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04 Nov 2015 By

Understanding Menopause and Digestive Issues

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The digestive system plays an important role in the body, converting the food we eat into their simplest forms, such as glucose, amino acids, or fatty acids. The broken down food is then absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestine, and the nutrients are carried to each cell in the body.

Digestion begins in the mouth, grounding food up with the teeth before moistening it with saliva so as to allow for easy swallowing. Saliva contains a special enzyme that breaks carbohydrates down into sugars.

Once in the stomach, your food is mixed with gastric juice and churned both mechanically and chemically to be broken down. The food is then squeezed into the first part of the small intestine called the duodenum.

The duodenum mixes the food with even more digestive enzymes, as well as bile from the liver. The food is then passed through to the lower parts of the small intestine, where the nutrients are separated. Once the nutrients have been absorbed into the bloodstream, the waste is moved into the large intestine, or bowel. Water is removed and the waste is stored until passed in the ladies’ room.

In other words, the digestive system is hugely important and quite incredible.

When in good working order, you wouldn’t even know that such a process is going on within your body. Digestion is easy; merely a case of eating, pooping, and eating again. Unfortunately, changes within the body during menopause can sometimes cause digestive issues in some women.

Digestive issues during menopause

Science tells us that women are twice as likely to develop digestive problemssuch as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and many women report that digestive problems begin to occur in the years leading up to menopause – a time known as peri-menopause. Not only can digestive problems interrupt the clever and complex function of our body and cause discomfort, but in some cases they can also lead to more serious health concerns. Issues can arise anywhere along the digestive path, from consumption to expulsion.

What are digestive issues?

Digestive issues during peri-menopause and menopause can appear in various forms, ranging from excess wind or constipation to weight gain and abdominal pain. Symptoms of digestive issues include:

  • Cramps
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • A false urge to have a bowel movement
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Fatigue
  • Inflammation
  • Nausea
  • Ulcers

Why does menopause cause some digestive issues?

As you go through peri-menopause and menopause, your body undergoes hormonal changes. These changes can have unexpected effects on the rest of your body, including your digestive system.

The hormone oestrogen has a direct impact on the hormone cortisol, also known as the ‘stress hormone’. When menopause causes your oestrogen levels to lower, the system essentially falls a little out of whack.

Hormonal imbalance during peri-menopause and menopause is one of the primary causes of digestive problems for women between the ages of 45 and 55. Luckily, there are treatments that can bring your hormones back in balance and relieve your digestive issues, as well as other menopausal symptoms.

Treating digestive issues caused by menopause

When exploring treatments for digestive problems, it’s best to start with the least obtrusive methods first, such as lifestyle changes, alternative medicines, and supplements.

1. Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes are the best place to start, as many problems can be corrected with a simple change in routine. For instance, some digestive problems can be alleviated simply by adding more water to your everyday diet.

The specific digestive issue you’re experiencing will determine which remedy is going to benefit you most. Some easy changes you could try include:

  • Chewing your food slower and longer so that your stomach doesn’t have to work as hard,
  • Sitting down to eat and not rushing mealtimes,
  • Choosing foods that are easy to digest, such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, brown rice, and salmon,
  • Avoiding stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, and refined sugar, which add strain to your digestive system,
  • Staying hydrated with plenty of water, and
  • Consuming probiotics.

2. Alternative medicines

There are a number of herbal remedies that can help improve digestive function, and for centuries, various herbs and spices have been promoted as being healers for the body. Common natural remedies for digestive issues include:

  • Ginger – Helps with gastric emptying and nausea,
  • Turmeric – Aids digestion and liver function and helps to treat acid reflux,
  • Milk thistle – Protects the liver from damaging toxins,
  • Slippery elm – Helps to treat digestive stress,
  • Pineapple extract – Helps to treat indigestion,
  • Dandelion – Relieves constipation, trapped wind, and bloating, and helps to promote better digestive system function,
  • Acupuncture – While not a herb, it can help to correct gastrointestinal disorders in some people.

3. Supplements

To give the body a helping hand with digestion, and ease the effects of enzyme insufficiency during menopause, look for a supplement that includes digestive enzymes such as:

  • Amylase,
  • Bromelain,
  • Lactase,
  • Lipase,
  • Papain,
  • Peptidase, and
  • Protease.

One of our Naturopaths at the Australian Menopause Centre will be able to implement a strategy to overcome any unpleasant digestive symptoms. Our Naturopaths are complementary whilst you are on one of our treatment programs, so give us a call today and arrange an appointment.