Menopause and Digestion
If you want to age well, live well and experience true health, you must have an optimally functioning digestive system. Don't underestimate the importance of good digestion and don't overlook treating if first and foremost.
At this point, I want to refer you back to the articles on Nutrition for Menopause. Here is a link to the first one: Menopause Nutrition Basics Part 1. As the first step to improving your digestion is to clean up your diet. Once your diet improves most women find that their digestive function also improves by default. You may discover a whole new level of health and vitality from this alone. This isn't surprising when you realise your digestive system is responsible for and linked with so many aspects of your health.
As we age, our body reduces its production of digestive enzymes and digestive acids. This means our ability to correctly breakdown food reduces and symptoms can start to appear. Foods that you used to be able to eat without concern are now making you feel sick. Food sensitivities, bloating, gas, heartburn, altered bowel movements, cramps, hemorrhoids, are becoming more common.
If you find yourself minimising or avoiding animal products because you can’t digest them, you need to ignite your digestive fire. Avoiding protein only makes this problem worse and creates new problems like zinc, iron or B12 deficiency. You actually need more protein not less, as you age. A low protein diet increases the rate of age-related skeletal muscle re-modeling. Aging muscles have a lower percentage of muscle tissue and a higher amount of fat cells. You don’t want to accelerate this process.
Our good bacteria, our probiotics that make up our microbiome may have been removed over a lifetime of antibiotic use, alcohol consumption, poor diet choices. Replacing them is vitally important. The health of your microbiome directly impacts on all aspects of your health and happiness. If you don’t have the right strains in the right places, it's too easy for pathogenic (bad) bugs to take over. Consider having a microbiome test. Ubiome is a microbiome screening test; it detects beneficial and pathogenic microorganisms in the digestive system.
Signs your digestive system isn’t working well
- Nutritional deficiencies such as Vitamin B12, are generally an indication that your digestive system is struggling and it could be that it lacks the digestive fire to break down the food and release the nutrients, or it could be an issue with the digestive lining not properly absorbing the nutrients.
- Recurrent infections, your digestive system is the first line of attack against invading pathogens. The stomach’s acidic condition is designed to kill infections on contact. An imbalanced microbiota further down the digestive tract also causes immune dysfunction.
- Issues with mood such as anxiety and depression. Your digestive system houses over 80% of your neurotransmitters. Have you heard of the gut-brain axis? We used to think most of the neurotransmitters that control your mood were contained in your brain; we were wrong. It's actually your gut microbes that produce most of your neurotransmitters.
- Skin problems can be caused by dysbiosis, an imbalance in your gut microbes. Staphylococcus has been shown to trigger eczema, SIBO or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is linked with rosacea, candida overgrowth can be linked with psoriasis and issues digesting gluten can be the cause of dermatitis herpetiformis.
- Memory and cognition issues can be linked with any food sensitivities. Have you ever experienced brain fog after eating a meal? Undiagnosed or poorly managed Celiac's disease (gluten allergy) is strongly correlated with Alzheimer's disease.
- Research links poor digestion with poor sleep, but this is also true in reverse — poor sleep can exacerbate poor digestion. It’s the case of what came first the chicken or the egg, always start addressing the gut first.
- Dysbiosis increases inflammation and reduces your pain tolerance.
- Weight issues with either losing and gaining too much weight have been linked to an imbalanced microbiota.
- Poor digestion and food sensitivities can cause headaches and migraines.
- Hormonal imbalances. Have you heard of the Gut Hormone connection? Estrobolome is a collection of digestive microbes that regulate the circulation and excretion of estrogen. They do this by producing beta-glucuronidase an enzyme that activates estrogen. Too much or too little of this directly impacts on your hormone levels.
- The presence of an autoimmune disease can often indicate your digestive system isn’t functioning optimally.
- Increased intestinal permeability, otherwise called leaky gut can allow food particulars that are usually too large to be absorbed, to be absorbed and this can trigger allergic reactions.
- Certain food allergies can trigger asthma, sinus and other breathing issues. Common foods that may cause breathing problems include dairy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, soy, and seafood.
- One of the most common complaints associated with poor digestion is fatigue. Think about Christmas afternoon, when you have eaten far too much food and all you want is an afternoon nap. Some people feel like this every day, as their digestive systems are overburdened and can’t work optimally. These people need a major diet overhaul and lots of gut healing work.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is linked with coronary artery disease (CAD), researchers call this the GUT-Heart connection, the only problem is researchers can’t tell if SIBO causes CAD or if CAD causes SIBO. Maybe it's a two-way street as SIBO increases the production of bacterial by-products which may predispose a person to CAD, and CAD produces pro-inflammatory cytokines that lead to changes in the digestive microbiome.
As you can now see your digestive health is linked to the health of every other system in your body. The good news is when you optimise its function you improve all aspects of your health and happiness.
From a lifestyle perspective, you should be sitting and eating mindfully. To allow your body to rest and digest. But when you have finished eating a gentle walk can help move your meal along the digestive tract. Moderate exercise has been shown to increase gut transit time by 30%.
Something else to consider is the squatty potty. If you are struggling with constipation, this handy device can be a blessing.
Food as medicine
- Apple cider vinegar - a tablespoon in a glass of warm water before meals can help increase your digestive ability and reduce heartburn, bloating, wind and constipation
- Fresh lemon juice, I use ½ lemon squeezed in a glass of room temperature water and drink this as part of my morning routine.
- Fresh celery juice has become another famous morning routine. Many women are using this juice to improve their digestion. It's one entire celery plant juiced by itself and drunk on an empty stomach. Celery regulates stomach acids, can improve the health of your microbiome, it is anti-inflammatory, it contain anti-oxidants and may relieve constipation.
- Bitter foods such as greens (rocket, dandelion, kale) and citrus (lemon and grapefruit) can help stimulate your digestive fire.
- Pineapple and pawpaw naturally contain digestive enzymes, eat them when they are in season.
- These herbal teas soothe the digestive system: peppermint, chamomile, dandelion, ginger, marshmallow tea, and fennel
- Stewed apple with cinnamon. Here's a delicious recipe that improves digestion, mucosal repair and is a food source for your good probiotics (prebiotic). It also boosts immunity, decreases inflammation and improves mood and energy levels. The perfect functional food!
- Take 6 granny smith apples and peel and cut them
- Add half a cup of water and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.
- Simmer for 15 minutes and then set aside to cool.
- Divide into 4 servings. (can be refrigerated for later consumption)
- Add probiotics when serving.
- Digestive stimulant containing HCL and enzymes - helps to digest your food
- Multi-strain Probiotic formula - helps restore the balance of good bacteria
- Digestive repair formula containing glutamine and zinc - smoothes and repairs the mucous membrane lining of your digestive tract.
- Slippery elm powder. This can be purchased at a health food store as either a powder or capsule. The powder is mixed with water to make a gravy-like consistency that you need to drink quickly and follow it up with a large glass of water. Slippery elm can help regulate bowel movements and ease heartburn as it coats, soothes, protects and heals your mucus membranes. Warning: If you are taking supplements it can reduce the absorption of these, so take them at different times.
- GI Map
- Food allergy testing