What causes bloating in menopause?
Menopause is a time of significant hormonal change. Menopause occurs when a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for 12 months and is categorised by low levels of the hormones; estrogen and progesterone. However, in the years preceding menopause (perimenopause), levels of these hormones fluctuate greatly (1).
These hormonal changes can contribute to bloating in a number of ways:
- The high estrogen levels present in perimenopause, are linked to increased fluid retention, which can cause abdominal bloating (1).
- Estrogen is involved in the production of bile. Bile plays a key role in lubricating the small intestine and digesting fats (2). Therefore shifts in estrogen levels can impact fat metabolism, which can make it harder to pass a bowel motion, resulting in constipation and bloating (3).
- Estrogen also plays a role in maintaining gut health. Studies have shown that low estrogen levels may alter the gut lining and affect the balance of bacteria in our gut. This can lead to altered digestion, metabolism and increased sensitivity to certain foods, resulting in bloating (4).
Lastly, stress may also contribute to bloating in menopause. Women undergoing the menopausal transition are often also dealing with many stressors including supporting children and elderly parents, work, poor sleep and even stress related to other menopausal symptoms like weight gain, hot flushes and mood swings.
Stress can disrupt digestion, bowel movements and exacerbate uncomfortable symptoms like bloating. This is because your gut and your brain communicate via ‘the gut brain-axis’ (5).
How do I get rid of bloating during menopause?
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to help manage and prevent bloating in menopause.
Here are our top bloating in menopause remedies:
1. Tweak your diet
Opt for small regular meals: reducing the size of your meals and eating at more regular intervals, can reduce digestive discomfort after eating (6). If you typically consume 3 main meals each day, try opting for 5-6 smaller meals each day to see if this works for you.
Watch your intake of fatty foods: Limiting high fat foods may help reduce bloating in menopause, especially if fat metabolism is being affected by hormonal changes. Try opting for grilled or baked foods rather than fried, tomato based sauces rather than creamy sauces, fruit and yogurt instead of baked goods, and lean sources of protein like fish, chicken breast or tofu rather than fattier meats like chops, sausages or salami.
Hold the salt: Consuming too much salt in your diet can cause your body to hold on extra fluid. Therefore, reducing sodium intake can help to reduce bloating related to fluid retention. Here are some simple ways you can reduce your take of salt in your day:
- Consume more whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables and lean proteins in your diet, which are naturally lower in salt
- Opt for ‘low salt’ or ‘reduced salt’ products e.g. stocks and sauces
- Flavour your food using herbs, spices, garlic, ginger and chilli instead of salt
Eat more fibre-rich foods: Eating a diverse range of fibre rich foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains, can help combat the hormone-related imbalance of gut bacteria. However, it is important to increase fibre intake SLOWLY, as the gas produced from the fermentation of fibre can increase bloating until the bacteria adjust to having more fuel.
Limit alcohol, carbonated drinks and chewing gum: These can all contribute to bloating
Stay hydrated: drinking more water can improve bowel movements and help restore fluid balance to reduce bloating.
Pay attention to your pace! Eating slowly and chewing more can enhance digestion and reduce the amount of air swallowed to help reduce gas build-up in your digestive tract. Research shows that 15-20 minutes per meal is a great pace to aim for.
2. Keep moving!
Regular movement is important to maintain healthy digestive system functioning (8). If you are feeling bloated, going for a walk may even provide immediate symptom relief (9)!
Here are some tips to help you get moving more:
Go for a stroll on your lunch break
Walk to your colleagues at work instead of calling them
Find an exercise buddy that can keep you motivated
Start your day with a five minute yoga flow
3. Manage your stress levels
Since your brain and gut are constantly communicating, this could be the key to reducing your bloating in menopause. Here are some things you can do to help manage stress:
Try integrating more stress relieving activities into your week. These could include anything from journaling, a guided meditation or gardening outside.
Reduce dietary sources of stress. Foods which are highly processed, high in sugar or saturated fats can also be a source of stress and inflammation in our body. Try swapping some of the fried foods, red and processed meats, baked goods and confectionery in your diet, with anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables and fruit, olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds and legumes.
Reassess your exercise routine: Very high intensity exercise can be a physical stress on your body, especially when your nervous system is already in overdrive. If your exercise routine is mainly high intensity workouts, consider swapping one session for something that’s lower in intensity, like walking or yoga.
Try deep breathing exercises: This is a powerful stress management tool! There is even evidence to show that performing belly breathing before and after a meal, reduces bloating (10).
4. Prioritise your sleep
Poor sleep contributes to stress and has been linked to increased gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating. Try and work on your sleep hygiene and get your 7-8 hours a night. If you have trouble sleeping, seek help from a medical professional (7).
Lastly, if you’ve tried several lifestyle changes to manage your bloating but symptoms persist, there may be certain foods, nutrients or chemicals which are causing your symptoms. It is important to seek help from a medical practitioner or dietitian to determine your individual triggers and form a plan tailored to you.
The Take Home message
The experience and causes of bloating in menopause vary from woman to woman, but most can attest to the impact it has on overall wellbeing. If you’ve tried several bloating in menopause remedies, but have seen little to no change in your symptoms, our team of Accredited Practising Dietitians at Master Menopause Australia can help!
Book your free assessment to learn more about our Master Menopause Program and to speak to one of our friendly staff today.
Written by Gabby Zammit
Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Qualified Health Coach