Menopause Constipation: Tips for Relief from a Dietitian

As we navigate the choppy waters of menopause, many women find themselves battling an unspoken issue: constipation. This isn’t just about discomfort; it’s about quality of life. 

Why does this happen, and what can you do about it? Read on to understand the link between menopause and digestive health, and discover practical tips to keep things moving smoothly.

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The Hormonal Shift and Digestive Health

Menopause marks a significant transition in a woman’s life, primarily driven by hormonal changes that can have a surprising impact on digestion. As oestrogen levels decline, so too does the efficiency of your gastrointestinal system (1). 

This decrease in oestrogen affects gut motility—the rate at which food moves through the digestive tract—leading to the common complaint of constipation among menopausal women (2). 

Before we dive deeper, let’s clarify exactly what we mean by constipation.

Understanding Constipation: What It Really Means

Constipation typically means you’re having fewer bowel movements than normal, often less than three times a week. When you do go, the stools can be hard, dry, and tough to pass, which might be quite uncomfortable or even painful.

This common issue can be due to several reasons, such as not eating enough fibre, not drinking enough fluids, not being active enough, side effects from certain medicines, or other health problems

 You can read more about constipation here on the NHS website.

Now that we’ve covered some general ways to manage constipation with changes to your diet and lifestyle, let’s look into how changes in hormones during menopause can further affect your gut health.

How Hormonal Changes Impact Gut Health During Menopause

But why exactly does a drop in hormones slow down digestion? Oestrogen helps keep the lining of the intestinal wall flexible and the muscles around it toned. 

When these levels drop, the intestines become less efficient at processing waste, slowing down the entire digestive process. 

The Role of Oestrogen in Digestion

Moreover, lower oestrogen levels can reduce the secretion of fluids that help move waste, making stools harder and more difficult to pass.

To counteract these changes, it’s crucial to understand and adjust to how your body now works. 

Addressing these issues head-on can help you maintain your digestive health and overall well-being during menopause. 

Next Up: Dietary Adjustments

Dietary Adjustments for Digestive Health

Adjusting your diet is one of the most effective strategies to combat constipation during menopause. The right foods can not only ease your symptoms but also enhance your overall well-being.

 Let’s delve into the specifics of what to eat and why these choices can make a significant difference.

Fibre: Your First Line of Defence

Increasing your intake of fibre is the cornerstone of managing constipation. Foods rich in soluble fibre, like oats, apples, and flaxseeds, absorb water, which helps to soften stools and facilitate smoother passage through the intestines (3).

Fibre, found in whole grains, nuts, and vegetables like carrots and broccoli, adds bulk to your stool, helping it move faster through your digestive system. 

Aim for a balanced intake of both types of fibre to maximise the benefits.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough fluids is equally crucial. Water helps dissolve some types of fibre, making stools softer and easier to pass. And consider incorporating other hydrating liquids like herbal teas and fruit-infused water to keep things interesting.

Top Tip

Aim for 8 glasses of water per day

The Power of Probiotics

Incorporating probiotic-rich foods such as yoghurt, kefir, and sauerkraut can also be beneficial. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your digestive system. 

They help balance the gut microbiota, which can be disrupted during menopause, thereby improving digestion and alleviating constipation.

What to Avoid

While adding beneficial foods, it’s also important to limit or avoid those that can exacerbate constipation. 

Reducing intake of caffeine and alcohol, which can be dehydrating, is advisable. Also, try to steer clear of high-fat and processed foods, which can slow down the digestive process.

Practical Tips

Start your day with a high-fibre breakfast to jump-start your digestive system. Snack on fruits and vegetables throughout the day to keep fibre intake consistent.

Preparing meals that are rich in vegetables and whole grains can also help maintain regularity.

Next Steps: Get Moving to Get Moving

Read on for practical tips on easy and effective exercises that target digestive sluggishness and improve your overall quality of life during menopause.

Get Moving to Get Moving

Physical activity is not just vital for your cardiovascular health; it also plays a crucial role in enhancing digestive functions, especially during menopause. Regular exercise can help accelerate your gut motility, alleviating the constipation that often accompanies hormonal changes during this phase of life (4). 

The Benefits of Exercise on Digestion

Engaging in regular physical activity helps stimulate peristalsis, the natural movements of the digestive tract that push food through your system. 

Exercises, particularly those that involve the core and pelvic floor, can improve the strength and function of the muscles involved in digestion and bowel movements.

Types of Effective Exercises

Aerobic Exercises: Activities like walking, cycling, or swimming increase your heart rate, which can help speed up digestion and promote regular bowel movements. 

Just 20-30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day can significantly improve symptoms of constipation.

Pelvic Floor Exercises: These exercises strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which support the organs in the pelvis, including the bowel.

 Stronger pelvic floor muscles can help improve the efficiency of bowel movements and prevent issues like incontinence, which can also be a concern during menopause.

Yoga and Stretching: Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to enhance physical and mental well-being.

Certain yoga poses can particularly help in stimulating the abdominal organs, improving digestion, and relieving stress, which can negatively impact gut health.

Implementing Exercise into Your Routine

Starting an exercise routine can be as simple as incorporating more movement into your daily activities. For instance, taking short walks after meals can be particularly effective in aiding digestion. 

Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your activities as your fitness improves. It’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.

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    Looking Ahead: Balancing Stress and Digestion

    As we’ve explored the dietary and physical strategies to combat menopause-related constipation, it’s crucial to also consider the impact of stress on digestive health. 

    In the next section, we will delve into how managing stress through specific techniques can further alleviate constipation and enhance your overall well-being during menopause.

    Balancing Stress and Digestion

    Menopause can be a stressful time, not just emotionally but physically. Stress has a pronounced effect on the gut, often exacerbating symptoms of constipation (5). 

    Understanding and managing stress is therefore crucial to maintaining digestive health during menopause.

    The Impact of Stress on Digestive Health

    Stress activates the body’s “fight or flight” response, which can divert energy and blood flow away from the digestive system. 

    This can slow down the entire digestive process, leading to constipation. Furthermore, stress can upset the delicate balance of your gut microbiota, which plays a critical role in overall digestive health.

    Techniques to Manage Stress

    Mindfulness and Meditation: Regular practice of mindfulness or meditation can significantly reduce stress. 

    Techniques such as guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and, by extension, support digestive functions.

    Regular Exercise: We’ve already touched on how exercise helps with constipation, but it’s also excellent for reducing stress. Physical activity releases endorphins, known as the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators, which can counteract the effects of stress.

    Adequate Sleep: Sleep is crucial for regulating stress hormones. Ensuring you get enough quality sleep can improve not just your stress levels but also your digestive health.

    Social Connections: Engaging with friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional support and alleviate feelings of stress. 

    Sometimes, just talking about your experiences and concerns can significantly reduce your stress levels.

    Integrating Stress Management into Daily Life

    Incorporate small stress-reducing activities into your daily routine. Even a few minutes of breathing exercises or a short walk can make a difference. 

    Prioritise activities that you enjoy and find relaxing, as these will be easier to maintain in the long term.

    In Summary: A Holistic Approach to Managing Menopause Symptoms

    Menopause is a complex time that can affect various aspects of your health. By addressing diet, exercise, and stress, you can significantly mitigate one of its most uncomfortable symptoms—constipation.

    Remember, the key is a holistic approach tailored to your specific needs and lifestyle. Always consult with healthcare professionals to optimise your health strategy during menopause.

    I hope this guide helps you navigate the challenges of menopause with confidence.

    Key Takeaways

    Stay hydrated Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water daily, and consider adding hydrating beverages like herbal teas and fruit-infused water to help soften stools and promote regular bowel movements
    Boost your fibre intake: eat more foods like oats, apples, flaxseeds, whole grains, nuts, and vegetables to enhance gut motility.
    Exercise regularly: Engage in regular physical activity to stimulate digestion and improve gut motility.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Menopause and Constipation

    What causes constipation during menopause?

    Constipation during menopause is primarily caused by hormonal changes. As oestrogen levels drop, the digestive system’s motility decreases, leading to slower movement of food waste through the colon.

    Additionally, changes in lifestyle and diet during menopause can also contribute to constipation.

    How can diet help relieve constipation during menopause?

    A diet high in fibre is crucial for alleviating constipation during menopause. Foods rich in fibre, such as oats, apples, flaxseeds, whole grains, nuts, and vegetables, help soften the stool and improve its passage through the intestines. 

    Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids like herbal teas can also help.

    What types of exercises are effective for relieving constipation during menopause?

    Exercises that help relieve constipation during menopause include aerobic activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling, which increase heart rate and gut motility. 

    Pelvic floor exercises also strengthen the muscles around the bowel, aiding in regular bowel movements. Yoga and stretching can further help by reducing stress and stimulating the digestive tract.

    Can stress affect constipation during menopause?

    Yes, stress can significantly affect digestive health, exacerbating constipation during menopause. Stress triggers the “fight or flight” response, which can divert blood flow and energy away from the digestive system, slowing down gut function and leading to constipation.

    Are there any natural remedies or supplements that can help with menopause-related constipation?

    Natural remedies like probiotic-rich foods (e.g., yoghurt, kefir) can help balance gut bacteria and improve digestion. Supplements such as magnesium, which acts as a natural laxative, and herbal remedies like senna and psyllium husk, are also effective in managing constipation.

    How much fibre should I consume daily to prevent constipation during menopause?

    Adults should aim to consume at 30 grams of fibre per day to prevent constipation. This can be achieved by including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes in your diet.

    By addressing these common concerns, you can better manage digestive issues during menopause and improve your overall health. If symptoms persist, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for personalised advice and treatment options.

    Health Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your medical team or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or dietary changes. The views expressed on this site are based on the best knowledge of the dietitian. Readers are advised to consider their personal health needs before implementing any nutrition strategy.

    Nichola Williams, MNutr, RD

    Nichola is a dedicated specialist in menopause and gut health. As a registered dietitian, she brings both professional expertise and a personal understanding of menopause, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and Histamine Intolerance (HIT) to her practice. Beyond her career, Nichola is a culinary enthusiast with a passion for open water swimming. She loves combining her knowledge with compassion to empower her clients on their journey to improved gut health.

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