Menopause and Bloating
Bloating is a term used to describe a specific set of symptoms that occur in the abdominal cavity. Most people who have experienced bloating describe the sensation as a feeling of fullness or tightness within the abdominal area that can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. Mild bloating is often the result of lifestyle factors, such as a stress and diet, but when the condition is chronic, it could be caused by an underlying hormonal imbalance. This is why many women experience bloating as a symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It is also why so many menopausal women point to weight gain and bloating as menopausal symptoms that they would like to eliminate. In fact, menopausal bloating, sexual dysfunction (related to vaginal dryness and/or other vaginal issues), and vasomotor symptoms (night sweats and hot flashes) are often the first symptoms of menopause that women notice. Women may also experience more severe bloating during perimenopause and menopause as a result of water retention, intestinal gas, decreased bile production or a combination of the three.
While we immediately think of female sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone when we're discussing the female experience in the aging process, testosterone can also play a role, especially for post-menopausal women. As the ovaries gradually slow down and eventually stop functioning in post-menopause, the production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone also grind to a halt. At this point, the delicate balance between estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone levels is thrown off. Low testosterone, especially chronic low testosterone, can lead to a host of negative side effects that include weight gain and a loss of muscle mass.
Cortisol is another hormone that can foster negative side effects when its levels are thrown into disarray. Also known as the "stress hormone", cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands during stressful situations to promote feelings of calm. While stress is something that affects everybody, it is especially present and daunting for menopausal women. If the stress isn't addressed and consistently piles up (a condition known as chronic stress), cortisol levels will go out of control and lead to a number of symptoms that include:
- Mood swings
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Weight gain (in the abdomen and face)
Hormones and Fluid Retention
The hormones progesterone and estrogen play a significant role in fluid retention. When estrogen levels are elevated, women tend to retain more water than usual. This is why bloating is common in the days leading up to a woman's menstrual cycle - more estrogen means more water retention. During menopause, estrogen levels erratically fluctuate and bloating becomes more chronic. Bloating during menopause can really take off if and when estrogen dominance sets in due to hormonal imbalance. Also, progesterone is a natural diuretic, so when progesterone levels are below where they should be, women may also experience fluid retention and bloating.
While having too much estrogen can lead to bloating, having too little estrogen can also contribute to abdominal discomfort. That's because estrogen also has an effect on the production of bile - when estrogen levels are low, bile production decreases. Bile is fluid produced by the liver that aids in digestion. Bile helps to emulsify fats from the foods we eat and aids in cholesterol synthesis. It also acts a lubricant for our small intestines. Without proper lubrication, stool can accumulate within the small intestines and cause bloating, as well as constipation. While estrogen levels fluctuate wildly during menopause, post-menopause is a little different. Since the beginning of post-menopause is marked by reduced ovarian function and a consistent decline in estrogen levels, these are the kinds of symptoms that post-menopausal women often experience in regards to bloating.
Treating Hormonal Bloating with Bioidentical Hormone Therapy
Fortunately, there's a lot that can be done to prevent bloating. The first approach would be to take a good look at your diet and try cutting out foods that are known to cause gas and bloating. Avoiding a high-carbohydrate diet is a good place to start. Nutritional testing may also be necessary to pinpoint any sensitivities, intolerances or underlying conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Food allergies and sensitivities have been known to cause a host of symptoms, including:
- Weight gain
For some, eliminating dairy products, sodium, and "trigger foods" such as beans and onions might also be a good idea. Additionally, stress reduction and regular exercise have been found to have a positive impact on our digestive health.
Sometimes lifestyle changes aren't enough. As we age, the hormonal imbalances brought on by menopause may need to be addressed with treatment. If the bloating is being caused by fluctuating hormone levels, then therapy involving bioidentical hormone replacement may be required to alleviate symptoms. In addition to nutritional support, the highly trained bioidentical hormone practitioners at BodyLogicMD specialize in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) and have helped countless women overcome menopause symptoms and other side effects of hormonal imbalance. Whether your estrogen levels are too high or too low, a hormone specialist can help you safely restore balance with bioidentical hormones (and without the increased risk of cancer that has been associated with synthetic hormones).
If you find yourself struggling with bloating, weight gain, hot flushes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, night sweats, or any other of the many known menopausal symptoms, don't sit back and hope for them to go away on their own. Contact your nearest BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner today!