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Women’s Digestive Health Is Largely Affected By Their Hormonal Changes, Here’s Why

Women’s Digestive Health Is Largely Affected By Their Hormonal Changes, Here’s Why

Digestion is one of the body’s naturally-occurring, automatic functions. Generally, it is something we don’t have to give much thought to because it happens without problems. The digestive health of some people, however, can be problematic. Poor digestive health occurs with the following diagnoses: Crohn’s Disease, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and gastroparesis (to name a few).

Women are particularly susceptible to poor digestive health and more likely to suffer from the previously mentioned disorders. Even in digestive disorders that occur in both genders equally, women are more likely to suffer from severe symptoms. Why? Well, the digestive systems of men and women are different. For starters, women have longer intestinal tracts in order to move around the uterus and ovaries. According to Dr. Shakti Singh, gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in Modesto, California, the second difference between men and women is “hormones and their effect on the female GI tract.”[1]

How Do Hormones Affect Digestive Health?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Progesterone and estrogen are the main hormones that affect digestive health, particularly in an IBS diagnosis. Your gut is full of special cells with receptors that are designed to attach to these hormones. Once inside of your gut, these hormones affect your digestive health, causing pain and inflammation.

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Smooth muscles inside of your digestive system help push food and waste through your intestinal tract. Progesterone and estrogen affect how fast this happens. Low levels of these sex hormones slow down the process and can lead to constipation. High levels result in diarrhea. Constipation and diarrhea, in turn, causes cramps. When your estrogen levels are low, you feel more pain. This happens because estrogen promotes serotonin production, which works to increase your pain threshold. Lower levels of serotonin mean your cramps and pains hurt more.[2]

Menstrual Cycle

430px-menstrualcycle2_en-svg

    Source

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    Hormones change during all stages of the menstrual cycle, which also affects digestive health. Women, both with and without IBS, have reported digestive health problems during the premenstrual cycle, menstruation, and perimenopause (the stage before menopause). These symptoms include: bloating, constipation, diarrhea, bowel discomfort, and abdominal pain.

    What are these monthly hormonal fluctuations? During the first five days of the menstrual cycle, beginning on day 1 of your period, your estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. Estrogen begins to increase between days 6 and 14. Between days 15 and 24, progesterone production increases. Somewhere between days 24 and 28, these hormones drop suddenly.[3]

    When these hormones are decreased, poor digestive health is triggered. These symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, bowel discomfort, and intestinal pain.

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    The Gallbladder and Gallstones

    Your gallbladder is an important component of digestive health. The gallbladder stores concentrated bile, which it releases into the small intestine to help digest fats. Sometimes, gallstones form inside of the gallbladder. These stones are hard concentrations of cholesterol that can migrate to the bile duct. Once there, gallstones block the bile duct, which harms your digestive health by causing intense abdominal pain and diarrhea.[4]

    Women are more likely to develop gallstones than men. This is true because estrogen increases the concentration of cholesterol in bile. In addition, low levels of progesterone slow down gallbladder contractions. When the gallbladder cannot empty cholesterol-rich bile, gallstones form.[5]

    How to Improve Digestive Health

    Although it is difficult to control hormonal changes, there are some things you can do to reduce the symptoms of poor digestive health.[6]

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    Eat More Fiber

    Make sure your diet is full of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, and nuts. These are all fiber-rich foods. Fiber helps you maintain proper digestive health by increasing the bulk and softness of stool. This reduces the risk of developing constipation and its accompanying bloating and cramping.

    Drink More Water

    In addition to eating more fiber, you should also increase your water intake. Water and other fluids help your body process the increased fiber intake. It also flushes waste and toxins through your liver and kidneys.

    Consider Taking Birth Control

    Birth control pills give you a more stable amount of estrogen and progestin (artificial progesterone). One of the biggest positives of taking birth control (beside avoiding unwanted or unplanned pregnancies) is decreased menstrual cramps.[7]

    However, your hormones still drop before menstruation, which makes you vulnerable to poor digestive health. In addition, some researchers have found a link between taking birth control pills and increased risk for gallstones[8] and Crohn’s disease[9].

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via pexels.com

    Reference

    [1] https://www.mylifestages.org/health/digestive_health/digestion_in_women.page
    [2] WebMD: Do Your Hormones Affect IBS?
    [3] Women In Balance Institute: About Hormone Imbalance
    [4] NHS Choices: Gallstones
    [5] Hormones Matter: The Gallbladder: An Essential Organ Influenced by Hormones
    [6] Everyday Health: What Women Need to Know About Their Digestive Health
    [7] Empower: Birth Control Pills and Digestive Side Effects
    [8] Drugwatch: Yaz Gallbladder Disease
    [9] Health Day: Birth Control Pills, HRT Tied to Digestive Ills

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    Amber Pariona

    EFL Teacher, Lifehack Writer, English/Spanish Translator, MPA

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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