food diary for a few weeks

So have a food diary for maybe a couple of weeks. Write down everything that you're eating and drinking. And if you're getting any of these sensitivity issues, then look back to an hour or so before you had the symptoms, then maybe look back 12 hours as well. And you might find there's a pattern going on and a certain group of foods are starting to cause these particular problems.

Cut out common food triggers

I would in general cut wheat and dairy down anyway. Now, the reason being is wheat products are very difficult to digest. They're very high carbohydrate, and we also know that high carb foods can cause or be a participant in weight gain in the menopause. So they're best avoided in any case.
Dairy as well for a lot of people. It can be mucus-forming, it can really upset your digestion. And I know a lot of you out there will be going, "But I have dairy for calcium for my bones." You can have a really calcium-rich diet without dairy. You know, so long as you include plenty of nuts and seeds, dark green leafy veg into your daily diet, you're not really going to go amiss there. And you know, remember there are loads of cultures around the world who don't have dairy as part of their daily diet, and, you know, they don't necessarily have any problems with their bones. So you can get loads of calcium from other really good, healthy sources.

Look at how you are eating

The other thing is look at how you are eating, because that could be quite a big issue. We're all in a rush, we're all busy, and I'm just as guilty as anybody here. If I'm at my desk, if I'm in the office, very often I'll eat lunch at my desk, and I'll be hunched up. The minute you hunch up, you stop the stomach from working properly, and that can slow down a lot of your digestion as well, and that will contribute to the bloating, it will contribute to indigestion. So sitting up straight is really a good thing to do.
And remember, you know, when we were kids, our parents would say, "Sit up straight at the table with elbows back." And to be honest, it's a really good way to eat. And eat slowly, take your time, and also sit for 5 or 10 minutes after you've eaten before you rush up. If you rush up really quickly and start to panic about what you've got to do, you will switch your digestive system off, and that certainly won't help at all.

Some herbal helpers

Now, what sort of herbal remedies could you look at to help this situation too? If you're getting a lot of indigestion, and this is quite an interesting one, because an awful lot of women are ending up with indigestion in the menopause, it's not being associated with the menopause, they're going to the doctor and they're getting put on low acid medication, which can cause all sorts of other problems as well.

So, if you're getting the indigestion, look out for bitters. Bitter herbs will set up your digestive system, they will get everything ready, and that will really be a wonderful aid for stomach digestion. We have a lovely remedy called Centaurium, which you could certainly try if that's your situation.
If you're getting a lot of general bloating, if you feel that you're really sluggish, if you're getting that little bit of nausea, or you're getting the itchy skin after you're eating, then the Milk Thistle Complex would be a lovely one to try maybe for a couple of months just to give your liver a lovely bit of extra TLC. 
If you find that your friendly bacteria are not working well, if you've had antibiotics, if you've had lots of other medication as well, that can sometimes affect the friendly bacteria. If you've had a lot of stress, then we can look at remedies such as our Molkosan or Molkosan Fruit.
And if you're really struggling with constipation, and it's important not to get constipated because constipation can actually be a contributory factor in hot flushes and itchy skin as well. So, we need to keep our bowels working really well. You can look at remedies such as natural laxatives or even our Linoforce.
So, there's lots of things that you can do for yourself to try and avoid the food sensitivities. But if you do get them, then as I say, just do the diary for a few weeks and you'll probably find which foods are the actual culprits, and then you can just avoid them.

A little word of warning

Now, just one little word of warning here. If you are getting a lot of bloating, if you've had it for a while, if it tends to be all the time, if you're getting a lot or pain or a lot of discomfort, it's really important to get this checked out by your doctor as well just to make sure that there's nothing else going on.
So, I hope you find this a helpful one. We've sort of straddled a couple of subjects here, and I look forward to seeing you next week on A.Vogel Talks Menopause.

What our Digestion expert Ali says...

If you find that your digestion has worsened during the menopause, the advice that Eileen gives here will help significantly. It can seem like a lot of effort to focus on how you eat as well as what you eat, but you’ll find it pays dividends in how well you feel.

You can find lots more advice from Ali on our Digestion pages, including information and advice on IBS, acid reflux, bloating, food intolerances and more. You can also ask Ali your digestion questions.


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  • Melanie's photo avatar
    Melanie — 12.06.2017 15:42
    Hello Eileen, I am 45 years and started on HRT 6 months ago after months of severe symptoms. After changing my dosage from Femoston 1/10 to 2/10 I have finally been relieved of all my symptoms. However I am suffering from severe bloating, gas, water retention and weight gain. I eat a healthy diet and excercise 4-5 times per week but the weight is continuing to creep up. I am considering coming off the HRT and seeing if I can control everything naturally. However I didn't have much success with Sage drops or Agnus Castnus previously. Which off your natural tablets would you recommend if I stopped the HRT and would they also cause bloating etc? I do drink fizzy water when I go out but will now stop after reading your water blog! Thank you for any advice offered.


    • Eileen's photo avatar
      Eileen — 13.06.2017 10:28
      Hi Melanie Unfortunately, falling oestrogen in the menopause can affect our digestion causing bloating, cramping etc and it could also be possible that the HRT is having some effect as well. I would suggest a combination of Milk Thistle Complex (to help the liver which often gets overwhelmed in the menopause and this can affect digestion too) and also a probiotic as low friendly bacteria can be a factor in bloating – a company called Optibac do a great one called Flat Stomach! Water retention can be caused by dehydration so remember to drink lots of plain water. The usual methods of dieting such as going on a low fat, calorie counting diet and exercising like mad don’t work in the menopause and will almost always cause weight gain. In the menopause your nervous system (adrenals) are brought into play and will cause almost constant ‘flight or fight’ responses. So if you cut calories and go low fat the body thinks there is a famine and will slow down your metabolism. The same with exercise, the more you do the more the body thinks it is losing energy reserves so it will store as much food as it can as fat! The secret in the menopause is to eat enough calories for your intended weight needs, cut carbs but increase good fats and protein, this fools the body into thinking there is plenty so will keep your metabolism running well. Exercise needs to be hard and swift, if you are fit enough, such as HIIT, to fool the body into thinking there is no energy loss threat and only do every other day to allow your body to rest and recuperate. It is very hard, when you get to the menopause, having to rethink how you manage your weight as we have been almost brainwashed into thinking low calorie, low fat diets with lots of exercise will help! You may find books on the Low GL Diet or the Paleo Diet or the SIRT Diet helpful. Some HRTs have weight gain as a side effect so it is a good idea to check the leaflet to see if this is the case with the HRT you are taking.


  • Bobbie Jo's photo avatar
    Bobbie Jo — 01.05.2017 01:22
    I am 52 years and have started pre-menopause. My uterus has been getting larger over the last 8 years. When I have a period...this causes my periods to be very heavy. I feel like I am 5 months pregnant. Is there any advise for what to do for a growing uterus?


    • Eileen's photo avatar
      Eileen — 03.05.2017 08:13
      Hello Bobbie, The best advice here is to get this checked out by the doctor, as you are having heavy bleeding as well, this is not good for you. The GP will be able to get to the root cause of your symptoms to see what is going on for you.


  • Janice 's photo avatar
    Janice — 25.04.2017 16:09
    I was diagnosed with IBS in 2005 and although when I'm stressed it is very disabling and I can only eat raw food (nothing green) bananas and porridge and probiotic drinks on the whole I can manage the condition enough to help me function. I have just realized reading this:- Food sensitivities & digestive troubles during menopause that the IBS started almost 2 years after my first noticeable menopause symtoms started. I could eat anything before 2005 without any problems. Is there a link between women of a certain age suffering from IBS and hormonal symptoms, are we being incorrectly diagnosed.


    • Eileen's photo avatar
      Eileen — 27.04.2017 14:38
      Hi Janice, Menopause doesn’t cause IBS, but as oestrogen levels fall digestion can become more sluggish and less efficient, exacerbating any symptoms that were present already. This is because oestrogen receptors are present along the gut wall. You can counter this by paying plenty of attention to how you eat, always relaxing when eating, chewing extremely thoroughly, not drinking within 30 minutes of food, etc. Some people find that taking bitter herbs also helps because it improves production of digestive enzymes. Anything that improves bowel transit time will also help.


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