3 Common Digestive Issues for Women Over 40 - Nancy Branberg
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3 Common Digestive Issues for Women Over 40

Let’s face it, common digestive issues are a fact of life. But for many women, these discomforts can become more frequent and frustrating as they age past 40. The good news? You’re not alone! And fortunately, there are ways and means of managing many of the problems we experience as we get older.

Here’s a look at some of the most common digestive woes women over 40 face, along with some tips to help you feel your best.

Constipation – It’s an Uncomfortable Topic

A common reality, especially for women over 40. While occasional constipation happens to everyone, it can become a more frequent visitor as we age. Let’s delve into the reasons why constipation might be affecting you and explore solutions to get things moving smoothly again.

A Hormonal Shift: A significant culprit behind constipation in women over 40 is hormonal changes. During perimenopause and menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels decline. These hormones play a role in gut motility, and the muscular contractions that move food through your digestive system. 

With lower hormone levels, these contractions can slow down, leading to constipation.

Dietary Matters: What you eat (or don’t eat) can also play a significant role. If you have a diet that is low in fiber, the roughage that usually bulks up stool and aids its passage, it reduces the gut’s ability to move food along the GI tract, and eventually leads to constipation. 

Processed foods, red meat, and dairy products are often low in fiber, while fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are excellent sources.

Hydration is Key: Dehydration is another sneaky culprit. When your body doesn’t have enough fluids, it pulls water from your stool, making it harder and more difficult to pass. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you’re increasing your fiber intake.

Weakened Pelvic Floor Muscles: Pelvic floor muscles play a crucial role in bowel control. Pregnancy, childbirth, and aging can weaken these muscles, making it harder to have a complete bowel movement.

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Finding Relief for Your Bowel Woes

The good news is that constipation is often manageable with lifestyle changes. Some important tips for to take note of would be:

Increase Fiber Intake: Gradually incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your diet. Start slowly to avoid bloating and gas, and aim for around 25-35 grams of fiber daily. The amount will vary from person to person.

Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. They say you should aim for around 8 glasses per day, but that also varies depending on what you do throughout the day.

Exercise Regularly: Physical activity helps stimulate your digestive system. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.

Listen to Your Body: Don’t ignore the urge to go. Delaying bowel movements can worsen constipation.

Consider Probiotics: These supplements contain live bacteria that may help regulate digestion.

If lifestyle changes don’t provide relief, it’s important to consult your doctor. They can rule out any underlying medical conditions and recommend medication or other therapies if needed.

Constipation is a common issue, but it doesn’t have to control your life. By understanding the reasons behind it and making some simple adjustments, you can find relief and get back to feeling your best.

How GERD Affects Women Over 40

That burning sensation in your chest – the tell-tale sign of heartburn – can become a frequent visitor for many women as they age past 40. This discomfort stems from a condition called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), and it’s more common than you might think. Let’s explore why gastroesophageal reflux is a challenge for women over 40 and how to manage it for a happier gut.

The Weakening Valve: At the bottom of your esophagus, a muscular valve acts as a one-way street, keeping stomach acid where it belongs. With age, this valve can weaken, allowing stomach acid to creep back up into the esophagus. This acid irritates the lining, causing the burning sensation we know as heartburn.

Hormonal Harmony Disrupted: Hormonal fluctuations play a role in GERD, especially for women. Estrogen, which helps keep the esophageal valve strong, declines during perimenopause and menopause. This decline can contribute to a weakened valve and increased risk of GERD.

Lifestyle Choices Can Contribute: Certain dietary habits can exacerbate GERD. Fatty, spicy, or acidic foods are common triggers. Similarly, caffeine and alcohol can relax the esophageal valve, allowing acid to creep back up.

Weight Woes: Carrying excess weight puts pressure on your abdomen, which can push stomach contents upwards and weaken the esophageal valve. Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly improve GERD symptoms.

The good news is that GERD is manageable with some lifestyle modifications:

  • Dietary Tweaks: Identify and avoid your personal trigger foods. Opt for smaller, more frequent meals instead of large ones.
  • Say No to Late-Night Snacks: Give your stomach time to digest before bedtime. Avoid eating within 3 hours of lying down.
  • Elevate Your Head During Sleep: Prop yourself up with extra pillows to prevent stomach acid from flowing back up your esophagus.
  • Manage Weight: If you’re overweight, losing even a modest amount of weight can significantly improve GERD symptoms.
  • Consider Over-the-Counter Relief: Medications like antacids can neutralize stomach acid and provide temporary relief.

The IBS Rollercoaster of Managing an Irritable Bowel 

For many women over 40, the digestive system can become unpredictable. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – a chronic condition causing bloating, cramping, and irregular bowel movements – can become a frequent companion. Here’s a look at why IBS might be affecting you and what you can do to manage it.

A Complex Connection: The exact cause of IBS remains a bit of a mystery, but experts believe it’s a combination of factors. Changes in gut motility, the muscular contractions that move food through your digestive system, can play a role. Women are also more susceptible to IBS than men, potentially due to hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives.

Stress: The Unwanted Guest: Stress is a major trigger for IBS symptoms. As women over 40 juggle work, family, and other responsibilities, stress levels can rise, leading to IBS flare-ups.

Food Sensitivities: Certain foods can trigger IBS symptoms in some women. Common culprits include dairy products, gluten, and FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) – short-chain carbohydrates found in various foods.

Finding Relief on the IBS Journey

While there’s no cure for IBS, there are ways to manage symptoms and improve your quality of life. Here are some tips:

  • Stress Management: Techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing can help reduce stress and alleviate IBS symptoms.
  • Dietary Adjustments: Keeping a food journal can help identify your personal triggers. You can then eliminate or limit those foods in your diet.
  • Consider a Low-FODMAP Diet: This elimination diet can help identify if FODMAPs are a trigger for your IBS. After eliminating them for a period, you can slowly reintroduce them to see which ones cause problems.
  • Increase Fiber Intake: While fiber can sometimes worsen IBS symptoms, for some women, it can actually help regulate bowel movements. Talk to your doctor about the right amount of fiber for you.
  • Explore Probiotics: These supplements contain live bacteria that may help regulate gut health and potentially reduce IBS symptoms.

IBS is a personal journey. What works for one woman might not work for another. It’s important to consult your doctor for a diagnosis and to create a personalized management plan.

By understanding the factors that contribute to IBS and making some lifestyle changes, you can take control of your gut health and experience fewer flare-ups. So, take a deep breath, explore your options, and get ready to manage your IBS with newfound confidence.

So What’s the Bottom Line?

Persistent digestive issues can be a real drag. If you’re experiencing ongoing discomfort, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. They can help identify the cause and create a treatment plan to get you back on track.

In the meantime, remember that healthy lifestyle choices are key to a happy gut. Prioritize stress management, eat a balanced diet rich in fiber, and stay hydrated. By taking charge of your well-being, you can feel your best and leave digestive troubles behind.

 

Nancy Branberg

Nancy Branberg

Nancy has long had a passion for helping people - especially those who felt they were powerless over their pain. After becoming a mom and having her own “child-birth” traumas to deal with, Nancy became interested in learning about the pelvis - not just the musculo-skeletal system, but the reproductive and digestive system as well. Every day she is amazed by the complexity and the inter-relatedness of all the systems. Nancy is Fall Church’s leading physical therapist who is able to help you overcome these problems without medication or surgery. Nancy Branberg Physical Therapy, LLC empowers women to take control of their pelvic issues so that their energy and attention can shift towards doing all of the things they love to do.
Nancy Branberg

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