- Men's Health
- Women's Health
- Health and Wellbeing
- Consultant Q&A's
- Editor's Choice
Is your body trying to tell you something? If you experience constipation, bloating, diarrhoea or any kind of abdominal pain, it’s probably time to start trusting your gut and making some changes.
Your gut is a hugely impressive organ – almost as vital as your heart or brain. Although science is still unearthing all the mysteries and complexities of the digestive system, there is plenty of knowledge out there to help you take care of your gut. Many digestive disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease, are far more common in women than in men. They also tend to affect women more severely. We’re going to explore why, and what can you do to try and keep your gut happy.
We don’t know exactly why there are such distinct digestive differences between men and women. However, a lot of the digestive issues women experience are down to anatomy and the hormonal cycles linked to menstruation. In women, the intestines are very close neighbours to the uterus and ovaries. This close proximity can cause the organs to ‘share’ problems. For example, endometriosis is a painful uterine condition which causes tissue to build up and then be shed. Endometriosis can cause digestive issues when endometrial tissue which has been shed ends up blocking the nearby intestines1.
Periods and digestive health
The hormones in women’s bodies throughout the menstrual cycle can interfere with the digestive system. As the levels of oestrogen and progesterone in your blood rise and fall throughout the month, they often bring bloating, constipation and diarrhoea with them. Most women who experience constipation in relation to their menstrual cycle tend to find that they have it just before and at the start of their period. Some women may also get diarrhoea in the first few days of their period. You are more likely to suffer with digestive problems during your period if you have IBS so if your symptoms are severe, it’s worth seeing a doctor to discuss them.
What to do about it
Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to lessen or alleviate these uncomfortable symptoms, both during your period and throughout the month.
If you are experiencing digestive issues at any point, there are three main areas of your life that you should focus on trying to control.
These are: your diet, your stress levels and the amount of exercise you’re doing.
As you would expect, you can give your digestive system a huge helping hand by feeding it with tummy-friendly food. Your gut will thank you for a fibre-rich diet high in fruits, vegetables and wholegrain carbohydrates. It won’t be so happy with salt, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy or spicy food. You should also make sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the month to aid smooth digestion, avoiding fizzy or caffeinated drinks. If you’re experiencing bloating then it might help to cut down on foods known to cause a build-up of excess gas, including beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts and cauliflower3. If you’d like more detailed advice about how to eat well for your gut, you can book a dietary consultation with one of our highly qualified dieticians.
Many women find that making an effort to lower their stress levels is an effective way to ease their digestive symptoms. An easy and free way to deal with stress is to take some time out of your day to meditate. Just 15 minutes per day of simple breathing exercises can help you relax and boost your mental and emotional wellbeing. Another tried-and-tested method to relieve stress is to take regular exercise, which in itself will help to relieve your symptoms2
Staying active helps your gut twofold, both by helping your digestive system function more smoothly and by helping to lower stress levels2. You should be aiming for at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate exercise per week – so a brisk half-hour walk in your lunch break will do the trick. You may find that certain types of exercise are more comfortable or help the most, whether it’s running, swimming or a gym workout. It’s worth trying some different activities to see what works for you and your body. And the more you enjoy it, the more you’re likely to stick to doing it regularly.