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Do we bloat more as we approach the menopause?
Posted 3 years ago by Clare
As we approach the menopause many of us start to experience changes in the way in which our body works. Amongst other things many women feel that their waist line starts to expand. This could be due to a little weight gain, for which there are several possible causes, but also simply due to an increase in bloating. The good news is this isn’t necessarily a given fact of getting older, there are reasons why this can happen, and equally there are things we can do to alleviate this uncomfortable symptom.
The menopause is fundamentally caused by a change in hormone levels. Simply put, our oestrogen and progesterone levels drop. This can have many effects on our mood and physiology but can it cause bloating?
Well the answer is yes it can. There are a few reasons for this.
Progesterone is in fact a natural diuretic, so when levels of this hormone drop some women experience bloating.
Oestrogen also has a role to play in digestion because it has an effect on bile production, when oestrogen levels are low, bile production decreases. Bile is a fluid that is produced by the liver and is vital for digestion. It emulsifies fat and aids cholesterol synthesis as well as acting as a lubricant for our small intestines. All in all this can make our gut sluggish and lead to bloating.
It’s important to know that low oestrogen and high cortisol are also linked. Firstly because oestrogen helps control cortisol and so when this is lower, your cortisol can be raised. Secondly the emotional and physical effects of the menopause can actually be stressful for us. Stress can cause our cortisol levels to rise (this is called the stress response). All in all stress hormones partly shut down function of the upper gastrointestinal tract, specifically the stomach and the small intestine. Stress can also slow down transit time causing a build up of bacteria and gases. Find out more about how stress affects your digestion here.
Find out more about how stress affects your digestion here.
However, it’s not all hormonal. There are other physiological changes that can take place as we get older that can affect our digestion. Firstly, the production of our stomach acid can decline. Stomach acid is required to break down our foods before it enters the intestinal tract, it also helps protect our digestive system from pathogens, as well as making the enzyme which breaks down protein active and able to do its job. When acid levels become lower the chances of undigested food and unwanted bacteria in the gut becomes higher contributing towards gases and bloating. The same is true for the bacteria we have in our gut which are so vital for digestion. These can deplete with age and again this can lead to dysbiosis and ultimately lead to bloating.
This may all sound a little depressing! But don’t despair!! There are lots of natural solutions which can help alleviate this symptoms and the good news is that now you know what could be causing your bloating, you can look at addressing it.
Check your general digestive health
First and foremost it would be beneficial to check your digestion. Whether menopausal or not, everyone can suffer from bloating if their digestion is imbalanced. Question yourself as to whether there is a pattern to the bloating that you can relate to food. For example, mild intolerances can cause a lot of discomfort. Read more about this here.
Other tips for bloating in general such as drinking enough water, eating enough fibre and reducing your sugar can all help. Check our section on natural remedies.
Looking after your hormones
What we eat can in fact have a powerful effect on our hormones. Addressing our diet and the foods we habitually eat will help a great deal in balancing our hormones at this age and therefore ultimately reducing the bloat.
- Include hormone-balancing phytoestrogens in your diet. Phytoestrogens are a plant food that can have an oestrogen like activity and hormone balancing effect in your body. They are natural and work like a key unlocking the receptors you have in your body to accept the oestrogen. These can be found in foods such as lentils, chickpeas, flaxseeds and sprouted mung beans and alfalfa.
- Change from refined carbohydrates to unrefined ones and avoid refined sugar. Sugar in your diet instantly raises your blood sugar which then causes a cascade of hormonal responses. The higher you raise your blood sugar level, the lower it will come crashing down. The body responds to this by releasing adrenaline and cortisol and we have already seen how this can affect your digestion. Include more protein in your meals to help stabilise that blood sugar level. Balanced sugar levels have a very positive balancing effect on hormones overall.
- Buy organic foods where possible - non organic raised meat for example often has hormones in it. We want to try to avoid this where possible.
- Avoid or reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol – these ultimately deplete your adrenals (which we want to keep healthy).
- Try some hormone balancing herbs – there is some evidence to suggest that the herbs Dong Quai and Black Cohosh are useful to balancing hormones.
- Try including apple cider vinegar as this helps stimulate production of your stomach acid.
- Take up yoga – this is not only calming for our nerves, good for our bones. It keeps us feeling trim and also brings the blood supply to the stomach helping us beat the dreaded bloat.
- Take a probiotic to balance your gut flora. Imbalanced or impaired gut flora is a key aspect of bloating. Read more about this here.
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