How does menopause affect the gut microbiome?

gut health in menopause

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The menopause transition is a time of huge change for our body affecting our diets and lifestyles in different ways. Common symptoms including hot flushes, weight gain and mood swings are all down to the changes in regulation of our reproductive hormones.

One of the common complaints surrounding menopause comes from the digestive system, where many women experience stomach bloating, constipation, inflammation, and diarrhoea, which may stem from the hormonal changes happening whilst the body is transitioning through menopause.

In this blog we will explore the ways in which the digestive system may alter throughout this time and how to nurture your digestive health during menopause.

Firstly, let’s understand our digestive system a bit better.

What is the gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome is the collective name given to all the bacteria, viruses and fungi that live inside our gut. We have in fact more bacterial cells than we do human ones, and they have numerous roles within the body. 

Why is the gut microbiome so important?

The research keeps rolling in around the importance of the gut microbiome. Themes seem to be emerging. Firstly have a diversity of microbes appears to support healthy digestion. Secondly there are connections between the health of our microbiome and our immunity (as 70% of our immune cells live in the gut).

There are also some exciting developments in the connection between our guts and our moods and in protecting us against disease. Both of these are key considerations for the menopausal woman, so what happens to our microbiome as we go through menopause? 

What happens to the gut during perimenopause?

As perimenopause begins, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone begin to fluctuate and eventually permanently decline. Developing research¹ suggests the reduction of reproductive hormones does influence our gut health and gut microbiome during and after the menopause transition. It has been found that after menopause, our gut is potentially less diverse in microbes which once thrived in the gut microbiome.

This decreased diversity leads to a less stable gut, which may struggle to digest, breakdown and absorb the nutrients at the same rate it used to. This may be why gastrointestinal symptoms can be more common during the menopausal transition as the gut is working in an altered state.

Is the gut lining altered in menopause?

The lack of oestrogen and progesterone may lead to issues surrounding the permeability of the gut lining. Before menopause, oestrogen and progesterone have a vital role in maintaining the gut barrier reducing the risk of microbial translocation (movement of bacteria). When these hormones deplete, there is suggestible evidence that the lining of the gut may be more susceptible to dangerous pathogens moving into the gut. We need more research here though.

Are the gut changes in menopause affecting my mood?

The answer is potentially yes. The gut-brain axis is a really dynamic area of research and we need more studies looking at menopausal women specifically. Understand more about your gut, mood and menopause.

Looking after your gut health pre- and post-menopause can encourage a stable, healthy environment and reduce the risks of problems relating to the gut and digestive system. Keeping a balanced diet full of vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and fibre can support your gut and provide the microorganisms within your gut the essential nutrients they need for digestion and protection of overall gut health.

woman walking in woodland

Gut health and menopause are becoming big business though and it is easy to get overwhelmed. Special products and/or supplements may have their place but for now, getting the basics right is key to keeping your digestive system functioning well:

 

Delve into the foundational first steps you need in How can I improve my gut health during menopause?

Or get super practical right away with these menopause friendly lunch ideas.

References:

  1. Spotlight on the Gut Microbiome in Menopause: Current Insights

#gutmicrobiome #guthealth #menopausaltransition

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