One of the most frustrating and embarrassing symptoms of menopause that women have to endure is bloating. In fact, it is said that over two-thirds of women experience gastrointestinal bloating, accompanied stomach gas, during menopause. Research and clinical studies have shown that bloating is more commonly associated with pre-menstrual syndrome and occurs more often during pre-menopause and perimenopause. When a woman’s estrogen levels drop, the production of bile lowers drastically. The stools become dry and hard, accumulating in the small intestine and leading to extreme bloating and constipation. While the majority of menopausal bloating is caused by hormonal changes, other factors may induce it, such as food allergies and weight gain.
What is Bloating?
Bloating is the abnormal swelling of the abdominal region, which can increase the area’s diameter and fill the abdomen, creating an intensely full feeling. This swelling can have a person feeling a tightness in the abdomen that leads to discomfort and pain. Not only is bloating disruptive and annoying, but this symptom can also be quite embarrassing. For women experiencing bloating during menopause, the duration and intensity of the bloat varies. Some women experience bloating for several days in a row, others can go months at a time without feeling the discomfort of bloating. Even though one’s stomach remains the same size during periods of bloating, her pants feel tighter and her waistline continues to expand.
Symptoms of Bloating
The symptoms of bloating can vary from one woman to the next, just as the duration and intensity.
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive gas
- Difficulty swallowing
- Abdominal fullness and tightness
- Distended stomach
- General discomfort
- Changing gut size
- Chest pain
- Bloody stools
- Dark stools
- Cramping on the right side of the body
Causes of Bloating
Hormonal Causes – There are several causes of bloating, but the most common cause of bloating in menopausal women is hormonal bloating. Hormones have a direct effect on the gastrointestinal tract. The two hormones that affect bloating the most are progesterone and estrogen. When one’s levels of progesterone drop, water retention and bloating occurs. Estrogen helps regulate water retention in the body. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, the estrogen levels in the body rise due to the fact the body tends to retain more fluid in the few days leading up to menstruation.
During perimenopause, the estrogen levels become erratic and the body retains even more fluid, resulting in bloating. Another cause of bloating during estrogen is when one’s levels of estrogen drop, bile production is drastically low and there isn’t enough bile to lubricate the intestines. Bile that is produced in the liver gets stored in the gallbladder. This helps with the digestive system, as bile acts as a lubricant, helping food particles flow through the intestines easier. This results in hard and dry stools that can back up and accumulate. When the stool remains inside the body for too long, this causes the often interfering and disruptive bloating and gas. When the bacteria in the intestines sit around too long, flatulence occurs.
- Air swallowing
- Gas produced by bacteria
- Consumption of high fat meal
- Large intra-abdominal tumors
- Lactose intolerance
- Glucose intolerance
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Crohn’s Disease
- Fructose intolerance
- Abdominal surgery
- Polycystic ovarian cysts
- Consumption of cabbage, onions, bread, apples, potatoes, broccoli
Experiencing bloating is uncomfortable, and can sometimes be painful. There’s no need to suffer from the discomfort however. There are ways to manage bloating caused by menopause. Changes in lifestyle can help decrease the chance of bloating, as well as alternative medicine and herbal remedies. Paying attention to the foods that are eaten, and how they are eaten, can help lessen the chance of bloating.
Daily Lifestyle Changes
- Exercise – Lack of exercise is one of the most contributory factors that cause bloating. Regular physical exercise can help prevent menopausal bloating. Adopting an exercise regime doesn’t have to be difficult, nor boring. Taking up yoga, walking, rollerblading, bicycling and even taking the stairs are wonderful alternatives to going to the gym. Engaging in moderate exercise for up to 45 minutes a day can allow the blocked gas in the digestive tract to pass easily, thus relieving bloating.
- Take your time eating – Eating in a hurry increases the pressure on the stomach, thus increasing the gases produced. Try not to eat in a rush and savor your food while eating.
- Practice portion control – Practice eating smaller portions and eating more slowly.
- Stress reduction and relaxation – Relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, yoga and visualization techniques are all wonderful ways to prevent bloating because it increases blood flow to your digestive tract and stimulates the intestinal action, known as peristalsis, so digestion is more efficient. Relaxation exercises and yoga also calms you, which in turn relaxes your digestive system.
- Go for a walk after you eat – Walking immediately after you eat helps keep bowel contents in line and may release hormones that encourage bowel activity.
- Keep a “Bloat Diary” – It is important to maintain a bloating diary to help identify the triggers, so you can reduce portions of them or completely eliminate them from your diet.
The foods that trigger bloating can vary from woman to woman. It’s best for every woman to be aware of what foods cause bloating, and avoid those foods. Eating foods such as eggs, bananas, yogurt, hard cheese, and grapes can help ease the discomfort of bloating. Certain foods that might trigger bloating include apples, pears, milk, broccoli, and soft cheese. Deserts high in sugar should be limited, as high amounts of sugar can overload the stomach. Raw seafood is another item that should be avoided. Raw seafood has a high risk of containing parasites that may cause bloating to occur.
- Avoid junk food and processed food
- Eat more fiber - Fiber is easily digested and restricts intestinal gas production.
- Eat more fruit and vegetables – Eating more fruits and vegetables give the body a chance to digest faster and increase roughage. Water-rich foods, like watermelon and tomatoes, add fresh water to your body and can assist in flushing out unwanted water.
- Eat more potassium – Potassium reduces the sodium content in the body and helps to reduce bloating. Mushroom, cabbage and cauliflower are all great sources of potassium.
- Cut out salt – Excess salt in our bodies causes our bodies to retain water to dilute it in order to protect your tissues from salt’s harmful and irritating effect. It is recommended to keep the salt intake at 2,400 milligrams (a little more than one teaspoon) a day.
Important Trigger Foods to Avoid Bloating
- Artificial sweeteners (sorbitol)
- Dairy products
- Dark meat and skin
- Red meat
- Raw seafood
- Processed food
- Fried food
- Salad dressings
- Chewing gum
- Extremely hot or extremely cold food
- Vitamins - Vitamin B6 plays a large role in the body’s use of several hormones associated with bloating and fluid retention. Vitamin B6 helps the body metabolize the hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and may help the liver metabolize excess amounts. By helping the body to metabolize these hormones, B6 may help the liver metabolize excess amounts. For perimenopausal women who are still having their menstrual cycles, doctors recommend taking the following as 4 divided doses a few days before their periods: 1,000-1,500 milligrams of Calcium; 400 milligrams of Magnesium; 3,500 milligrams of Potassium; 200 milligrams of Vitamin B6.
- Alternative Medicine – Alternative medicine and herbal remedies can relieve bloating discomfort as well. Chinese medicine, such as acupuncture, has been a long standing treatment for bloating and gastrointestinal issues around the world.
- Black Cohosh One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
- Herbal Remedies – Herbal teas such as chamomile can help make digestion easier, and lessen bloating. Chamomile has bitter principles that stimulate gastric juices that can relieve and reduce gas. Natural herbs such as fennel contain anti-spasmodic and anti-gas properties which is ideal in relieving the discomfort of bloating. Fennel tea helps relieve gas, as well.
- Probiotics – Probiotics help keep the intestinal tract clean and are extremely important for a health intestinal tract because they kill unwanted microorganisms like parasites and pathogens. Responsible for maintaining normal bowel movement, probiotics are a wonderful treatment for symptoms of bloating.
- Medications – Activated charcoal, Bismuth (Pepto-bismol), Yogurt, Pepogest and Phazyme 95 are a few recommended over-the-counter-medications that quickly break up gas bubbles.
- Hormone Therapy Treatments (HRT) - For more severe cases of menopause, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional regarding the negative side effects before you begin treatment.