For Menopause Awareness Month, Leyla Moudden, naturopath and educator for Enzymedica Germany reveals how you can support your digestive system during menopause
As women get older, there is a decrease in estrogen and a gradual disappearance of menstruation – this is known as menopause.
The decline in estrogen is not steady and consistent, and therefore the symptoms that occur can be very arbitrary and unpredictable.
In addition, digestion, sleep quality and mood can fluctuate from pleasant to uncomfortable and back again.
Digestive disorders during menopause are common and often can be very destabilizing. Good digestion gives us access to the good nutrition we need for bone, skin and energy levels.
However, digestive disorders can affect us physically and lead to constipation, gas, and heartburn.
Digestive disorders during menopause are common
All of these disorders have one thing in common; They are created by the decrease in estrogen, which leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.
The relationship between cortisol and estrogen is balancing like an old-fashioned kitchen scale; when estrogen is high, cortisol is low.
When estrogen is low, cortisol (stress) is imbalanced. During menopause, instead of staying in balance, cortisol rises and falls, sometimes erratically and unpredictably.
When hormones are out of whack, so too do all of the body systems that rely on that balance to function effectively.
The good news is there is many healthy ways to support your digestive system and make sure you continue to get nourishment from the food you eat …
# 1 Eat mindfully
Middle weight gain, or “muffin top” as it is colloquially known, is commonly reported by women as soon as they reach menopause.
During and after menopause, two mechanisms are at work that contribute to this; The first is that a decrease in estrogen levels triggers the persistent storage of fat cells, leading to overall weight gain, and the second is that the increase in cortisol slows digestion so we don’t feel as satisfied as we do after eating it should.
Digestion also works much better when you are in a relaxed state
Rising cortisol levels also affect sleep, which creates cravings for food and especially sugar and carbohydrates the next day.
Healthy digestion begins with thinking about food. Just the thought of biting into a juicy lemon can flood your mouth with saliva and release digestive enzymes into your mouth and stomach.
By thinking about the food before you eat and by staying present while you eat, you will help your body digest food more easily. Digestion also works much better when you are in a relaxed state.
Sitting down, thinking about your food, and enjoying the process of eating will help you digest it more effectively.
# 2 Stay hydrated
Every digestive process in your body requires water to function properly, especially stomach acid. Failure to drink water or consume caffeine can affect your digestion.
Water is needed for stomach acid production and also for healthy bowel movements, so make sure you drink plenty of water.
# 3 Chew well
Nutrients and minerals need to be broken down through the digestive process before we can benefit from them. Give your digestion a head start by chewing well.
Eating quickly or eating while you are active decreases digestive power.
# 4 Use digestive enzyme supplements
During menopause, rising cortisol stops the production of acid and digestive enzymes, which in turn causes food particles to reach the intestines intact.
In the small intestine, good and bad bacteria try to eat the food and produce gas in the process.
Because gut bacteria are not designed to digest food that has not been effectively liquefied by digestive enzymes and stomach acids, the fermentation process goes on and on, producing more and more gas, inflating the stomach and causing discomfort.
During menopause, rising cortisol levels stop the production of acid and digestive enzymes
Digestive enzymes, taken with the first bite, help break down the food in the stomach and replace the lost digestive capacity.
In addition to increasing food intake, the support of food breakdown in the stomach protects the intestines from fermentation of the swallowed food and thus reduces the occurrence of gas and flatulence.
Because of this, a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme is like Digest Gold ™ from Enzymedica UK is an integral part of the menopause and beyond survival strategy.
# 5 Eat foods with natural enzymes
There are many healthy foods available that are full of natural plant enzymes that can help digest food.
Pineapples contain large amounts of an enzyme called bromelain that can break down the proteins in meat, fish, and eggs. Papaya is similar to pineapple and also has powerful protein digestive enzymes.
Plant enzymes are great digestive aids because they offer so many additional benefits. Plant enzymes not only help you digest your meals and absorb the nutrients they contain, they also have many anti-inflammatory properties.
The anti-inflammatory effects of plant enzymes can also help with muscle aches and pains.
# 6 Eat smaller, more frequent meals
There is a small flap on the top of our stomach that keeps our stomach closed and protects our throat from burning the stomach acid, and this door closes when the stomach acid reaches a sufficiently high volume.
Because cortisol reduces this secretion, we may feel a burning sensation in our chest or throat after eating.
You are more likely to get good nutrition if you eat smaller, more frequent meals
Lower down in our stomach, larger meals that put more work into our digestive system can cause gas, gas, and cramping.
This happens because poorly digested food enters the small intestine, where it irritates the lining of the intestine, causing inflammation and gas production.
We are more likely to get good nutrition by eating smaller, more frequent meals rather than having one very large meal each day. Small, frequent, nutritious meals are a great way to support our digestive system.
Leyla El Moudden BA Hons, Dip Herb, Dip Nat is a seasoned herbalist and naturopath with a special interest in skin and digestive health.
Leyla provides critical training and hands-on support for the Enzyme Science ™ brand in the UK and runs her own client practice.
Previously, she was President of the Association of Naturopathic Practitioners (ANP), the largest and most influential Naturopathic Association in the UK, and Business Development Director and Short Courses Director of the College of Natural Medicine (CNM), the UK’s largest and longest association of ongoing nutrition therapist training providers. Herbalists, acupuncturists and natural cooks.
Leyla is also an editor for IHCAN magazine and a guest author for Holistic Therapist Magazine, Indigo Herbs and Amchara.
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