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The Gut Microbiome and Menopause: Nurturing Digestive Health for Symptom Management Step 1

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in knowledge about the gut microbiome and its impact on various aspects of our health, including immune, metabolic, and nervous system health.


woman and digestion diagram

The balance of bacteria in the digestive system is crucial to our overall well-being. When this balance is disrupted, it's referred to as 'dysbiosis.' Various factors like diet, stress, medications, and age can lead to dysbiosis, resulting in uncomfortable symptoms that we might not immediately associate with our digestive tract.


For women approaching menopause, some frustrating symptoms, such as hot flushes, mood swings, and weight gain, can also be linked to changes in gut health.


For example:

  • Hot Flashes: Dysbiosis-induced inflammation can trigger and intensify hot flashes, making them more frequent and intense.

  • Mood Swings: An imbalanced gut microbiome may impact neurotransmitter levels, potentially leading to mood swings and emotional instability.

  • Fatigue and Sleep Issues: Dysbiosis-related disruptions in the gut-brain axis can affect sleep patterns and contribute to menopausal fatigue.

  • Weight Gain and Metabolism: Dysbiosis has been associated with altered metabolism, which may contribute to weight gain during menopause.

 

The Importance of Gut Bacteria in Supporting Health


1. Kill bugs and hostile bacteria

One of the most critical functions of your gut bacteria is to protect you from harmful bugs and bacteria. Certain strains of bacteria act as your body's defense system, preventing infections and food poisoning. The 'bad' bugs can cause unpleasant symptoms or diseases – such as cause food poisoning or stomach ulcers.


dysbiosis good and bad bacteria

2. Boost your immunity

60% of your immunity is in your gut, and the immune tissue in your gut is susceptible to bacterial activity.


3. Improve digestion

Some bacteria help you break down particular foods and even help with the muscular contractions that move your food through your system – promoting regular bowel movements.


4. Make vitamins and help you absorb nutrients better

Your gut bacteria are responsible for making many B vitamins, and these same bacteria help you absorb minerals in the food you eat better.


5. Protect against disease

Some bacteria produce enzymes that turn dietary fibre into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFAs can help protect against heart disease by regulating cholesterol and positively impacting fats in the blood.


6. Hormone Metabolism

The gut microbiome plays a vital role in hormone metabolism. Beneficial bacteria help metabolize hormones like oestrogen, ensuring they are efficiently broken down and excreted from the body. A balanced gut microbiome supports healthy hormone levels, while dysbiosis can lead to hormonal imbalances and menopausal symptoms.


Unfortunately, the link between hormone metabolism and dysbiosis works in both directions.

Hormonal fluctuations during menopause can create an environment conducive to dysbiosis. Oestrogen plays a vital role in supporting digestive health – it helps to keep inflammation in our intestines at bay, preventing the development of a "leaky gut." As oestrogen declines, the gut's integrity may be compromised, allowing harmful microbes to thrive.


There are many steps that you can take to improve your digestion. This first blog will cover the first few steps. The following blog will add to this.

 

Nurturing Digestive Health


1. Use your senses



senses

The first step in the digestive process is often overlooked, but it's essential, and it's triggered when you see or smell food. You are literally whetting your appetite. When you start thinking about the lovely meal you are going to prepare, you are getting your digestive juices flowing. The enzymes in your saliva help you break down your food more efficiently so when the time comes, your body is actually ready to start digesting food before you have even cut the first slice – never mind actually putting anything in your mouth.


It may sound like an incredibly simple step – and it is – but these days, we are often so busy that we don't make the time to think about our food in this way. If you find you're always eating on the go, throwing a sandwich down your neck at your desk, or having a TV dinner, this is a vital step you are missing out on. One trick is to be mindful and try and spend a few minutes thinking about your tasty lunch before you eat it to get the digestive juices going.


2. Chew your food


Your stomach does not have teeth! Chewing your food is the second phase of digestion, and it's vital to good gut health. With proper chewing, you are mechanically breaking down the food into smaller pieces so that there's a greater surface area and the digestive enzymes can get to work more easily, doing their job. And the bad news?


If you're not chewing properly, likely, you're not digesting your food correctly. And that means you won't be absorbing vital nutrients either. Not chewing also means the food you eat takes much longer to break down. As it hangs around in your digestive system, it can start to ferment, causing uncomfortable wind, gas, and bloating.


Don't worry about chewing a certain number of times – just do what you can. A good test is to: chew your food enough so that if someone asked you to spit it out, they wouldn't know what you had been eating.


3. Balance your stomach acid

Sales for heartburn tablets are skyrocketing because so many people wrongly assume that their digestive troubles are because of too much stomach acid. What nutritionists like me find more frequently in the clinic is the total opposite! Getting older, stress, and some over-the-counter medications can make your stomach acid levels drop so you don't produce enough to digest food sufficiently.


Why is this important? The stomach acid you produce kills any bacteria in the food you are eating and breaks down the protein in your meal. Suppose you're not properly digesting the protein element in food. In that case, it can start to ferment, creating gases that force up the valve at the top of your stomach, and what little stomach acid there is can escape. So that burning feeling, especially if accompanied by smelly gas, can be a sign your digestion isn't working as well as it should be.


One solution is to have a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before each main meal. It's important you choose apple cider vinegar with the 'mother'.


Some people genuinely produce too much stomach acid, and if you try the apple cider vinegar trick and it seems to make things worse, please stop and talk to a healthcare professional.


4. Take a digestive supplement



Digestive enzymes break down your food into nutrients so your body can absorb them. But as you age, you naturally produce fewer of these helpful enzymes. You can counteract this by increasing your intake of foods that are higher in them – eating pineapple or papaya before a meal can help. If you aren't a fan of these fruits, try a digestive enzyme capsule (available from health food shops), which will give your system a gentle boost to help it do its job correctly.



5. Take time out

Not eating is almost as important for your health as eating. It's important to space out your meals so the digestive system actually gets a chance to rest. This might require some self-discipline if you're a frequent grazer. Eating every 4-6 hours is a good benchmark to aim for. It gives the body enough time to completely digest the previous meal and have a break before you put it to work again. Of course, there will be days when your eating routine falls out of whack, but don't beat yourself up. Try to get back on track the following day.



Conclusion:

The gut microbiome is vital to women's health, especially during menopause. Remember, nurturing your gut microbiome through diet, sleep, and lifestyle choices is a crucial strategy for symptom management and achieving a healthier and more vibrant menopause experience.

If you're experiencing discomfort during menopause, seeking professional guidance to optimize gut health can significantly impact your journey through this transformative phase of life.


If you know your digestive system hasn't been right for a while, what is holding you back from making some changes? A great start is to book a free mini-consultation with me, where you'll have the chance to talk about yourself. Together, we can make an action plan and look at getting some diagnostic tests done.

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