How menopause affects the digestive system

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Menopause Advisor
Ask Eileen

07 August 2017

Read the full video transcript below

Today's topic

Hello and welcome to my weekly video blog. And today on A.Vogel Talks Menopause, I'm going to be talking about some digestive problems.

Now we find that we get an awful lot of women who suddenly start to get digestive problems as they're approaching or going through the menopause or women who already have digestive problems and find that they start to get worse and they're all wondering if they see this part and parcel of the menopause.

And the answer is yes, it certainly can be. And the main culprit as with nearly all things is your changing oestrogen levels. Now as your oestrogen level starts to fall this can affect the acid production in the stomach. 

What are the symptoms

And very often this will cause symptoms such as indigestion, you will get gastric reflux or you could end up with a hiatus hernia.

What causes these symptoms

Now all of these symptoms can be caused by high acidity. But these symptoms can also be caused by low acidity making all the food in your stomach just bubble and ferment and that in turn can cause an upsurge of acid so you get the gastric reflux, that can affect the little valve at the top of the stomach causing a hiatus hernia and it can also give you indigestion.

And the problem here is that very often you'll end up going to the doctor and it will be assumed that you have high acid and you will then be given medication for it and if you were instead suffering from low acid, this could end up making all your symptoms worse.

Natural remedies

So in this situation, why not try some of the natural remedies and other things that I'm going to tell you about first to see if these help and then if you find it's not helping then yes obviously, please go and see your doctor.


So the first remedy that I would recommend is something called Centaurium. And Centaurium is what's called a bitter. And bitter herbs help to balance stomach function. So Centaurium is lovely because it doesn't matter. You don't need to know if you have high acid or low acid because it will help to balance stomach function. It will help to get your stomach back working to the way in which it should do.

Watch how you eat

Other things that you need to do are to watch how you eat. Now as women today what do we do? We're busy. So we're eating on the run, we're eating at our desk, we're eating really quickly and no wonder our stomach complains.

It is said that the stomach has no teeth. So you need to thoroughly start the whole digestive process off in the mouth. And that means first of all sitting properly. Now if we are sitting at a desk, if we are sitting with food on our lap watching the television or even reading, then we crunch up the stomach.

And the stomach can't move properly. The stomach is a bit like an accordion. It moves in and out and in and out and it mushes everything up and gets your food really well broken down. 

And if we're sitting like this, then that doesn't happen and big lumps of food will start to ferment and bubble and that will give you the indigestion and possibly the gastric reflux.

So sitting up well is very important. We need to chew each mouthful really slowly. And this can be very difficult to start with especially if you're used to eating on the run. You need to try and chew each mouthful 20 times. It takes ages. And one of the great things I found about doing this is that you get fuller. You can actually feel being full. And if you take your time eating then that allows enough time for the messages from the stomach to the brain to say, "I'm full." To actually register. 

And very often you will eat less when you chew more slowly. One of the interesting things that I have found now is that I have trained myself to eat really slowly. And very often when I'm out for meals, I can't believe how quickly other people eat and they're already on to their pudding or want their pudding and I'm only halfway through my meal.

But I find that food satisfies you much more if you can take your time over it.

Drink lots of liquids

Other really important thing here is not to drink lots of any kind of liquid whilst you're eating. If you have low stomach acid already and you drink a lot whilst you're eating, you're going to dilute that acid even further and it's going to make it more difficult to break down and digest your food. 

So only have a little glass maybe about this size of water if you need to eat anything...or drink anything whilst you're eating. And I find now, that I couldn't sit down and drink a whole glass of anything whilst I'm eating because it would just feel so strange for me. And eventually, you will find that your stomach digestion can improve quite a lot just by cutting out a lot of liquid whilst you're eating as well.

Low oestrogen and liver function

Now, the next thing that can happen is that low oestrogen can affect our liver function. And for those of you who've been watching for quite a while, you'll know just how big an impact liver function has on our whole hormonal balance and everything that goes on in the menopause. 

Low oestrogen will affect the production and flow of bile. And bile does two main things. It does lots of things but the main things as far as we are concerned are, bile is needed for fat metabolism. So if you are not producing enough bile, then your digestive system will have a problem breaking down your fats. And as we know in the menopause weight gain is a lot more common. So we want to be able to digest and break down and emulsify our fats very well.

High cholesterol level

The other thing here that can happen is that very often our cholesterol level will start to rise as we go through the menopause. So again if we don't have enough bile, that can be a contributory factor in the level of our cholesterol. 


So the other issue with bile is that it controls Peristalsis. And Peristalsis is just basically the way and the speed at which our digestive tract pushes digested food all the way through to the bowel.

So if you're not producing enough bile, the transit time is going to take a lot longer. Instead of taking maybe 24 hours, it may take 36 or even 48 hours from when you've eaten the meal until you're actually ready to empty your bowels off that food. If your transit time slows down, that's going to cause a lot of bloating, it's going to cause cramping, it's going to cause wind, it's going to cause sluggish bowels and it can cause constipation

And the problem with constipation is if your constipation is really bad and is constant, that can also trigger diarrhoea. So some women in the menopause will find that they get constipation and then they get diarrhoea alternately the whole time. And again this can just be due to a very, very slow transit time.

What can you do?

So how can you sort this combination of issues here? Very simply you can use really nice liver remedies. Something like our Milk Thistle Complex can be very useful. This is a combination of herbs that are known to help to improve the production and flow of bile. So it's going to work both on our dealings with the fat in our diet and also to help speed up the transit time.

How do you know how long your transit time is?

Now, you may well be asking, "How do I know how long my transit time is? I go regularly every day. I don't seem to have much of a problem. But how do I know if I'm slow?"

Well, you can do the sweet corn test or you can do the beetroot test. And it's really simple. All you do is have a really nice portion of cooked beetroot or a nice big portion of cooked sweet corn and then you just time how long it is before you see it the other end.

A good bowel habit is literally 12 to 24 hours maximum. You really want to go more than that if you can to have really healthy bowels. Anything over the 24 hours maximum, then that would indicate that your bowels are really a bit sluggish and your transit time is taking too long and you need to do something about it. 


Here as well is water and remember especially if you're getting hot flushes and night sweats, you may end up getting digestive problems as a side effect of the dehydration.

So remember in this one to drink plenty of plain water during the day but not at meal times. Any other time of the day is absolutely fine.


The third issue with digestion is that it can be caused by stress. We know that when we go through the menopause we are much more vulnerable, we're much more likely to get stress and anxiety and that can affect our nervous system. We can get the adrenaline, we can get the histamine but this will also shut our digestive tract down. 

So if you're getting a lot of digestive problems and you're also getting the anxiety and the stress, you need to address the stress and the anxiety as well and that will help your digestion.

And it's really interesting, it's actually fascinating that our gut is often, in naturopathic circles, it's called the second brain, because it contains a large amount of Serotonin and reciprocytes. And they're the same ones that are in the brain.

Serotonin makes us feel good. It's a real feel good chemical if you like. And if our Serotonin levels are high then our mood is usually very level and we feel good and we feel happy. If the Serotonin levels drop, then that can lead to low mood and anxiety and for some women a little bit of depression

So the Serotonin and reciprocytes in the digestive tract are also affected by the Serotonin levels in the brain. And we can end up feeling low and down and anxious and depressed if our digestion is affected.

So our digestion is not just about feeling comfortable, it's not just about keeping ourselves free of toxicity and about having good bile habits, our digestion also plays a big part in how we feel emotionally too.

So it's really important to look at all these different aspects of digestion and if you have any digestive problems to really try and put them right.

So I hope this has given you a little bit of insight that the digestive issue in menopause is a huge one and I will be looking into other areas in the future. 

If any of you have any specific problems on digestion that you would like me to help with, then please do get in touch and I will see you next week for another A.Vogel Talks Menopause. 

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You won’t get the menopause the minute you turn 50! The average starting age is actually between 45 and 55 and it can often depend on a number of factors including hereditary, weight and health, however every single woman will have an individual menopause.

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