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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

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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 October 23, 2018

    Science Says Knitting Makes Humans Warmer And Happier, Mentally

    Science Says Knitting Makes Humans Warmer And Happier, Mentally

    My mother was a great knitter and produced some wonderful garments such as Aran sweaters which were extremely fashionable when I was young. She also knitted while my father drove, which caused great amusement. I often wondered why she did that but I think I know the answer now.

    Knitting is good for your mental health, according to some research studies. The Washington Post mentions a 2013 survey of about 3,500 knitters who were asked how they felt after a knitting session. Over 80% of them said they definitely felt happier. It is not a totally female occupation as more and more men take it up to get the same benefits. Harry Styles (One Direction) enjoys knitting. So does Russell Crowe although he does it to help him with anger management!

    The Neural Knitwork Project

    In Australia, Neural Knitworks was started to encourage people to knit and also become aware of neuroscience and mental health issues. Knit-ins were organized but garments were not the only things created. The knitters produced handmade neurons (1,665 of them!) to make a giant brain. The 2015 project will make more neural knitted networks (neural knitworks) and they will be visible online. You can see some more examples of woolly neurons on the Neural Knitworks Facebook page.

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    While people knitted, crocheted and crafted yarn, they listened to experts talking about mental health issues such as addiction, dementia, depression, and how neurons work.

    The knitting and neural connection

    The human brain has about 80 billion neurons. Learning new skills, social interaction, and physical activity all help to forge neural connections which keep the brain healthy and active. They are creating networks to control movement and make memories. The knitters learn that as they create the woollen neurons, their own neurons are forming new pathways in their brains. Their creations are mimicking the processes in their brains to a certain extent. At the same time, their brains are registering new and interesting information as they learn interesting facts about the brain and how it works. I love the knitworks and networks pun. What a brilliant idea!

    More mental health benefits from knitting

    Betsan Corkhill is a physiotherapist and has published some results of completed studies on her website, appropriately named Stitchlinks. She conducted some experiments herself and found that knitting was really helpful in reducing panic and anxiety attacks.

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    “You are using up an awful lot of brain capacity to perform a coordinated series of movements. The more capacity you take up by being involved in a complex task, the less capacity you have for bad thoughts.”- Betsan Corkhill

    Knitters feel happier and in a better mood

    Ann Futterman-Collier, Well Being Lab at Northern Arizona University, is very interested in how textile therapy (sewing, knitting, weaving and lace-making) can play an important role in mood repair and in lifting depressive states.

    She researched 60 women and divided them into three different groups to do some writing, meditating and work with textiles. She monitored their heartbeat, blood pressure and saliva production. The women in the textiles group had the best results when their mood was assessed afterwards. They were in a better mood and had managed to reduce their negative thoughts better than those in the writing and meditation groups.

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    “People who were given the task to make something actually had less of an inflammatory response in the face of a ‘stressor’.” – Dr. Futterman Collier

    The dopamine effect on our happiness

    Our brains produce a chemical called dopamine. This helps us to feel happy, more motivated, and assists also with focus and concentration. We get a boost of dopamine after sex, food, exercise, sleep, and creative activities.

    There are medications to increase dopamine but there are lots of ways we can do it naturally. Textile therapy and crafting are the easiest and cheapest. We can create something and then admire it. In addition, this allows for a little bit of praise and congratulations. Although this is likely not your goal, all these can boost our dopamine and we just feel happier and more fulfilled. These are essential in facing new challenges and coping with disappointment in life.

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    “Sometimes, people come up to me when I am knitting and they say things like, “Oh, I wish I could knit, but I’m just not the kind of person who can sit and waste time like that.” How can knitting be wasting time? First, I never just knit; I knit and think, knit and listen, knit and watch. Second, you aren’t wasting time if you get a useful or beautiful object at the end of it.” – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much.

    If you thought knitting and textiles were for old ladies, think again!

    Featured photo credit: DSC_0012/Mary-Frances Main via flickr.com

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