By Jennifer Upton
As if managing the hot flashes and mood swings weren’t enough, many women experience digestive problems during perimenopause and menopause.
Now, along with sweating and feeling grumpy, some of us are plagued with farts and diarrhea.
While letting out the occasional one-cheek-sneak is no big deal, those who suffer from the more severe symptoms are often limited to activities close to a bathroom.
Each person will have different symptoms, which vary in severity and might include:
- stomach pains or cramps
- wind or trapped wind, and rumbling noises
- bowel urgency
- bowel incontinence
- the sensation that you are not completely emptying the bowels
- heartburn, indigestion or acid reflux
ESTROGEN AND THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
As with all things menopausal, a shift in hormone levels causes the symptoms.
The digestive system and intestines include cells that react to estrogen.
Estrogen levels in your body are declining, which may impact how well your gut functions.
The decline in estrogen also affects other hormones that have a part in digestion, such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Before seeking treatment, it’s important to see a physician to determine that the symptoms are in fact menopause-related.
Once other conditions are ruled out, you can begin the path to symptom management.
Managing the myriad of digestive symptoms during perimenopause and menopause is very similar to managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD).
WAYS TO MANAGE SYMPTOMS
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
While many women find the increased estrogen levels eases their digestive symptoms, research conducted by The Canadian GI Society shows that it may actually cause IBS.
Like it or not, symptom management includes diet management.
There are many ways to monitor and improve digestive problems by controlling diet:
Keep a food/drink diary. Write a list of the foods you eat every day. This will help you identify trigger foods and intolerances. Write everything down, no matter how small the amount!
Try an elimination diet. This diet removes all the suspect trigger foods all at once and gradually adds them back, both one at a time separately and in different combinations. Yes, it’s boring and restrictive, but as Ringo once sang, “You know, it don’t come easy.”
Eat smaller meals more often
Avoid spicy and acidic foods
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water!
If constipation is a problem, eat plenty of fibre
If wind is a problem, avoid legumes and carbohydrates
Supplements and herbal remedies
- Probiotics or yogurt with live active cultures (People who are lactose-intolerant can take tablets)
- Peppermint oil. Research has shown it helps ease cramps and improves digestion. Fresh mint tea is delicious and relaxing. Peppermint tablets are widely available internationally.
To help correlate your diet diary with your symptoms, download the free mySysters symptom tracker to log and discuss your symptoms with others.
We’ve all read about or know someone who was so stressed that they became nauseous or developed an ulcer from working a high-stress job.
Stress can cause or exacerbate menopause-related digestive issues.
Perimenopause and Menopause is a stressful time when the body is going through incredible natural changes in preparation for the next phase of life.
According to research, not only can the discomfort of digestive symptoms associated with lower estrogen levels cause stress in an individual, but “Psychological stress may aggravate the natural fall in estrogen,” effectively creating a low estrogen stress feedback loop.
This is why managing stress is so important.
Stress Management Tools
- Go for long walks, preferably somewhere quiet, outdoors in nature.
- Spend time with people who are supportive. Meet up with family members or friends who make you laugh.
- Avoid chronic complainers. You don’t have cut that nagging friend or relative out of your life completely, but listen to your body. If you are stressed and have increased digestive problems, take some time away from them to care for yourself.
- Listen to relaxation music, such as Dan Gibson’s Solitude’s series.
- Watch a favorite movie or old TV series.
- Talking therapies
- CBT therapy
- Ask for help. If you have a spouse or partner, ask them to take over tasks you need to get down.
You should visit your doctor if lifestyle modifications and HRT don’t sufficiently relieve your digestive symptoms.
Your doctor may prescribe medications including anti-diarrhea drugs, laxatives or bulking agents for constipation, and antispasmodic tablets to calm the gut.
Those into alternative health care can try acupuncture.
In the US, acupuncture is covered by some health insurance companies and in the UK, it’s covered under the NHS, as “animal and human studies showed that acupuncture has certain regulatory functions on gastrointestinal motility and gastric acid secretion.”
When done correctly, it is completely painless and if you combine it with Meridian Massage, it can be extremely relaxing.
For people of all ages, digestive problems run the spectrum from “annoying” all the way to “life- changing.”
For those in the menopause, it’s another burden we must manage in this new phase of life.
Having so many options for symptom management is good news!
The information and other content provided in this blog, website or in any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
mySysters is an app for women in perimenopause and menopause. Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day named mySysters the Best App for Women in Perimenopause and a Must Have App for Women.
Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn
Sources: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/ https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940 https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/ibs-and-hormone-replacement-therapy/
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/elimination-diet https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5498122/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1773431/ https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2005290113002082