The Menopause and Gut Health
They say all health and illness starts from the gut. Having a healthy digestive system goes a long way towards making you feel good. A healthy gut means that your food is being processed correctly and efficiently and you are gaining as much energy as possible from what you consume. However, during the peri-menopause and the menopause, many of us begin to experience problems with our digestive system.
As you go through the menopause, your body undergoes hormonal changes, and these can have unexpected effects on the rest of your body, including your digestive system. Among its many other tasks, oestrogen also helps regulate cortisol – the “fight or flight” hormone triggered by stress. So when oestrogen starts declining around menopause, suddenly stress becomes a lot harder to manage.
Not only do our reactions to stress become a bit more extreme, our increased cortisol has the add-on effect of slowing down digestion of food. That can lead to a host of digestive disorders like wind, constipation, and bloating.
Adrenalin can easily be triggered in the body when the calming influence of oestrogen is missing. This switches the digestive function off, and when the digestive system is not working at its optimum level, a range of digestive problems can arise. Wind can build up, causing bloating; food can pass through without being fully broken down, causing constipation; acid can break down the mucous lining of the stomach wall, causing abdominal pain or indigestion.
But like so much of menopause, you don’t have to simply endure the symptoms. Follow these easy tips to help optimise your gut health.
Easy tips for gut health
- Monitor how different foods affect your gut. Understanding how your body reacts to certain foods tells you a lot about your gut health.
- Eat more fibre. Most people eat less than they should. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and wholegrains feed healthy bacteria.
- Eat a wide range of plant-based foods. A healthy gut has a diverse community of microbes, each of which prefer different foods.
- Avoid highly processed foods. They often contain ingredients that either suppress ‘good’ bacteria or increase ‘bad’ bacteria.
- Antibiotics kill ‘good’ bacteria as well as ‘bad’. If you need antibiotics, make sure you eat lots of foods that boost your microbes afterwards.
- Choose extra-virgin olive oil over other fats when you can. It contains the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols.
- Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt, might encourage more microbes to grow. Eat them if you enjoy them
- If your diet is low in fibre, a sudden increase can cause wind and bloating. This is less likely if you make gradual changes and drink extra water.