Whether you suddenly can’t button your jeans or are spending more time on the toilet than usual, don’t panic: These manifestations of perimenopause and menopause are completely normal. But that doesn't mean that “normal” doesn’t always mean easy to deal with.
Below, your guide to digestive issues — and our best tips for how to handle them.
What causes digestion issues in menopause?
Hormones can impact your digestion and contribute to bloating or constipation.
If you’ve ever been pregnant, you may remember feeling backed up in your first trimester; similar effects can happen before your period when you bloat. While there is a link between hormones and your digestion, the direct connection (especially related to menopause) is unknown.
How can I prevent digestive issues in menopause and midlife?
A few simple tweaks to your routine can pack a big punch when it comes to digestive issues. Try these expert-backed tips if your stomach’s been bothering you during the (peri)menopause phase.Eat smaller portions: Smaller meals are easier for the body to digest. When you eat, chew your food completely and stop when you feel full. Having a glass of water before you eat can also aid digestion and prevent you from overeating, which can trigger digestive discomfort. Also, don’t eat too close to bedtime, or you may experience acid reflux.
Boost your fiber intake: Fiber regulates digestion and helps the body absorb nutrients it needs for well-being. If your belly’s been bothering you, add fibrous foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains into your diet. Your doctor may also recommend a fiber supplement if you’re backed up and bloated.
Manage your stress levels: The stress hormone cortisol can slow digestion and lead to constipation. If you’re having a tough time pooping, now’s the time to practice all your tried-and-true stress-reducing techniques, from meditation and mindfulness to deep breathing and exercise. (Plus, exercise helps to keep your digestive tract moving so it can stave off constipation on its own.)
Guzzle water: When you’re constipated, your gut needs more water. Up your water intake to 64 or more ounces a day and see if your stools become more regular. Drinking extra water can also alleviate other peri/menopause symptoms such as headaches and hot flashes.
Introduce good bacteria: Your digestive tract needs a balance of diverse bacteria to properly digest the food you bring to it. During menopause, your gut bacteria can be thrown off. Introducing healthy bacteria to your gut with probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, and fermented foods like kimchi, may help. Probiotic supplements can also keep your gut health in balance.
When should I talk to my doctor?
Your medical provider is always the best resource for your questions and concerns during (peri)menopause and midlife. Certain digestive symptoms may stem from issues unrelated to menopause. If you’re ever worried about your poop, it’s a good idea to check in with your primary care provider. It’s also important to stay on top of routine colon cancer screenings, which should start at age 45.
If your digestive symptoms are beginning to interfere with your daily life, your digestive discomfort isn’t going away with lifestyle changes, or your symptoms are getting worse by the day, see your primary care doctor or talk to your gynecologist.
A medical professional can share treatment options for your symptoms, whether by reintroducing hormones to your body through hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) or suggesting over-the-counter or prescription meds to help your belly feel better.