Every Wednesday I come up with a topic that I hope will interest you – perhaps something that you haven’t associated with how you are feeling now that you are going through your menopause transition, or you are in post-menopause. With so many women experiencing changing gut health as they move into their 50s, I hope you like my ‘Wednesday Briefing’ this week, because if your gut health has changed, then you aren’t alone.
In western countries Irritable Bowel Syndrome [IBS] is 4 times more common in women as they reach mid-life.
So, if you’ve found that your depression, anxiety, weight gain (or loss) and brain-fog are becoming worse and you’ve developed gut-health concerns as you’ve moved into menopause, then I have a surprise for you …. these symptoms are all connected.
One of the main effects oestrogen has in our body, is to support our digestive health. In our monthly cycle, oestrogen was cycling up and down, and this meant that the higher levels of oestrogen helped our gut enzymes to work more efficiently.
The role of enzymes in your body is important. They work hard every second of every day to produce chemical reactions in the body. For example, there are enzymes that help our digestive processes. When you eat that bit of bread, amylase is the enzyme that breaks down the starch in it. Amylase is present in your saliva. Then there is another enzyme called pancreatase. This is produced by our pancreas to help break down fats and proteins.
But here’s the thing; when we move from peri-menopause into menopause, when our oestrogen levels decline, the production of these enzymes is reduced. Only since 2015, have researchers begun to understand that oestrogen has a role in helping the gut epithelium or lining to turn over cells regularly. According to Dr Marek Glezerman, author of ‘Gender Medicine’ which explores the gender differences in health and disease,
“Functional Disorders of the digestive tract, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is four times more common in women living in Western countries during and after menopause. In Japan, China, India and other parts of Asia, the ratio is the opposite.”
I love research that peaks my curiosity. Because not only did I develop gut digestion problems as I moved through menopause, but many of the women on my 12 week MyMT programmes have found this as well.
So, how is your gut health? Do you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? Or diverticulitis? Or do you swing between being constipated and having diarrhoea? Maybe your brain also feels foggy all the time and you find it difficult to concentrate? Maybe you feel sad and depressed? If these health changes have arrived in mid-life, you may have no idea that your menopause symptoms and your gut health are connected.
If you feel like this, then you aren’t alone. At least 50% of women on my coaching pages, tell me that they are experiencing gut health issues that have mainly arrived since they went into their menopause transition.
‘One of the factors that plays a pivotal role in microbiota modulation, although broadly understudied in current research, is the change in female sexual hormones throughout life, including menopause.’ [Veira, A., Castelo, P. et al, (2017) Influence of oral and gut microbiota in the health of menopausal women. Front. Microbiol.]
But there’s something else impacting on our gut health as well and I have Australia’s Professor Rosemary Stanton to thank for my light bulb moment. When I heard Professor Stanton speak at last year’s Lifestyle Medicine conference in Australia, my ears pricked up:
“After four generations of a low-fibre diet since modern food processing arrived in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the gut microbiota has changed to the extent that it no longer supports our immune health. Never before have we seen so much chronic disease caused by the western diet. Diversity in vegetables has the single greatest influence on the gut microbiota. The Mediterranean way of eating is the way to turn this all around.”
And it’s not just food that’s the issue with our changing gut health in mid-life either. Not only are we are the first generation to come into menopause having experienced so many changes to our food environment, but we are also the first generation to have been exposed to substances that have a negative effect on our gut bacteria. And according to researchers, one of the greatest influences on our gut health has been our exposure to antibiotics.
The gut microbiome is one of the largest organs in the body (along with our skin) but here’s what blew me away with the research. Gut health researcher, Professor Thomas Borody from Australia, reports that the gut is responsible for producing 70% of our energy. As well, there is a powerful connection between your gut and your brain (which is why our gut is now referred to as our ‘second brain’), therefore many symptoms that we experience in menopause, such as foggy brain, depression, anxiety and mood swings can also be linked to the health of your gut micro-biome. I might also add insomnia in there too.
Imagine what happens to your energy levels, sleep, health and moods, when your gut isn’t performing to its best? It’s Ok, don’t answer that – I already know. It’s why I made you this fabulous stand-alone ‘Gut Health’ module called ‘Restore your Grateful Gut’ (also available as part of my 12 week programmes) and I tell you about it in the video below.
Knowledge of the gut-brain connection has increased 10-fold over the past decade. This has been due to improved brain research as well as genetic research. Both have opened the door to better understanding gut health and the link to disease, especially the effect of the accumulation of inflammatory changes as we get older. With menopause heralding in the transition towards our ageing, this is a critical time of life to sleep all night, restore health to our body and for those of you who need to lose weight, this will also have a positive impact on your gut health, anxiety levels and daily energy too.
Three Things to Help Manage your GUT HEALTH:
Once we understand the powerful connection between the brain, the gut, the vagus nerve, existing gut inflammation AND menopause, then we need to focus on these three factors:
- Sleep All Night – as I keep saying to women, if you aren’t sleeping, then you aren’t healing and your heart rate stays higher during the day. This alone makes you feel more anxious because your nervous system stays ‘wired’ all day long and in turn this stimulates your gut which is serviced by the same nerves as your heart. As I’ve often mentioned before, our gut is also on a 24 hour circadian rhythm as are all of our major organs, so we need to improve our sleep in order to improve our gut.
- Allow your gut to empty fully and heal overnight – I encourage women as much as possible to allow their digestive system to rest for 12 hours overnight. This means that the timing of food and fluid is important. If we can avoid food for around 12 hours overnight (this changes obviously for shift-workers) then our digestive system gets the chance to actually digest and absorb the food that we eat during the day.
- Improving Food Quality and Vegetable Diversity – Professor Rosemary Stanton of Australia has been studying the health of the population in Australia for over four decades now: “The way to heal the gut is to have diversity in vegetable intake and increase fibre. This is what the gut has been designed for. Decades of low fibre, processed foods have resulted in worsening health of the population and a plethora of diseases which are mainly related to our changing food environment.”
If you would like help to turn around your Gut Health now that you are in menopause, then will you join me? I’ve designed a new GUT HEALTH module for you (or join me on the 12 week programme and it is included). At only NZ$49.95 [UK£27] you have important information and sensible lifestyle solutions waiting for you in this powerful module.
As well, don’t forget that as part of my Health Restoration series I have another 60 minute webinar for you called, Restore your Joyful Joints. Both of these are in the main 12 week programmes, but because I know that many of you may have had changes to your work or financial circumstances as the world has changed over the past year, then I have made these stand-alone modules easier for you to access at only NZ$49.95.
When you have time, there are also Success Stories and Testimonials that amazing women have kindly shared too. Please do spend some time exploring their stories if you aren’t sure about coming on board with me.
I know the challenges that we are facing in the world are unprecedented and women going into and through menopause, who aren’t sleeping and experiencing emotional changes, sore joints, weight gain and more, are doing it equally tough. So, don’t forget that my Transform Me and Circuit Breaker programmes are also on sale at only NZ$249 (approx. AU$235 or UK£130), that’s a saving of $50.
And however busy you are, if you’ve got time for some additional reading, then there are numerous BLOGS on my website to distract you from the chaos of the world too.
Glezerman, M. (2016). Gender Medicine. Duckworth & Co Publ.
Nie, X., Xie, R. & Tuo, B. (2018). Effects of Estrogen on the Gastrointestinal Tract. Dig Dis Sci 63, 583–596
Veira, A., Castelo, P. et al, (2017). Influence of oral and gut microbiota in the health of menopausal women. Front. Microbiol.