You may have had a cast iron stomach all your life, so it might be difficult to adjust to coping with possible episodes of tummy troubles as you hit the dawn of your menopause!
When it comes to talking about the menopause, you’re likely to be familiar with the warnings of hot flushes, night sweats, fatigue and changes in your periods. However, not many women tend to share how the menopause affects their digestion.
You might have found that you’ve been experiencing nausea when you wake, and this is reminiscent of the morning sickness you experienced when pregnant. During the early stages of menopause, some hormone levels, such as FSH, change in a similar way as during the initial stages of pregnancy. It’s thought that these changes could be associated with morning nausea. Jumping out of bed to rush your way through your morning routine is unlikely to help you feel better. If possible, set your alarm clock 20-30 minutes earlier to give yourself time to go slowly to help your morning hormone levels settle. Breakfast is important as it helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels which may help resolve the nausea and get you fuelled up for the day ahead. It’s not always easy to eat when feeling unwell so this might be a time when a breakfast smoothie (yoghurt, oats, frozen berries, chia seed and plant milk) might be easier to stomach.
You may think that your sex hormones are only active within your reproductive area. However, researchers have discovered that cells in the intestine lining also have receptor sites for oestrogen and progesterone. This means that the hormones that normally regulate your menstrual cycle also have an impact on your digestion. Oestrogen tends to stimulate the muscle that lines the length of the intestine and progesterone has a more relaxing affect. Together they help to support the wave of rhythmic muscular activity within the gut so that food and the waste products of digestion move through the gut with ease and at the right speed. Changing hormone levels during the menopause may disrupt the natural rhythm of the gut and tummy troubles such as indigestion, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea could be experienced from time to time or even become a prominent health concern.
Anxiety, stress and tension
A common symptom of the menopause is increased anxiety and a tendency to get flustered during stressful situations. You may find that you just don’t cope as well as you used to, and this may leave your stomach in knots. Hot flushes could also feel quite overwhelming and for some women these may progress into panic attacks. There is a direct link between the gut and the brain so if you are feeling worried, tense or anxious then this could be mirrored in your gut. Muscles in the gut may become tense and those tell-tale signs of unhappy digestion may start to become obvious – stomach pains, bloating and sluggish bowl. If you feel that stressful situations or troublesome relationships are getting the better of you then it might be an idea to sign up to a course of CBT counselling or join a local meditation group or treat yourself to regular relaxation massages, all of which are useful tools to help release stress and tension from the body, still the mind and encourage quality sleep.
Look after your microbiome
All along the intestine there’s a multitude of bacterial activity called the microbiome. Making sure that you have the right type of friendly bacteria in your microbiome helps to support gut function and maintain bowel regularity. These friendly bacteria even produce B-vitamins which get absorbed into the body and contribute to normal energy yielding metabolism. Some of the B-vitamins such as B6 and B2 also help to support hormone balance and offer key nutrition support during hormone challenging times such as the menopause.