Over 95 million Americans every year experience some kind of gastrointestinal issue or disorder, whether it is indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, reflex, IBS, IBD, an ulcer, heartburn or excessive flatulence. While these problems are extremely common, they can be quite disruptive, especially when the individual experiencing them can not pinpoint what exactly is causing their stomach misery. Every individual is susceptible to these symptoms and it can occur at any age.
Due to fluctuating hormone levels, gastrointestinal issues are common during the early stages of menopause. When estrogen is low, cortisol levels are high. High levels of cortisol, a hormone involved in stress responses, create digestive problems and block digestion. As a result, blood pressure and blood sugar are raised, which can slow down or paralyze the stomach from releasing essential acid for digestion. Another reason for gastrointestinal issues is the change of diets that most women make to satisfy their daily nutritional requirements.
Diets complete of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts can produce flatulence and can be quite disruptive if one does not learn how to manage this. Once a woman can pinpoint the triggers of her gastrointestinal issues experienced during menopause, there are various lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments and treatment options that have been proven to be quite effective.
Why is Digestion Important?
Every cell in our body is composed of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins – all from which we obtain from the foods we eat. Whether it is vegetables, chicken, bread, nuts or rice, digestion needs to occur in order for the body to utilize them as a type of nourishment. Digestion is the breakdown of foods into small components in order for the body to use them to nourish cells and give energy.
Symptoms of Digestive Problems
- Extreme Abdomnial Pain
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Thin, pencil like stools
- Passing fewer than three stools per week
- Straining excessively through bowel movements
- Feelings of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement
- Rectal Itching
- Flatulence, bloating and belching immediately after eating or drinking
- A sense of extreme fullness after eating
- Iron deficiency
- Greasy Stools
- Dilated Capillaries in Face
- Cracked and peeling fingernails
- Low back pain
Digestion begins in one’s mouth, where the teeth are used to break up food and mix it with saliva. These salivary enzymes begin the breakdown of food and allow the nutrients to be absorbed into the body. This is where the initial digestion of fat and starch takes place. The stomach breaks up the fat, exposes the molecules to various digestive juices and stores the food. The stomach then empties the leftovers into the small intestine, where the nutrients are absorbed. From there, the contents are transferred to the large intestine and colon. If one’s digestive system is working properly, the leftover contents will be released as feces.
Causes of Gastrointestinal Issues
Gastrointestinal issues problems are believed to be caused by hormonal imbalances in the menopausal stage. When estrogen levels are low, cortisol levels are high. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is known to obstruct digestion and create a myriad of gastrointestinal issues. During menopause, high levels of cortisol are found in a woman’s body, which causes a rise in blood pressure and glucose levels. This rise drastically slows down the release of stomach acid and the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine – creating gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
While a majority of gastrointestinal issues experienced during menopause are directly related to a hormonal imbalance, there are other causes that can cause this symptom.
- Poor Diet
- Wheat Intolerance
- Lactose Intolerance
- Environmental Toxins
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Blood in the stools
Diseases Linked to Gastrointestinal Issues
- Dermatitis herpetformis
- Gallbladder disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Celiac Disease
- Gastric Carcinoma
Managing Your Gastrointestinal Issues
Daily Lifestyle Changes
- Get a Full Night’s Rest – It is vital to get the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep to help decrease tension and irritability that could cause stress-related gastrointestinal issues.
- Exercise – Adopting a gentle exercise regime or making simple adjustments to your physical exertion routine can speed up the digestive process. Undergoing strength training programs improves one’s digestive tract and engaging frequently in abdominal exercises can help squeeze the waste out. Also, exercise not only helps control stress, but it increases endorphin levels, which raises your threshold for pain.
- Stress Reduction and Relaxation – Because stress slows down your entire digestive tract, an abundance of gastrointestinal issues can arise as a result. Relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, yoga and visualization techniques are all wonderful ways to help with one’s digestive issues caused by stress and minimize the effects on your body during menopause.
- Stay Hydrated – One of the most important diet changes to minimize menopausal digestive issues is to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. The less water one drinks, the harder and less frequent their stools will become. Water flushes the toxins and detoxes your body.
- High Fiber Diets – Maintaining a high fiber diet, full of vegetables, whole gains and fiber. is essential to one’s gastrointestinal health. It is important to add fiber slowly, as excess fiber can worsen symptoms. Foods such as fruits, whole grain cereals, beans and vegetables are all good examples.
- Replenishing Your Diet – Eating more calcium-rich foods, magnesium-rich foods and Vitamin E-foods, like green vegetables, nuts and almonds is important to managing your gastrointestinal health.
- Reduce Oils and Fats – Because too much fat can slow down the digestive process, constipation, bloating and heartburn can take place. Also, high saturated fat diets increase one’s risk of colon cancer.
- Phytoestrogens – Adopt a dietary plan that includes foods that contain phytoestrogens. because these plant estrogens bind to estrogen receptors in your body and can help manage gastrointestinal health. Soy, tofu, beans, tempeh, legumes, seaweed, potatoes, apples and carrots are all wonderful sources of phytoestrogens.
- Avoid Greasy and Spicy Foods – Greasy and spicy foods should be avoided until one’s digestion is back to normal because it is a leading factor of acid indigestion.
- Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine – Alcohol inflames your stomach lining and relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter, the part of our digestive process that prevents stomach acid from backing up into one’s esophagus. This in turn, causes heartburn or bleeding.
- Avoid Nicotine – Nicotine increases stomach acid production and decreases the production of sodium bicarbonate, which is a substance responsible for neutralizing stomach acid. Quite typically, those who smoke swallow air, which also produces bloating.
- Vitamins - Nearly all B Vitamins play an essential role in maintaining one’s gastrointestinal health. Vitamin B1, also known as Thiamin, increases appetite, while keeping the nerves in check. These nerves are crucial, since they are the communicators of the digestive process. Vitamin B3, also known as Niacin, keeps the surfaces healthy of your digestive tract. Vitamin B12 is a coenzyme that is necessary to metabolize fats and carbohydrates.
- Alternative Medicine – Chinese medicine has been a long standing treatment for gastrointestinal health issues around the world. By selecting the appropriate acupuncture points on one’s body, acupuncture can be used to speed up metabolism, reduce production of harmful gastric acid, restore stomach acidity to normal levels and regulate intestinal function.
- 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 remedies and homeopathy can relieve gastrointestinal issues, as well as support a healthy digestive system. Bananas, ginger, peppermint, Aloe Vera, Fennel are common herbal remedies to treat and manage gastrointestinal health. Chamomiles, as well as Meadowsweet, keep the stomach lining healthy. There are two known types of herbs that affect hormone instability, the phytoestrogenic and non-estrogenic herbs. Phytoestrogenic herbs, such as Black Cohosh, have estrogenic plant content contained in them. At first, these herbs can be beneficial to your symptoms, but can lower your body’s ability to produce estrogen on it’s own over time. Non-estrogenic herbs don’t contain estrogen. They work by stimulating your brain’s production process in order to make the hormones itself. Herbs, like Macafem, can be the safest way to treat difficulty concentrating as the body makes what is needed to correct this problem on its very own.
- Probiotics – Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, also known as “friendly bacteria,” that are found in one’s digestive system. They help promote regularity, aid in digestion, help improve mineral absorption and they support healthy immunity. The majority of probiotics are simply bacteria similar to those naturally found in one’s digestive system, with the bacteria coming from either the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium groups.