Hormonal shifts during menopause can present a variety of different symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. But one of the lesser-known issues that can arise during this transitional time is constipation.
Everybody’s bathroom habits are different. However, if you’re having less than three bowel movements per week, and your stool is solid or dry, there’s a good chance you may be constipated.
In this post, we’ll explore the connection between menopause and constipation. We’ll look at why it happens and what home remedies and treatments can fix the problem.
What Causes Constipation During Menopause?
Constipation affects up to 20% of people each year. But thanks to hormonal shifts in the body, menopausal women are even more likely to experience this bowel symptom.
Throughout the perimenopausal phase, estrogen and progesterone levels spike and fall before eventually tapering off completely. These hormonal changes can have a knock-on effect on your digestive system. And so both constipation and diarrhea are common complaints for women in their 40s and 50s.
But hormones aren’t the only contributing factor. Other changes related to menopause can also add to the problem.
Many women suffer from bouts of stress and anxiety during this transitional time. These symptoms can also have a direct impact on our gastrointestinal tract and contribute to digestive issues, including constipation.
What Home Remedies Can I Use to Ease Menopause-Related Constipation?
If you’re suffering from menopause-related constipation, the following home remedies may help you find relief.
Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration can slow down your digestive system and make constipation worse. Your body needs adequate fluids to keep your bowels moving as they should. So be sure to drink the recommended 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) every day.
Eat Plenty of Fiber
Fiber plays an essential role in healthy digestion. There are two types of fiber; insoluble fiber and soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber is commonly found in vegetables, whole grains, and wheat bran. It acts as a bulking agent in the stool, helping to clear your bowels quicker and more effectively.
Soluble fiber is abundant in nuts, seeds, lentils, peas, and oat bran. It draws water into your stool, softening it and helping your bowels to pass stools more smoothly.
So, incorporating both of these types of fiber into your diet can improve symptoms of constipation and help to get things moving again.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Constipation is uncomfortable, and if you’re struggling to pass stools, hitting the gym or going for a jog might be the last thing on your mind.
But exercise can help to stimulate the digestive tract and wake up the muscles in your bowel. So, try to incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity into your routine each week.
Harness the Power of Probiotics
Thanks to their positive impact on gut flora, probiotics have been shown to improve bowel motility and alleviate constipation. You can find probiotics in yogurts and certain fermented foods, or you can also take them in supplement form.
Don’t Hold it in
When the urge to go happens, don’t wait to go to the toilet and hold it in. Instead, visit the bathroom as soon as possible. Holding it in can make the problem worse. It can even trigger a new bout of constipation in otherwise healthy bowels.
What Treatments are Available for Menopause-Related Constipation?
If you’ve tried the home remedies above and still haven’t found relief from constipation, visit your doctor. They may suggest over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help to tackle the problem.
The most commonly prescribed treatment for constipation is laxatives.
Laxatives work to loosen stools and stimulate bowel movements. There are many different types available over the counter. These are designed to treat occasional bouts of constipation. However, if constipation is an ongoing problem, you may want to ask your doctor about prescription-strength options, which can help to keep you regular.
Always read the dosage guidelines before taking any laxative, as a high dose can cause diarrhea. Prolonged use can also lead to dependency, and you may find it difficult to go without them.
So, only use over-the-counter laxatives as a short-term and temporary measure, and take prescription laxatives under the guidance of your healthcare provider.
Are There Any Specific Foods to Avoid When Suffering From Menopause-Related Constipation?
Certain foods can help to alleviate the symptoms of constipation, but others can make the condition worse.
So, if you’re struggling to maintain regular bowel movements, try cutting out the following foods for a while and see if you notice an improvement.
Dairy products are known to slow down digestion in some people. They can also create hardened stools and contribute to bloating and gas.
So far, scientific research examining the link between dairy and constipation has been largely focused on infants and children. And in this demographic, the evidence is pretty clear. In one study, nine out of the thirteen juvenile participants found relief from constipation when they swapped dairy milk with soy milk.
Unfortunately, there’s not much literature to definitively prove that the same is true for women during menopause. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is.
Unlike fish and poultry, red meat contains high amounts of saturated fat. Studies show that fatty foods take much longer to digest than those with lower amounts of fat. As a result, this slowing of digestion can increase the chances of developing constipation and make existing constipation even worse.
Red meat also contains zero fiber. So, when eaten in larger quantities, it can take the place of constipation, busting high-fiber options in your diet.
Some people can tolerate gluten perfectly well. However, an estimated 0.5- 1% of people suffer from celiac disease. This condition causes the immune system to attack the gut, which can cause constipation and a myriad of other gastric symptoms.
An even larger percentage of the population has issues such as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGA) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which can cause a person’s gut to react negatively to wheat.
Constipation during menopause is often triggered by hormonal shifts. And so rebalancing your hormones with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help to relieve the symptoms of constipation and keep your bowels working as they should.
That being said, a doctor is unlikely to prescribe HRT for constipation alone. This line of treatment is designed to help with many of the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. However, it also comes with considerable risks of side effects. So, it’s not for everyone. Talk to your doctor to find out if HRT could be a suitable treatment plan for you.
Certain supplements such as magnesium, senna, aloe vera, and carnitine are known to help ease the discomfort of constipation, and in some cases, they can fix the problem completely. Just be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new supplement to make sure it’s suitable for you.
Constipation during menopause isn’t usually a sign of an underlying condition. In most cases, the discomfort is caused by a hormonal imbalance that affects the gut.
However, certain conditions, such as an underactive thyroid or diabetes, can cause symptoms of constipation. So, if your constipation is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s time to visit your doctor.
Constipation is an unwelcome sign of menopause for many women. But thankfully, there are several home remedies and treatment options that can help to tackle the problem.
Remember, if you’re suffering from persistent or severe constipation, visit your doctor. They can assess your symptoms, rule out any underlying conditions, and help you find a treatment plan that works for you.
- How Much Water Should You Drink a Day? (healthline.com)
- Does Fiber Relieve or Cause Constipation? A Critical Look (healthline.com)
- How much physical activity do adults need? | Physical Activity | CDC
- Probiotics for Constipation: Everything You Need to Know (healthline.com)
- Over-the-counter laxatives for constipation: Use with caution – Mayo Clinic
- Prescription Laxatives: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Precautions (verywellhealth.com)
- Does Milk Cause Constipation? A Crossover Dietary Trial – PMC (nih.gov)
- Association of high dietary saturated fat intake and uncontrolled diabetes with constipation: evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey – PubMed (nih.gov)
- 15 Foods That Cause Constipation (Caffeine, Red Meat, Alcohol) (medicinenet.com)