Written by Lisa Schofield
There’s a common thought that when we enter menopause, we can happily hand PMS bloating the pink slip and say “See ya!”
But unfortunately, bloating continues to be a common, if not centerstage symptom experienced during perimenopause and menopause, and unlike menstrual cramps, it tends to stick around.
Did you know that up to 60% of women transitioning through menopause may experience frequent gas and bloating?1
That feeling of fullness and extension of the abdominal region, along with the sensation of constant pressure, sometimes can be accompanied by the formation of internal bubbles that well up and pop in the stomach. The worst-case scenario from a bad bloating episode during menopause can result in burping and gas, which not only can be embarrassing, but can also negatively impact our self-confidence and poise. Let’s dive more into why this symptom of bloating occurs during menopause and what you can do about it.
Menopause Belly Bloat: Why It Happens
As you progress through perimenopause into full menopause, you may find that episodes of bloating seem to occur more frequently and spontaneously. The cause of this is that your sex hormones, primarily estrogen and progesterone, are in constant flux during this time. This matters because estrogen is often associated with water retention in the body, which can cause bloating.2
During perimenopause, production of estrogen from our ovaries becomes erratic, so when it spikes, it can cause episodes of bloating. While both estrogen and progesterone production are declining at this time, estrogen tends to decline at a slower rate, often causing estrogen dominance.3 Since the amount of estrogen in our bodies can become more pronounced during perimenopause and menopause, the chances that we experience bloating may increase.
Increased estrogen in our systems tends to attract more water to hang around as well, contributing to that all too familiar feeling of fullness and bloat.4 This not only has the potential to add a few pounds onto the scale due to water retention, but the excess retained water in our body can also contribute to belly bloat.
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Secondary Causes of Menopause Bloating
While estrogen may be the chief cause of a bloated stomach during menopause, characteristics stemming from overall aging can play a role as well.
The balance of good and bad bacteria in our digestive tract can impact the presence and severity of bloating as we age.
Estrogen is primarily broken down by a group of balanced bacteria found in the digestive tract.5 If you have an imbalance of stable gut bacteria (more bad than good), your estrogen metabolism may become incomplete or impaired, and excess estrogen is not eliminated efficiently.6 Again, this excess of estrogen in our bodies can create a higher incidence of bloat.
Another factor that can affect the severity of bloating experienced during menopause is the lack of sufficient enzymes in our digestive tracts. Aging naturally causes the production of our digestive enzymes to decline.7 Increased levels of stress can also negatively impact digestion, affecting what nutrients our intestines process and absorb.8 Depending on the nutrients our bodies digests, our digestive system can increase the production of gas, and we may start to feel the effects in the form of bloating.
As mentioned, increased stress levels can cause more stressed digestion. A full schedule of responsibilities, appointments, and a frenetic pace of work and family obligations often means that we eat very quickly. Eating too fast, (combined with reduced activity of the body’s digestive enzymes, means that the feeling of bloat may be on its way.
Other Causes of Bloating During Menopause
There are more serious reasons for bloating outside of menopause, which typically cause this symptom to become much more frequent and intense. Some of these causes can include:
- Weakened abdominal muscles
- Complications from the regular use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).9,10
If you’re experiencing painful and persistent bloating that is negatively impacting your quality of life, or is persistent or worsening, it is recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider to rule out any other, more serious potential causes.
How to Stop Menopause Bloating
While the symptom of bloating during menopause may be uncomfortable, there are fortunately ways to minimize the discomfort associated with it.
Be Mindful of Your Eating Habits
If you’re a fast eater, try to take a moment to stop, sit down and eat in a more leisurely fashion. Work on reducing any stress by unplugging and putting your phone away before sitting down for a meal. Be careful to chew your food thoroughly and slowly which can help support a more effective release of digestive enzymes.11 Your mealtime is your break, your respite. Treat it with reverence, you deserve it!
Additionally, you could try to reduce stress on your digestive system by eating smaller meals or grazing throughout the day. Some menopausal women may also benefit from intermittent fasting, which can help with weight control and to curb the symptom of bloating.
Consider Making Changes to Your Diet
Speaking of eating, it may be worthwhile to rethink what constitutes a healthy diet during menopause. Even some healthy foods can contribute to gas and bloat. These include the obvious, beans, but also vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. In addition, even if you are not sensitive to gluten, gluten-containing foods, that is, wheat-based foods, can turn into bloat triggers. And don’t forget that dairy (lactose) can become a food group that causes digestive distress.
The key is to pay closer attention to what you eat prior to a bloating episode. Then, try to eliminate the food you believe is a trigger or an accomplice.
Drinking plenty of water can help your digestive tract to keep moving in a healthy way throughout the day. Using liquids to counteract fluid retention may seem counterintuitive, but it helps. Adequate hydration can help to minimizes constipation and the feeling of bloat that accompanies.
Try Reducing Your Salt Intake
Salt reduction can help to decrease bloat caused by water retention. Did you know that more than 70 percent of our typical sodium intake comes from packaged foods – not from the shaker or packet?12 The American Heart Association recommends that adults should consume no more than 1,500 mg sodium per day. Beyond reading labels, consider Googling a “sodium calculator” to find resources that list how much sodium is contained in fruits, vegetables, and other natural foods to help you better monitor your daily intake.
If you’re looking to add a bit of extra flavor to your food, and don’t want to resort to salt, try adding lemon or vinegar to spice up your meal. More specifically, apple cider vinegar can be a great addition and may have a positive impact on digestion.13 You can also add spices that don’t have a lot of excess sodium. Sage, thyme, and tarragon, for example, are all flavorful spices that won’t make you feel bloated. Coriander and turmeric are also thought to reduce bloating, so these spices are also great to include in low-salt cooking.
Other things that are quick to create gas and bloating are sugars and alcohol, carbonated beverages and chewing gum,14 so it may be best to consume these in moderation if you commonly experience bloating during menopause.
How to Prevent Menopause Bloating
Move Your Body to Reduce Bloating
During menopause, exercising regularly is not only a best practice for overall health and cardiovascular function, but it also can help reduce the frequency and severity of bloating episodes. Moving your body can promote intestinal movement, helping to break up gas bubbles that may be contributing to bloat. Ideally, after a 30-minute brisk walk or cycling workout, try some yoga, such as the cat-cow exercise or torso twists, which can help battle the bloat and keep it away.15
Try Adding Probiotics
Incorporating probiotics into your daily menu of foods, or as a dietary supplement, may also help to cut down bloating during menopause. Healthy probiotic containing foods include yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut; you can even choose to “wash” your food down with probiotic-containing kombucha drinks.
There are many probiotic supplements that can help prevent bloating and support gut and digestive health. These often include Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium longum,16 among others. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before adding any supplements into your routine, as they know your medical history best.
Just because bloating is a common symptom experienced during menopause doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. Although it is bound to happen occasionally due to hormonal shifts, stressful episodes, indulging in scrumptious foods and celebratory cocktails, following these guidelines may help you better manage the bloat before it happens.
- Gorbach SL, “Estrogens, breast cancer, and intestinal flora” Rev Infect Dis Mar-Apr 1984;6 Suppl 1:S85-90