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Eileen’s Menopause Corner

Eileen’s Menopause Corner
MENOPAUSE AND digesTion

Does the menopause affect your digestion? I’ve had so much acid reflux at night recently, and I haven’t changed my diet or done anything else that would account for this.

I get asked this question such a lot; so, firstly, you are definitely not alone! And yes, menopause can affect digestion, so you are right to point the finger at your hormones!

There are several reasons that hormonal fluctuation will potentially affect your digestion. A key one is that as your oestrogen levels diminish, receptor sites along your digestive tract get less stimulation and your gut function will probably slow down a little.

You may have noticed this during your menstruating years – a tendency to become a little constipated in the week before your period, which is when your oestrogen levels are lowest. If you take progesterone-based contraceptives or have the Mirena coil, this tendency to sluggishness will be more noticeable.

Generally speaking, the female stomach empties more slowly than the male’s anyway, increasing the risk of food being present in the stomach when we women go to bed – at which point gravity ceases to help us move our meal downwards! Luckily women have stronger muscles than men preventing the backflow of food into the oesophagus, as they need these during pregnancy; however, eating late, eating a heavy evening meal, or drinking lots of fizzy drinks can all increase the pressure on the stomach to push food back up into the oesophagus.

Then stress is bad for digestion, weakening digestive secretions and reducing the toning effect of digestive enzymes on the muscles at the top of the stomach. Experiencing increased stress levels during menopause is therefore impacting on your digestion too.

Have you had painful periods or regular headaches that require painkillers? Many painkilling medications make the stomach more likely to be inflamed or sensitive, which doesn’t help if you’re experiencing reflux.

So, solutions!

Firstly, always sit down to meals, pausing before starting to eat, just to catch your breath and focus on your meal. You know there’s a huge tendency for mid-life women to rush around and eat on the run.

Then, eat slowly, chewing each mouthful at least 20 times. You may well find this extremely hard initially but, if you stick at it, you’ll find it hugely helpful.

Sit up straight to give your stomach (which is located under your ribcage and is compressed by poor posture) room to expand and your stomach walls room to move.

Don’t drink with meals, as this dilutes your digestive enzymes and increases the volume present in your stomach. Similarly, try not to eat large portions, as this also means there’s a larger volume in the stomach. Make sure that you don’t eat anything in the 3 hours before you go to bed, so that the food has a chance to move through your stomach before you lie down. If you need a menopausal evening snack, make it something light such as a little yoghurt.

Try not to drink very much during the evening either, especially just before you go to bed, as this just fills the stomach again and makes it more likely that food will reflux.

Another strategy is to raise the head of your bed slightly, or at least raise yourself on pillows so that you are not lying flat – you need your shoulders and chest area to be slightly raised so that gravity is helping rather than hindering your digestive process and not shunting stomach contents back up the way. Many people find that taking a bitter tincture before food helps support better, more efficient digestion. We don’t tend to have many bitter foods in our diet, but bitter tastes are good for stimulating digestive processes. You could try taking an extract of the herb Centaurium before your meals.

Bon appetit!

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Eileen’s Menopause Corner