During menopause, gut health is extremely important. Not only does menopause mess with weight, but can affect our mood and our brain. Menopause causes hormonal imbalances, but it also causes imbalances in our digestive system that affects gut health.
As women transition into menopause, the hormone estrogen decreases in the body. Estrogen regulates cortisol – the hormone related to stress and the “fight or flight” hormone. When estrogen levels drop, stress levels rise and we can’t cope with it as well as prior to menopause.
However, cortisol can also slow down food digestion, which leads to digestive and gut imbalances. Estrogen assists in the digestion of food, but as women go through menopause, it’s important to be aware of diet and lifestyle changes to avoid digestive and gut health problems.
Digestion problems and the symptoms of menopause often lead to brain fog. But how are the brain and the gut connected?
How is the Gut and Brain Connected?
The gut and brain are connected through neurotransmitters. These chemicals are created in the brain and control feelings and emotions. These same neurotransmitters are also produced by gut cells and the microbes that live there.
A large amount of the neurotransmitter called serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness and controls your body clock. Microbes in the gut also produce a neurotransmitter called gamma-amniobutyric acid (GABA) which controls fear and anxious feelings.
There are trillions of microbes in the gut that affect your brain such as:
- Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) like butyrate, propionate, and acetate. These reduce appetite.
- Gut microbes metabolize bile acid and amino acids, which absorb dietary fats. Stress can reduce the production of bile acids by gut bacteria
Improving Gut Health and Brain Function
How can we regain digestive and gut balance during menopause?
A hormone-balanced diet
- Balance your diet with nutrients that you have lost during menopause. Things like soy contain phyto-estrogens that mimic estrogen.
- Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes
- Cook with good quality oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil
- Boost vitamin B with steel cut oats, barley, and brown rice to keep the digestive system functioning
- Include plenty of fiber-rich foods like artichokes and leafy greens
Boost Friendly Bacteria
Estrogen and progesterone fuel bacteria in the gut and when it declines, it will impact your gut flora, leading to digestive problems. Friendly bacteria helps digest food, absorb nutrients, and pushes out pathogenic, disease-causing bacteria. This bacteria also helps boost our immune systems.
How can we boost friendly bacteria?
- Eat fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, and kombucha
- Stay well hydrated
- Minimal alcohol consumption
- Do not smoke
- Get plenty of sleep