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Menopause bloating: Why it happens and ways to relieve it

With all the hormonal fluctuations, it's common to experience bloating during menopause.

Menopause bloating: Why it happens and ways to relieve it
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The symptoms accompanying menopause are rarely pleasant but bloating is one of the most common and uncomfortable sensations to experience. For some women, menopausal bloating is mild and infrequent but for others, it's constant and debilitating.

Whether you're in the throes of perimenopause or finally seeing the end of your menopause journey, you shouldn't have to suffer through painful bloating symptoms.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to manage bloating during menopause. Let's take you through them, and the reasons that your bloating might be happening in the first place.

What causes menopause belly bloating?

When it comes to menopausal bloating, your fluctuating hormones are usually to blame.

Menopause is generally defined by a decrease in the production of the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, which can have a pretty big effect on the rest of your body — including your digestive system and digestive tract [1].

These hormonal shifts can actually change the way these internal systems operate and lead to those uncomfortable bloating symptoms.

Let's explain.

Water retention

Water retention is one of the main causes of bloating, and it's something that's almost unavoidable during menopause. This is because your oestrogen levels tend to be all over the place during menopause, which causes your body to retain more water and leads to bloating [2].

Bile changes

Oestrogen fluctuations can also lead to changes in your bile production, which plays an important role in the digestive process. Bile is not only responsible for breaking down the fats in food but also for lubricating the small intestine and encouraging bowel movements [3].

When your oestrogen levels fall, you generally experience a decrease in the production of bile, which makes it harder for your body to digest fats. This can lead to an increase in constipation, gas and painful bloating episodes.

Stress and anxiety

Bloating in menopausal women can also be caused by stress and anxiety. How? Well, your mind and gut are actually interconnected.

This is also known as the brain-gut axis, which describes a pathway of communication between your central and enteric nervous systems that essentially links your brain with your intestinal functions [4].

Many women experience a rise in stress and anxiety during menopause. This is generally caused by a combination of hormonal changes and other stressful life events, such as looking after ageing parents, deaths, marital difficulties, financial insecurity, health scares and other menopausal symptoms.

When these events cause your anxiety levels to rise, it's likely that you will also experience an increase in bloating and other uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.

What does menopause bloating feel like?

Bloating is an uncomfortable sensation to experience and menopause bloating is no different. If you have experienced bloating in the past, you will probably recognise the symptoms.

Just like with other types of bloating, bloating from menopause will usually make your stomach feel uncomfortably full and tight, and give you the sensation that your stomach has been inflated or expanded. This is often accompanied by some abdominal pain, cramping and in some cases, even nausea.

However, if you're someone that's lucky enough to have never experienced bloating before, you might find it difficult to distinguish bloating from other menopause symptoms, such as weight gain.

Menopausal weight gain may look a little like bloating but it won't feel like it. So, while you may notice some changes to the size or shape of your abdomen, weight gain isn't accompanied by the uncomfortable symptoms that bloating is.

Another good way to work out whether you are experiencing bloating or weight gain during menopause is to keep an eye on whether your abdomen is changing in size over the course of the day.

If it's bloating, then your stomach is going to expand at different times of the day (usually after eating) but if it's weight gain, then the size and shape are unlikely to change.

Does bloating occur more frequently during perimenopause?

Bloating can occur at any stage of menopause but usually occurs more frequently in the early stages of menopause or perimenopause.

Perimenopause is generally defined as the lead-up to menopause [5]. This transitionary phase usually lasts for around 5 years but it's also common for it to be much longer or shorter than this.

For a lot of women, perimenopause is actually more intense than menopause. This is because your hormone levels undergo some extreme fluctuations, and bring about those uncomfortable menopause symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats and irritability.

Like with other menopause symptoms, bloating is typically more intense during the perimenopausal stage and eases when you reach menopause, as your hormones start to stabilise.

What can help relieve menopause bloating?

While menopause and bloating go hand-in-hand, there are still many things that you can do to reduce bloating episodes and manage your symptoms.

Let's take you through some of the best things that you can do to stop your menopause belly bloat.

Keep an eye on your eating habits

With all the hormone changes going on in your body, your digestive system is a little more sensitive during menopause.

This means that you might have to adjust your diet and eating patterns. You can start by eating smaller meals and taking notice of any trigger foods that lead to bloating.

It's also important to avoid any processed foods that are high in salt, as this may lead to water retention and uncomfortable bloating episodes.

Eating habits can be really hard to change and it's important to reach out for help if you need it. That's why Juniper's Weight Reset Program takes a medical approach to weight loss, helping you make real changes to your health with dietitian-led health coaching, doctor-prescribed medication and access to a supportive community.

Increase fibre and water consumption

Your digestive system needs enough fibre and water to function properly. If you're dehydrated or lacking in fibre, your body can struggle to process food and likely experience more bloating.

So, fill up that water bottle and start incorporating some high-fibre foods into your diet.

To get more fibre into your diet, you can increase your intake of the following foods:

  • Wholemeal bread
  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Brown rice and quinoa
  • Legumes
  • Fruits and vegetables [6].

Get active

Regular exercise has been proven to regulate your digestion and prevent bloating [7]. This is because physical activity can stimulate your abdominal muscles and prompt bowel movements.

Whether it's a brisk walk, swimming in the ocean or class at the gym, taking the time to exercise will make you and your belly feel a whole lot better.

Consider taking probiotics

If your gut isn't healthy, your digestive system will struggle to digest food and experience bloating. A good way to prevent bloating during menopause is to include probiotics and other gut-friendly foods in your diet, including onions, garlic, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and kefir [8].

Just remember to consult a healthcare professional before taking a course of probiotics so that they can recommend the best probiotic strain for your specific needs.

Cut back on alcohol

If you have ever had to run to the bathroom after a big night out, you will know how much alcohol can affect your digestive system. During menopause, a few glasses of wine can be enough to irritate your gastrointestinal tract and cause some painful bloating episodes.

Try swapping that second glass of wine for sparkling water or herbal tea — it won't just be your head that's thanking you in the morning.

Reduce stress

When it comes to your gut, working on your mental health is just as important as working on your physical health.

If your stress levels are skyrocketing, you might consider taking some time out for yourself and implementing some self-care activities. Whether it's a long bath in the evening, a weekly therapy session or a yoga class, it's important to prioritise looking after yourself during menopause.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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