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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 September 18, 2020

    7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

    7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

    Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

    Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

    1. Exercise Daily

    It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

    If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

    Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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    If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

    2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

    Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

    One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

    This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

    3. Acknowledge Your Limits

    Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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    Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

    Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

    4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

    Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

    The basic nutritional advice includes:

    • Eat unprocessed foods
    • Eat more veggies
    • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
    • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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    Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

      5. Watch Out for Travel

      Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

      This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

      If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

      6. Start Slow

      Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

      If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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      7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

      Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

      My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

      If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

      I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

      Final Thoughts

      Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

      Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

      More Tips on Getting in Shape

      Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

      Reference

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