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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

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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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    Last Updated on June 13, 2019

    5 Fixes For Common Sleep Issues All Couples Deal With

    5 Fixes For Common Sleep Issues All Couples Deal With

    Sleeping next to your partner can be a satisfying experience and is typically seen as the mark of a stable, healthy home life. However, many more people struggle to share a bed with their partner than typically let on. Sleeping beside someone can decrease your sleep quality which negatively affects your life. Maybe you are light sleepers and you wake each other up throughout the night. Maybe one has a loud snoring habit that’s keeping the other awake. Maybe one is always crawling into bed in the early hours of the morning while the other likes to go to bed at 10 p.m.

    You don’t have to feel ashamed of finding it difficult to sleep with your partner and you also don’t have to give up entirely on it. Common problems can be addressed with simple solutions such as an additional pillow. Here are five fixes for common sleep issues that couples deal with.

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    1. Use a bigger mattress to sleep through movement

    It can be difficult to sleep through your partner’s tossing and turning all night, particularly if they have to get in and out of bed. Waking up multiple times in one night can leave you frustrated and exhausted. The solution may be a switch to a bigger mattress or a mattress that minimizes movement.

    Look for a mattress that allows enough space so that your partner can move around without impacting you or consider a mattress made for two sleepers like the Sleep Number bed.[1] This bed allows each person to choose their own firmness level. It also minimizes any disturbances their partner might feel. A foam mattress like the kind featured in advertisements where someone jumps on a bed with an unspilled glass of wine will help minimize the impact of your partner’s movements.[2]

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    2. Communicate about scheduling conflicts

    If one of you is a night owl and the other an early riser, bedtime can become a source of conflict. It’s hard for a light sleeper to be jostled by their partner coming to bed four hours after them. Talk to your partner about negotiating some compromises. If you’re finding it difficult to agree on a bedtime, negotiate with your partner. Don’t come to bed before or after a certain time, giving the early bird a chance to fully fall asleep before the other comes in. Consider giving the night owl an eye mask to allow them to stay in bed while their partner gets up to start the day.

    3. Don’t bring your technology to bed

    If one partner likes bringing devices to bed and the other partner doesn’t, there’s very little compromise to be found. Science is pretty unanimous on the fact that screens can cause harm to a healthy sleeper. Both partners should agree on a time to keep technology out of the bedroom or turn screens off. This will prevent both partners from having their sleep interrupted and can help you power down after a long day.

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    4. White noise and changing positions can silence snoring

    A snoring partner can be one of the most difficult things to sleep through. Snoring tends to be position-specific so many doctors recommend switching positions to stop the snoring. Rather than sleeping on your back doctors recommend turning onto your side. Changing positions can cut down on noise and breathing difficulties for any snorer. Using a white noise fan, or sound machine can also help soften the impact of loud snoring and keep both partners undisturbed.

    5. Use two blankets if one’s a blanket hog

    If you’ve got a blanket hog in your bed don’t fight it, get another blanket. This solution fixes any issues between two partners and their comforter. There’s no rule that you have to sleep under the same blanket. Separate covers can also cut down on tossing and turning making it a multi-useful adaptation.

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    Rather than giving up entirely on sharing a bed with your partner, try one of these techniques to improve your sleeping habits. Sleeping in separate beds can be a normal part of a healthy home life, but compromise can go a long way toward creating harmony in a shared bed.

    Featured photo credit: Becca Tapert via unsplash.com

    Reference

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