Many women suffer from constipation in menopause. It can be frustrating, uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful. If you’re experiencing discomfort while at work or out and about, you’ll want to know what you can do to get back to feeling yourself again. In this article, we’ll look at why hormonal constipation happens and what you can do about it.
What is constipation?
Constipation is when you find it difficult to pass a stool, or you’re going to the toilet less often than usual. According to the NHS, if you’ve not been to the toilet at least three times in the past week, you’re straining or in pain when you go to the toilet, or your stool is large or dry, you’re likely to be constipated.
Common causes of constipation include
- not eating enough fibre
- not drinking enough
- delaying the urge to go to the toilet
- stress, anxiety or depression
- not moving enough /sitting down too much
- not exercising enough
- changing your diet
- medication side effects
Constipation is often joined by a stomach ache, bloating, and sometimes even nausea, so it can really interfere with your day.
What is hormonal constipation?
Fluctuations in hormone levels are a normal part of life, but these changes can bring with them a lot of unpleasant symptoms – constipation being one of them. Hormones can affect the way the gut works which can affect on regular elimination. This happens to a lot of women during perimenopause and menopause, but it can also happen to women of reproductive age, right before they come on their period.
What causes constipation in menopause?
Falling estrogen levels
As we touched on above, as our bodies produce less estrogen, constipation can happen more often. It’s because estrogen contributes to maintaining a healthy digestive system, so when there’s not enough of it available, the colon slows down. This means it takes longer for our food to pass through our digestive system, leaving us feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
Having a poor diet – whether you’re menopausal or not – increases your risk of getting constipated. And as we reach menopause and start to notice lots of unfortunate symptoms creeping in, it’s common for us to reach for comfort foods more often. The main culprits are fatty meat, dairy products, eggs, and processed foods.
Not eating enough fibre
Fibre is the part of the food we eat that can’t be broken down, so it travels through our digestive system relatively intact. It helps bulk out our stools, making them easier to pass and keeping things moving along. Fibre is a key part of any healthy, balanced diet, and if you don’t eat enough of it, you’re likely to experience constipation. According to the NHS, adults should aim to eat around 30g of fibre a day, but most of us only manage to fit an average of 10g a day into our diets.
Not drinking enough water puts you at a higher risk of experiencing a bout of constipation. That’s because water – and other fluids – help fibre to work better, which in turn makes stools softer and easier to pass.
How to combat menopause constipation
Eat more fibre
We mentioned above how important it is to include plenty of fibre in your diet – most adults in the UK only get around a third of their recommended daily amount. Fibre helps bulk our stool to make it easier to pass, and it keeps our digestive system moving. So, it’ll come as no surprise that eating more fibre means you’ll experience less constipation. Whole grains, beans, nuts, fruit, and vegetables are all great sources of fibre. You can also take it in supplement form if you’re struggling to meet the recommended daily intake of 30g through your diet alone.
Fibre doesn’t just reduce the likelihood of constipation – it comes with a whole host of other health benefits, too. The Harvard School of Public Health says fibre is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes to name just a few. The British Medical Journal advocates using plant based fibre to get to the 30g recommended fibre intake. Eve Biology uses a beetroot derived prebiotic fibre clinically shown to ease constipation The effects of regular consumption of short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides on digestive comfort of subjects with minor functional bowel disorders
Drink more water
Water and other fluids help soften our stools, making them easier to pass. So, to avoid dehydration and the constipation that comes with it, make sure you’re drinking plenty. The NHS recommends drinking between six and eight glasses of water a day. If you’re struggling to drink water on its own, you can add squash, or include cups of tea or sugar-free drinks, as well.
Daily exercise can help regulate bowel movements. To keep constipation at bay, you should aim to incorporate around 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your daily routine. Aerobic exercises are best. These include running, jogging, brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, or rowing.
Pelvic floor exercises can also help combat constipation by strengthening the pelvic area and improving bowel function. Certain yoga poses and pilates moves come with this benefit.
Hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a common treatment for menopause symptoms. Its purpose is to replace the hormones that are lost as we get older, which in turn suppresses many of the classic symptoms, including constipation. If you’re considering starting HRT, speak to your doctor as soon as you can – it’s best to start earlier rather than later.
Short-term hormonal constipation relief
The best way to alleviate constipation in the long term is to eat more fibre, improve your diet, stay hydrated and get plenty of exercise. However, you might be looking for ways to help stop constipation in its tracks when it does occasionally hit. Stool softeners, laxatives, and bulk-forming laxatives can all be bought over the counter BUT can have side effects and make the bowel lazier.. Speak to a doctor or pharmacist first, to make sure you’re taking the option that’s best for you.
The bottom line ( literally the bottom line :) )
Menopause and constipation often come hand-in-hand – fluctuating or falling hormone levels are to blame. Thankfully, there are ways to keep it at bay, including eating more fibre and getting more exercise. Fibre supplements and treatments like HRT can also help.
Does menopause cause constipation?
Menopause happens as a result of falling hormone levels, particularly estrogen and progesterone. This drop in hormones can indeed lead to constipation – it’s a common symptom.
Can lack of sleep cause constipation?
Decreased sleep has been linked to constipation. And as sleeplessness is a common menopause symptom, you’re more likely to be at risk.
What helps hormonal constipation?
Eating more fibre, getting plenty of exercise, and drinking enough water are all really important when it comes to fighting against hormonal constipation. Fibre supplements and over-the-counter medications can also help. And if you’re struggling with other menopause symptoms, HRT might be an option for you, too.