Menopause is a natural biological process marking the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles, usually in their 40’s or 50’s. About 75 percent of women experience ‘hot flashes’ and we recognise this as being one of the main symptoms of menopause - but how does it affect our gut health?
Menopause can not only cause bloating, weight gain, acid reflux, mood swings and general discomfort, but it can also cause imbalances in our digestive system and affect gut health.
Menopause and the Gut
Oestrogen, or “hormones which promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body” help to regulate the stress hormone cortisol, and starts to decline as we enter the first stages of menopause. As this hormone declines, stress levels increase, and the cortisol starts to inhibit our body’s ability to digest food.
This slowing down of the digestive process in turn can lead to imbalances in the gut and digestive issues. Where previously the body relied on Oestrogen to assist with the digestion of food, it now needs other ways to help with digestion and maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
Good gut bacteria are required to help to digest food, absorb nutrients, balance out bad pathogenic bacteria (which can cause disease), and reduce the risk of inflammation and infection.
They also manufacture important vitamins and help to strengthen the immune system. Therefore, a decline in the hormones that fuel them can have a detrimental impact on the gut flora and increase your risk of developing digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation, heartburn, and indigestion.
As oestrogen decreases, our Lactobacilli also decrease which in turn increases the chances of harmful pathogens to colonize and cause infection.
Probiotics for Menopause
Taking a high-quality natural probiotic with multiple stains of bacteria and that includes organic whole foods is a great option.
Whole foods such as soy beans ares known to contain a high concentration of isoflavones, a type of plant oestrogen (phytoestrogen) that is similar in function to human oestrogen. And fermented soy is even better as it improves the digestibility and absorption in the body, as the fermentation process partially breaks down the soy sugars and protein molecules.
Soy foods are also rich in nutrients including B-vitamins, fibre, potassium, magnesium, and high-quality protein. Unlike some plant proteins, soy protein is considered a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make which must be obtained from the diet.
It is important to replace the Lactobacillus bacteria which diminish as the Oestrogen levels deplete. This will help to balance the gut microbiome and assist to keep digestive issues at bay, as well as helping to balance hormones that cause stress, anxiety, and mood swings.
The use of probiotics may also prevent vaginal infections by maintaining balance within the vaginal microflora for women with decreasing Oestrogen levels.
The best probiotics for menopause should contain multiple strains of live bacteria, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Bifidobacterium is known to be antibacterial, and is said to be especially good for vaginal health and for enhancing mood.
As always, it is important to include good quality, natural probiotics as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Eat plenty of fruit and vegies, fibre rich foods and drink plenty of water!