Have you ever experienced that uncomfortable feeling of your belly suddenly expanding and feeling all puffy and swollen? Well, if you’re going through menopause or approaching that stage in life, then this article is just for you. We’re here to dive deep into the world of bloating and how it relates to menopause. So grab a cup of tea, get comfy, and let’s explore what causes this pesky symptom during this chapter of our life. In this article we will be discussing bloating, what causes it, and how to reduce it.
What is Bloating?
Bloating is where your stomach feels full and uncomfortable. Symptoms of bloating include:
- Your stomach feels full or bigger than usual.
- You have stomach pain or discomfort.
- Your stomach is rumbling or making noises.
- You are more gassy than usual.
Why Do We Bloat?
Bloating is commonly caused by having a lot of gas in your gut. This can be due to what you eat and drink, such as some vegetables and fizzy drinks, or by swallowing air when you eat.
Additionally, bloating can be caused by problems with digestion, such as constipation, food intolerance, coeliac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. During menopause, changes to oestrogen levels can cause bloating, as well as stress .
In conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating can be caused by bacterial fermentation of undigested food in the gut .
Is bloating a menopause symptom?
For many women going through menopause, bloating can be a troublesome symptom. It is estimated that around 40% of women will experience bloating in menopause .
Researchers have linked sex hormones with gastrointestinal function showing a higher prevalence of IBS symptoms, such as bloating, and/or a greater symptom severity in women compared to men. Several aspects of the menopausal transition and hormonal changes, surgery, stress-related conditions and perceptions, health behaviours (i.e., sleep, hormone use, diet, and physical activity) and gut microbiome may contribute to the experience of IBS and gastrointestinal symptoms in midlife women .
How to Reduce Bloating
There are a number of interventions that have been identified as effective in the reduction of bloating. However, most current evidence is based on individuals who suffer with IBS.
The guidance of the Do’s and Don’t of bloating as follows:
- Exercise regularly to improve digestion.
- Chew with your mouth closed to avoid swallowing air.
- Drink plenty.
- Eat foods high in fibre if constipated.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of large meals.
- Massage your stomach to release trapped wind.
- Drink lots of fizzy drinks, alcohol, or caffeine.
- Eat lots of foods that promote gas such as cabbage, beans, and lentils.
- Eat large meals before bed, or slouch when eating.
- Eat lots of processed, sugary, spicy, or fatty foods.
- Eat foods that you are intolerant to .
Probiotics are a well-studied area relating to bloating and overall gut health, although results are varied and depend on the type of probiotic consumed. Probiotics can be taken as a supplement or found in fermented foods such as kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
One study viewed 70 studies to assess the effectiveness of probiotics on symptoms in patients with IBS. They identified that in studies with a high evidence level that specific probiotics helped to reduce overall symptom burden and abdominal pain in some patients with IBS .
Bloating and food intolerances
There are also particular foods that have been associated with bloating. These include processed, sugary, spicy, or fatty foods, as previously mentioned. More specifically, dietary components such as lactose, fructose, fructan, sorbitol, and other non-absorbable sugars, have been linked to bloating .
Lactose and fructose are both intolerances associated with bloating, avoiding these products found in foods such as milk, cheese, dried fruits, leeks, and broccoli, can prevent bloating . Fructans are a combination of fructose polymers and a sucrose core and should also be avoided if you are intolerant to them . They are found in foods such as wheat products, onions, garlic, cabbage, and asparagus.
Sorbitol is a type of sugar alcohol that is found in foods like berries, apples, apricots, avocados, and plums. They have been found to cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, urgency, bloating, and abdominal cramps, when eaten in doses of 5 to 20g per day .
The low FODMAP diet for bloating
These studies are also supported by the low FODMAP diet, a diet commonly recommended for those with IBS. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are sugars that are not easily digested in the small intestine.
This diet is a three-step elimination diet which consists of stopping eating high FODMAP foods, slowly reintroducing to identify which foods are triggering, and avoiding those triggering foods . This diet has been used more commonly in recent years due to its efficacy, however, there are still doubts surrounding it. It is important that the diet is introduced under monitoring from a healthcare professional due to its restrictive nature, and to make sure that it is being carried out effectively .
In terms of other foods that can help to reduce bloating, peppermint oil or tea is often recommended. It is reported to help with bloating by relaxing the muscles in the digestive tract. One study viewed the effects of peppermint oil in 190 patients with IBS, compared to a placebo. The results showed that the peppermint oil produced greater improvement than placebo in abdominal pain, discomfort, and IBS severity .
Dietary management of bloating and other digestive symptoms is best done under the guidance of a specialist dietitian. As food intolerances, which differ to a food allergy, do not involve the immune system, therefore, there are no tests that can be conducted to diaganose a food intolerance. Through the use of a food and symptom diary, a specialist dietitian will be able to identify possible dietary triggers. An elimination diet followed by a re-introduction phase may be one way that your food intolerance my be identified and managed. To discuss how I can help you with managing a potential food intolerance, you can book a FREE 15-minute call with me.
Weight Gain and Body Image
Specific guidance and evidence for treating bloating during menopause is limited. However, there may be other factors that occur during menopause that may affect how you feel about your body.
It is important to remember that weight gain is a common occurrence during menopause, with women gaining an average of 1-2kg during the peri-menopausal period. This is usually due to hormonal changes and can affect the way that you view your body. For advice on managing weight gain in menopause, click here.
Additionally, mood changes such as increased depression and anxiety can also occur during menopause due to changes in hormones. This may contribute to a decreased motivation to try to lose weight gained throughout menopause.
Furthermore, one study found that women who were experiencing low mood were more likely to have concerns over body image and shape . This may explain why body changes could worsen mood and vice versa.
It is essential to be aware of the changes in hormones and how they may be affecting the way that your body looks, and to be kind to yourself during this time.
How do you reduce bloating during menopause? 6 Top Tips
- Limit triggering foods.
- Try probiotic rich foods.
- Try peppermint oil.
- Chew with your mouth closed to prevent swallowing air.
- Exercise regularly to aid digestion.
- Work with a specialist dietitian to identify and manage possible food intolerances.
In conclusion, many women during menopause commonly experience bloating, which can significantly impact their quality of life. Although the exact causes of bloating during this stage are still not fully understood, hormonal changes, slowed digestion, and diet factors all contribute to it. It is important for women to understand that while bloating may be frustrating and uncomfortable, there are several strategies they can implement to manage or alleviate symptoms. Maintaining a balanced diet rich in fibre, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, and managing stress levels can all help reduce bloating. Additionally, seeking medical advice from healthcare professionals can provide further guidance and support in addressing this bothersome symptom. By implementing these lifestyle modifications and seeking appropriate care when needed, women going through menopause can better navigate the challenges of bloating and enjoy improved overall well-being.
Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.