Constipation, bloating and gas are a group of related digestive symptoms commonly experienced during perimenopause and menopause. Fluctuating hormones are often at the root of these issues, but there are a number of other possible causes too.
Things you can do to relieve these symptoms include improving your diet, focusing on certain types of exercise and being aware of potential food intolerances.
Some herbal remedies may also help, while probiotic supplements can play an important role by introducing friendly bacteria into your gut.
The Better Gut probiotics contain a range of specially selected bacteria that can help to reduce constipation, bloating and a host of other menopause symptoms.
Hormone changes and other causes of constipation, bloating and gas
Hormones are chemical messengers that help regulate a whole range of functions in your body, including digestion.
During perimenopause – the transition to menopause – reproductive hormones like oestrogen and progesterone are in a state of flux. Although levels eventually decline as you head towards menopause, before then they can go both up and down.
Oestrogen helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol. Higher levels of oestrogen increase cortisol, which has been linked to a greater risk of constipation in women during perimenopause. Constipation can in turn cause a bloated feeling and can also make you gassy as food has longer in your gut to ferment.
Raised oestrogen can also lead to water retention, which is another cause of bloating.
High levels of progesterone, meanwhile, can slow the movement of your gut muscles, increasing the time it takes for food to make its way through your digestive system. As with oestrogen, this can lead to constipation and a build-up of gas, both of which can result in a feeling of bloating.
Hormonal changes are not the only potential cause of constipation, bloating and gas. Other things to consider include:
- Not getting enough fibre: Most people in the UK and United States eat significantly less than the recommended amount of fibre, which can lead to slowed digestion, dry stools, constipation, bloating and gas. Below, we’ll provide tips on how to get more fibre into your diet.
- Food intolerances: Gas, bloating and other digestive issues are common symptoms of food intolerances. You’re probably aware of lactose intolerance, involving dairy products, but we’ll also look at the potential effects of plant sugars known as FODMAPs.
- Swallowing air or gas: Strange as it may sound, when you chew gum or eat too fast, you can swallow air at the same time, which can lead to bloating. The carbon dioxide gas in fizzy drinks can have a similar result, so cutting down could help.
- Supplements and medication: Some supplements can help with digestive issues, but others, including calcium and iron, can actually cause them. The same is true for certain medication. Always talk to your doctor before you stop taking anything you’ve been prescribed.
- Medical conditions: Constipation, bloating or gas during perimenopause or menopause are generally not a sign of serious health conditions. However, they can be related to illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticular disease and ovarian cancer. If symptoms continue, talk to your doctor.
How do you know if you’re constipated?
If you feel bloated or have a lot of gas, you’re aware of it. But how do you know if you are constipated? Look out for these symptoms:
- Having pooed less than three times in the last week, or less than usual
- Straining to go or finding it painful
- Unusually small or large poos that are dry, hard or lumpy
- Feeling like you haven’t fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
Bloating and excess gas can themselves be signs of constipation. You may also have abdominal pain or discomfort, feel sick or have low energy.
How to relieve menopause constipation, bloating and gas
Here, we’ll explain how improving your diet, being aware of possible food intolerances and focusing on certain types of exercise could help with constipation, bloating and gas during perimenopause and menopause.
We’ll also look at the role probiotic supplements can play, as well as assessing some traditional herbal remedies.
Try eating more fibre
Getting enough fibre in your diet can have all kinds of health benefits but it’s particularly important when it comes to digestion.
There are two main types of fibre that can help with symptoms like constipation, bloating and gas in different ways. Many plant foods contain both types but some are better sources of one than the other.
- Soluble fibre takes on water to form a gel in your gut. This makes your poo softer and easier to pass. Soluble fibre is found in oats, barley, beans and pulses, apples (not the skins), berries, stone fruits, nuts and seeds, and lots of different vegetables. Flaxseeds are a particularly good source.
- Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your poo, helping it to move more quickly through your gut. You can get it from whole grains, some fruits and a wide range of vegetables.
Government guidelines say you should eat 30 grams (g) of fibre each day, but most people only get around 20 g.
To get more fibre into your diet:
- Swap refined grains for whole grains
- Leave the skins on potatoes, veg and fruit
- Substitute meat for lentils, beans or tofu in stews, curries and pasta dishes
- Wilt leafy greens like spinach or finely sliced cabbage into your meals
- Add crunchy nuts and seeds to yoghurt, salads – and any other meal
- Switch sweets and packaged snacks for fruit, nuts, oatcakes, or veg sticks with bean dips
Note: although in the long run more fibre will improve your digestion, it’s best to increase the amount you eat gradually as too much too soon could initially add to your symptoms.
Identify trigger foods
Eating lots of plant foods is generally great for your health and digestion. However, some people struggle to process sugars known as FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols) in certain plants, as well as lactose in dairy products. This can cause bloating, gas and other digestive issues.
FODMAPs are found in a range of foods, including:
- sweets and snacks
- bread, pasta and grains
- root vegetables
- beans and pulses
- berries and other fruits
The good news is that many people only have difficulty with one type of FODMAP, so only certain foods are a problem. Also, these intolerances can go away, which means any changes you make to your diet may not have to be forever.
Keeping a food diary can help you to identify whether particular foods trigger your symptoms. It’s then a good idea to talk to a doctor or nutritionist about whether you should try an ‘elimination diet’, where you remove certain foods and then gradually reintroduce them.
Try probiotic supplements
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria. The right probiotic supplements can improve your overall gut health and reduce constipation and bloating.
Scientists have identified several strains of probiotic bacteria that can help with digestive issues during perimenopause and menopause:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: reduces bloating and inflammation
- Bifidobacterium bifidum: eases constipation and improves regularity
- Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus: improve IBS symptoms
You can find all of these strains in The Better Gut probiotics.
These award-winning supplements can also help to manage a range of other menopause symptoms, including:
- hot flashes and night sweats
- mood and symptoms of anxiety and depression
- brain fog and mental fatigue
- sleep quality
- bone density and risk of osteoporosis
- vaginal health
- maintaining a healthy weight
And for regular expert tips on menopause health and nutrition – and 10% off your first Better Gut order – sign up for our newsletter.
Try these types of exercise
Exercise is, of course, great for your overall health but it can also have a specific impact on perimenopause and menopause symptoms, including digestive issues.
- Aerobic exercise: Studies have shown that as little as 20 minutes of aerobic, or cardio, exercise three times a week can reduce constipation and bloating caused by fluctuating hormones.
- Yoga: For quick relief from gas and bloating, consult a yoga teacher or watch an online video to learn specific poses that can help with trapped wind. Yoga also improves your posture, which could be helpful as studies have shown that you pass gas more easily when you’re sitting upright.
- Pelvic floor exercises: Your pelvic floor includes the muscles around your rectum, bladder and uterus that you use when you go to the toilet. If you have constipation you may not be engaging your pelvic floor properly. Studies suggest that training these muscles can help.
- Abdominal massage: Learning how to massage your belly could relieve constipation and bloating, as well menstrual pain and cramps. The NHS recommends a range of techniques.
Consider these herbal remedies
These traditional remedies for digestive issues also have some scientific evidence to support them:
- Peppermint oil: The menthol in peppermint oil is an anti-spasmodic, meaning it helps your intestinal muscles to relax. Studies have shown that peppermint oil supplements can reduce abdominal pain and bloating for people with IBS.
- Ginger powder: Supplements containing powdered ginger could help if you experience discomfort after eating. They can speed up the process of emptying your stomach, helping you to feel less full and reducing bloating and abdominal pain.
- Chasteberry: Although results are mixed, some studies suggest that the fruit of this Mediterranean shrub, also known as Vitex agnus-castus, can reduce bloating, along with other hormonal symptoms.
As you get older, you can become less sensitive to your body’s thirst signals so it’s important to remember to drink regularly throughout the day.
The NHS recommends drinking 6 to 8 cups of water each day, but you may need more if it’s a hot day or you’re working out.
Having said that, it’s also worth remembering that tea and coffee count and that if you increase the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat, you’ll be getting more liquid that way too.
When to see a doctor about constipation and bloating
Constipation, bloating and gas are common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. However, they can sometimes be a sign of an illness.
The NHS recommends talking to your doctor if:
- Your symptoms have lasted 3 weeks or more
- Your symptoms keep coming back
- They make it hard to do everyday activities
- Changing your diet hasn’t helped
- You have a swelling or lump in your tummy
- You have several digestive symptoms together
- You’ve also lost weight
- There’s blood in your poo
SummaryHormonal fluctuations during perimenopause can impact your gastric health, slowing digestion and leading to constipation, water retention and bloating.
Eating more fibre, doing regular aerobic exercise and identifying potential food intolerances could all lessen symptoms, while yoga and abdominal massage may provide faster relief.
Probiotic supplements can help to reduce constipation and bloating, as well as easing a range of other perimenopause and menopause symptoms.
To take your first step towards a better menopause, try The Better Gut probiotic supplements.
For 10% off, plus regular tips on health and nutrition during menopause, join our newsletter.