What are the 3 worst digestive symptoms of menopause?

Digestive symptoms in perimeneopause and menopause

Eileen Durward
Ask Eileen

19 December 2022

Today's Topic

Today on A.Vogel Talks Menopause, I'm going to be looking at the three worst digestive symptoms.

Digestive symptoms are so common in perimenopause and menopause. There are many, many different ones and very often they are not consciously connected to perimenopause or menopause. Women often worry about the fact that suddenly, their digestion is going all over the place and they have no idea why.

So today, I'm going to look at the three most common and often the most symptoms, why they happen, and what you can do to help yourself.

1. Constipation

Constipation is one of the most common symptoms, and this can also affect so many other symptoms. What we know is that there are lots of oestrogen receptor sites throughout the digestive tract. When your oestrogen levels start to decrease, that will have a direct effect on your digestion, absorption, and transit time.

Transit time is the time from when you've eaten your meal until you open your bowels to go to the toilet. In normal circumstances, if you're eating three meals a day, then you should be going at least twice a day and you should be going within, maximum, 24 hours of when you've eaten that last meal.

For a lot of women, when everything starts to slow down, they may be taking twice as long. So, you could still be regular. You could still think, "Oh, I'm going every day. I'm going twice a day." But it's taking twice as long for everything to pass all the way through. When this transit time is slower, everything is just going to be sitting in the gut. It's going to be fermenting so it's going to cause a lot of bloating. It's going to cause a lot of discomfort because you might feel that you're really full and your stomach's hard, and you get the bulge. Some people tell me that they look as if they're pregnant because their lower tummy is just bulging out and expanding so much.

If everything is stuck there for days instead of being eliminated, that's going to cause fatigue. It's going to cause headaches. It's going to cause foggy brain, and if you've got stress as well, that can compound the problem and slow things down even further. So, constipation is a really important one to deal with as quickly as you possibly can.

So, how do you tell how long it takes for your food to get all the way through your gut and be eliminated? You can do either the sweet corn test or the beetroot test. So, in your main meal, you need to have some nice portions of sweet corn and try not to chew it too much, or you can have a really good portion of beetroot. Both of these will show up when you open your bowel.

Sweet corn very rarely gets broken down so that would be quite evident. And beetroot will tend to turn everything a purple-y colour. That will give you a good guide as to how long everything is taking to get through the gut. So, if it's more than 24 hours, you know you need to do something. If you're only going to the toilet every two or three days, that really needs to be sorted because it's not going to be good for you.

What can help?

So the main things to do here: drink loads of water because dehydration will affect digestion and elimination as well; have more fibre in your diet and make sure it's the right kind of fibre. Don't have platefuls of bran because you will just blow up like a balloon. Instead, eat more fresh vegetables, a little bit of fruit, and whole grains, such as brown bread, wholemeal bread, brown pasta,and brown rice. They can all help to improve elimination.

If you're really stuck, a glass of prune juice is one of the old-fashioned favourite that can work really, really well.

Another thing that can help is going for a good walk every day. If you are walking, this movement is helping to massage the whole of your digestive tract. And that will help to keep everything moving through. So, walking is great for your mental health, it's good for controlling your weight, and it's also good for your elimination.

2. Wind and Bloating

Wind and bloating are associated with constipation, but they can also occur if you're eating too many carbohydrates. Especially if your digestion is a bit slower, carbs are going to sit there. Again, they are going to ferment and that's going to cause a lot of wind as well.

Also, if you're sitting a lot, your digestion isn't getting that massage from being active, and that's going to cause the bloating.

What can help?

Again, water is really important. Get the fibre into you as well but not the refined carbohydrates. Maybe cut out things like white pasta and rice, and try to really cut down on your bread. You could also take a probiotic. That can be very, very helpful for bloating and for wind.

3. Heartburn and reflux

Heartburn and gastric reflux are often not picked up as being menopause symptoms, but they seem to be very common problems.

This is very often due to low acidity. Falling oestrogen levels can decrease the production of stomach acid. If you're not getting enough stomach acid, your food is not being broken down effectively in your stomach, so it's sitting in the stomach and starts to ferment so that's going to put pressure on the stomach valve. You might get acid reflux, and you may also get that burning sensation around the upper stomach and heart area.

Very often this can happen because you're sitting at your desk or sitting in front of the TV eating. When you are eating, your stomach needs plenty of room for the walls to move to mash everything up with digestive enzymes, to break everything down.

So, if you're sitting hunched over, with your food on your lap, or sitting at your desk, your stomach can't actually break things down properly. So, of course, everything is just going to sit there and ferment. This can also happen if you're eating on the run, if you're really busy and you're going from A to B and you're trying to eat, trying to drive, trying to work. Again, if you're really busy, your digestive juices are not going to kick in and everything is just going to sit there as well.

What can help?

There is a herb called Century which is known to help to improve stomach function. Remember to relax when you eat and remember to eat at the table. You may remember your parents saying, "Sit up at the table with your elbows down." It's very sensible advice, because that allows your stomach to work properly.

Also, remember to take your time and chew really well. And this is a little bit of homework for everybody. The majority of people eat too quickly, and digestion starts in the mouth. So, if you chomp, chomp, swallow, there are going to be big lumps of food in your stomach and that's going to cause a lot of problems. So, you need to chew each mouthful 20 times.

Try it. You will be amazed because it takes ages. But one of the great things about chewing 20 times is that it will take longer for you to eat your meal and you may find that you get fuller more quickly, and you can end up eating less food. So, it's a nice way of helping you to monitor how much food you are actually eating.

Other digestive symptoms that can arise during perimenopause and menopause

Other digestive issues are quite common, including diarrhoea. You may also find that if you have IBS as you're approaching menopause, your symptoms get worse. So, these are other areas where you can maybe look to improve your digestion.

I hope you found this one helpful. It's such a big issue and I think when I first concluded that digestive problems are part of menopause, it was really quite a surprise because it's all-encompassing, the whole way from the mouth right the way through to the bowel.

If any of you out there have any other tips, if you have experienced any other digestive problems and you're wondering whether it's part of the perimenopause or the menopause, please do comment. And until then, I will see you next week for another edition of A.Vogel Talks Menopause.

You may also find these topics helpful:

Why does digestion get worse in perimenopause and menopause?

5 signs your digestion is struggling during menopause

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