15 Dec 2021

Nutrition for good gut health in menopause

Your gut plays an important role in supporting your overall health. As we reach our 40s and 50s and transition through menopause it’s more important than ever to look after our digestive health.

As your hormones shift during menopause, you may find your body behaving differently – and this includes changes to your digestive health.

You might find that you get more bloating, acid reflex or abdominal discomfort, and there may be a greater risk of developing food intolerances or allergies too. 

That’s why it’s important to understand what’s happening to your gut health during menopause – and how you can nourish your body to boost your digestive health.

WATCH NOW: Watch our conversation with Jenny Carson, senior nutritionist at Viridian Nutrition, to learn all about nutrition for good gut health in menopause:

Nutrition for good gut health

Join the Latte Lounge as we talk to Jenny Carson, senior nutritionist @ViridianNutrition Here we discuss why the gut matters during peri-menopause and menopause and why it's essential to look after your microbiome, and what you can do to support your gut health in midlife, menopause and beyond.

Why does your gut matter during menopause?

Digestion is the way that your body absorbs the nutrients it needs from food and drink to function and stay healthy.

Your digestive tract is the pathway where food enters and travels through the body and is digested before it is eventually expelled. It is through this process that essential nutrients are absorbed. So good gut health is important for your overall health throughout your life – but especially during menopause as it can become harder to maintain due to your fluctuating hormones.

How does menopause affect my digestive system?

When you experience a decline in oestrogen, this directly affects gastrointestinal function. Your fluctuating hormones could result in:

  • Weaker tissues lining your digestive tract

Oestrogen helps renew collagen in our body, including the collagen along our digestive tract. That means when oestrogen fluctuates, the tissue in your digestive tract can become weaker.  You may have heard the term ‘Leaky Gut’; this occurs when gaps develop between the cells that line the digestive tract.  This weakens the tract and can affect your immune system. 

  • Increased risk of food allergies and intolerance

Weakened digestive tract tissue and leaky gut can increase the risk of food intolerances and allergies.  Particles of undigested food can cross into the bloodstream; where your immune cells identify them as foreign and mount an immune response.  Each time the food is eaten, an immune response ensues.

  • Slower digestion

Oestrogen regulates the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.  So, when oestrogen declines, cortisol rises which causes digestion to slow.  This is why you might experience bloating, acid reflux and abdominal discomfort. 

  • Raised blood glucose

Both oestrogen and progesterone influence how cells accept insulin and glucose.  So, lower hormone production could increase the risk of developing Type II Diabetes as your body becomes more insulin resistant and there is more of an imbalance of blood glucose.

  • A change to your overall health due to changes to the ‘good bacteria in your gut

Your gut is full of ‘good bacteria’, known as your microbiome, which helps you maintain good gut health, regular bowel movement, your body composition and your blood glucose.

Oestrogen works in tandem with your good bacteria, so when oestrogen lowers there can be an imbalance between infection-causing and beneficial bacteria. This may also affect mood and brain function via the gut-brain relationship.

What are the tell-tale signs of menopause-related digestive issues?

If you have experienced an increase in digestive symptoms during peri- and/or menopause, it may be related:

  • Bloating increases the waistline and the uncomfortable feeling that your belt may be too tight.  This may be specific to certain foods.
  • Constipation might happen when digestion slows. 
  • Diarrhoea can be the result of changes in the microbiome. You might find you get abdominal pain and/or a bubbling feeling in the abdomen, followed by a sense of urgency.
  • Abdominal pain which can result from slow digestion, changes in the microbiome or a leaky gut.
  • Hot flushes can create a feeling of nausea. These may vary in intensity and occur alongside a headache, migraine or alteration in vision.

As with any change in health, we recommend that you discuss digestive symptoms with your GP.

What helps with digestive issues during menopause?

  • You can nourish the tissues in your digestive tract with L-Glutamine, which is an amino acid.  The beneficial yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, can help support the protective mucus layer of your digestive tract.
  • Your overall digestion can be supported with bitter-tasting herbs such as rocket or betaine hydrochloride and digestive enzymes, which are found in food supplements.
  • Bloating and abdominal discomfort may be settled by peppermint, ginger and caraway.
  • Kiwi fruits and plums are useful for keeping your bowels regular.
  • Research has shown several strains of beneficial bacteria to be useful in menopause; these include Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus lactis and Bifidobacteria bfidum. You can find these in fermented foods such as kefir or in a probiotic food supplement.
  • Getting extra fibre in your diet and probiotic formulas (which contain Inulin and fructooligosaccharides) can both help. Other sources include garlic, artichoke, unripe bananas and chicory.  When adding extra fibre to your diet, take care to do this slowly to avoid a shock to your system!
  • Finally, plant oestrogens such as those found in red clover, soy and sage may offer relief by buffering your oestrogen levels. 

What other steps can I take to help digestion and gut health during the menopause?

  • Eat a predominantly whole foods diet.
  • A few minutes of meditation before a meal can reduce the stress of the day.
  • Chew your food thoroughly; whole foods take more chewing than processed foods.
  • Introduce fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh or cultured milk/yoghurt.
  • Remove sugar, processed foods, and smoking and reduce alcohol and caffeine.
  • Keep a food and digestive symptom diary; this will help you identify what’s happening to your body.

FURTHER READING: Kicking the sugar habit

Conclusion

Changes in your gastrointestinal health can be a common symptom during peri- and menopause.  If this is something you’re experiencing, you’re not alone. By making some dietary tweaks and introducing the right nutrients, you might be able to better manage your symptoms.

A final tip when considering food supplements, it can be useful to take advice from independent health food stores to support your selection. Look for food supplements which are 100% active and without extras, animal-tested compounds, or GMO compounds. 

FURTHER READING: Demystifying supplements during the menopause

References

Hair & Sharpe, The human microbiome, The Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington. [Online] Accessed on 10 December 2021.

Helander HF, Fändriks L. Surface area of the digestive tract - revisited. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2014 Jun;49(6):681-9.

Petricevic L, Unger FM, Viernstein H, Kiss H. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of
oral lactobacilli to improve the vaginal flora of postmenopausal women. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod
Biol. 2008 Nov;141(1):54-7.
Ribeiro AE, Monteiro NES, Moraes AVG, Costa-Paiva LH, Pedro AO. Can the use of probiotics in
association with isoflavone improve the symptoms of genitourinary syndrome of menopause?
Results from a randomized controlled trial. Menopause. 2018 Dec 10;26(6):643-652.

Author: Jenny Carson, MRes, BSc (Hons) is a Senior Nutritionist at ethical vitamin company Viridian
Nutrition. She has over 7 years of experience supporting people with nutritional health advice. She
recently completed a Master of Research(MRes) in Public Health, giving her a wide understanding of
public health nutrition. Her other focus areas include ageing, dealing with stress, peri and post-
menopause, detox and mood. For more information, visit Viridian.

This article is for information purposes and does not refer to any individual products. The information
contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health
practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition
or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied

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