Bloating and Gut Problems in Women

Symptoms

Do you experience symptoms such as abdominal bloating, painful cramps and spasms, alternating constipation and diarrhoea, acidity, heartburn or a feeling of fullness very soon after eating a small amount of food. Do you sleep poorly, feel fatigued and generally “not right”?

Did you know that it’s normal and healthy to have two bowel movements a day?  Perhaps you are someone who doesn’t even have one bowel movement a day?

It’s important to visit your GP to check out any underlying issues. Once you have done that, there is plenty you can do with your diet and nutrition that will help.

Bloating has to be the number one complaint I hear from women. It is usually very responsive to nutrition interventions!

Why are gut symptoms more common in women?

The gut symptoms mentioned above are often diagnosed as IBS.  Whilst men get them, these symptoms are particularly common amongst women. They often get worse at certain times of the menstrual cycle and in the years leading up to the menopause (peri-menopause). Some reasons for this are:

  • Oestrogen and progesterone have a powerful influence on bowel function
  • Sleep problems in peri menopause can lead to an imbalance in your nervous system and increased inflammation that contributes to IBS symptoms
  • Mid life can be a time of increased mental and physical stress.  You may be balancing the demands of ageing parents with looking after your immediate family. As well as dealing with niggling health issues, facing body changes, navigating fluctuating moods and experiencing memory issues

There are a multitude of nerve endings in your gut and it is often called the second brain for this reason. If you are stressed or anxious, your brain sends messages to your gut which influence the way the muscles of your intestines contract and your bowel functions.

In turn, IBS symptoms are likely to cause stress, low mood or anxiety. So it can be a bit of a negative cycle.

Stress also affects way your gut barrier works. This vital protective layer of cells in your gut allows nutrients to be absorbed from foods but keeps harmful toxins out.  If your gut barrier is not healthy, you are more likely to get IBS symptoms.

The health of your gut goes beyond symptoms of IBS, to affect your whole body. Research is now showing that the state of your gut affects your immune system, mental health and a range of other conditions.

Imbalanced gut flora (dysbiosis)

Scientific research is backing up what natural health practitioners have known for years, that the composition of the bacteria in your gut and elsewhere in your body (your microbiome) is vitally important. We now know that diversity of gut bacteria is key. 

Your gut contains around 3lb of micro organisms, some beneficial and some disease causing. In a healthy gut, the “friendly” bacteria predominate and they have important digestive and immune functions.

An excess of the less desirable bacteria is a factor in bloating and IBS. An overgrowth of yeast also contributes to dysbiosis.

Your gut bacteria can become unbalanced for a number of reasons. Stress, infections, smoking, diet, lack of sleep and medications such as antibiotics, steroids and the contraceptive pill are particular culprits.

Once the flora is out of balance, undesirable organisms including yeasts and parasites may start to multiply and crowd out the “friendly” bacteria even further. Research has linked the type of bacteria you have with mental, immune and weight issues as well as bloating and IBS.

Bacterial balance can be positively influenced by the right foods and if appropriate, supplements.

Low stomach acid

Good digestive function is key to avoiding bloating and IBS. A vital early stage of digestion takes place in the stomach where hydrochloric acid (HCl) is produced. HCl stimulates the production of protein digesting enzymes and it triggers the pancreas and gall bladder to produce more digestive enzymes for the digestion of fat and carbohydrates. Low stomach acid can result in incompletely digested food particles in the intestines irritating the delicate lining of the intestinal wall. As well as being a digestive aid, stomach acid acts as a disinfectant against bugs. 

Certain vitamins can help support stomach acid production.

Food intolerances

Paying more attention to what you are eating will make a big difference to your gut. In your younger years you may have eaten a wide range of foods without them causing any gut issues. Unfortunately, the hormone fluctuations of the peri menopause can make your gut more sensitive and less resilient.

The presence of food intolerances can be a factor in IBS. Food intolerances or sensitivities have been so named to distinguish them from food allergies. The main difference is that the food allergies involve severe symptoms which appear almost immediately after eating the offending food. A good example is peanut allergy which can be fatal in some cases.

Food intolerances on the other hand result in uncomfortable symptoms which can occur up to 72 hours after eating a food.

Tests for Your Gut

If you’ve experienced bloating and gut problems after travelling abroad, there is a Comprehensive Parasitology Profile. This test detects hard to find parasites, yeast and bacterial overgrowth as well as a lack of beneficial bacteria (e.g. acidophilus and bifidus).

This test has to be done through a practitioner such as a nutritional therapist and is not available on the NHS.

The whole picture

A nutritional therapist is specially trained to identify the root cause of IBS symptoms and implement a one to one diet based treatment programme for maximum health and wellbeing. Book an appointment with me  07761 768 754 or penny@nutritionistlondon.co.uk

How to eat

With problems such as bloating, gas and altered bowel movements, how you eat is as important as what you eat in order to provide your body with the right conditions for digestion. If you are stressed when you eat, digestive function slows down as the body goes into “fight or flight” mode as if it were preparing for an emergency. Taking time over meals can be a real challenge in our 24 hour society but it is really important. Here are some tips:

  • Being around the food for a few minutes before tucking in stimulates the production of your digestive enzymes.
  • Always sit at a table to eat.
  • Focus fully on the taste of the food.
  • Chew thoroughly. Try putting your knife and fork down after each mouthful and don’t pick them up again until full chewing has taken place.
  • Don’t overeat. Aim to stop before you feel full.
  • Leave around three hours between meals so that food has been fully digested before you start again.

Copyright © Penny Crowther (London Nutritionist)
Tel: 07761 768 754| Email: penny@nutritionistlondon.co.uk