How serious is constipation?
A lot of people don’t take constipation seriously, but they really should. Why? Because constipation can have a profound effect on your health. And if you’re in menopause, it can affect your menopause symptoms, aggravating some of them and potentially triggering new ones. But don’t worry: I’m going to go into more detail about what happens and what you can do to help yourself.
People ask me, “But what’s ‘regular’ anyway? How often should I go to the toilet?” Well, if you think about it, we eat three meals a day, and most of us don’t empty our bowels more than once a day. For those of you who go even less frequently—let’s say you only go once every three days—you essentially have nine meals’ worth of digested food sitting in your digestive tract. Then what happens?
Your digestive tract is warm and wet, the perfect hangout for bacteria. If your food is sitting around for too long, it can start to putrefy and give off gases, attracting unfriendly bacteria and subsequently causing a whole range of issues. Needless to say, getting your bowels working every single day is very important for your health and your menopause too.
What does constipation do?
Gas, bloating and cramps
So, what does constipation do? How does it affect you? Because it’s sitting in the gut for a long time, because all these gases are being produced, the main symptoms are gas, bloating and cramps. Digestive stress tends to happen like this: You get up in the morning and think, “Oh, this is great. I can put my skirt on, I can zip up the zipper. Everything’s okay,” and then, by mid-afternoon, you feel as through you’re being squeezed around the waist and you feel bloated. This is referred to as common digestive bloating.
Constipation can also affect your liver. If everything is sitting there for days on end, then all the toxins your body wants to eliminate are going to be reabsorbed through your digestive tract and your liver is going to have to deal with them all over again. And during menopause, the liver gets especially tired because it has to work really hard at neutralizing all the hormones and dealing with everything else that’s going on. So, if it’s being constantly bombarded by toxins time and time again, very often, the liver just goes, “Ugh, I’ve had enough!” and even excretes toxins through the skin. When all is said and done, constipation can therefore even cause things like itchy skin and rashes because of all the extra toxins floating around in your bloodstream.
But wait, there’s more! You can also get headaches, that “foggy brain” feeling, fatigue... And the liver plays quite an important role in hair growth, so a super-stressed liver during menopause can contribute to a loss in hair quality and even cause hair loss.
We also know that things sitting in the gut for too long can attract unfriendly bacteria, which quickly start to multiply and can harm your friendly bacteria. The so-called “good bacteria” are vital for your overall health and play a huge part in hormonal control. Friendly bacteria will break down plant-based foods and manufacture beneficial phytoestrogens with them. So a properly functioning digestive system will help you get a little extra dose of phytoestrogens into your bloodstream. If you’re constipated, your friendly bacteria might be under a lot of stress and not able to help with hormonal control. This can lead to wild hormonal variations that trigger things like hot flashes, joint aches and mood swings. All that, just because of constipation.
We also know that dehydration is an issue directly linked to constipation, and constipation and hot flashes very often go hand in hand. Just so you know, hot flashes and night sweats will dehydrate you, and dehydration will affect your ability to poo… Being bloated makes us feel fat and basically awful. We look in the mirror and go, “I just don’t look good today.” It can affect our confidence and our body image, so it’s not something we really want to have if we can avoid it.
This is usually quite easy to fix.
What can you do?
Number one: drink a lot of water, especially if you get hot flashes and night sweats. Make sure to drink plain water on a regular basis—it’s one of the simplest things you can do to avoid or relieve constipation.
Make sure to get enough fibre in your diet. That doesn’t mean eating loads of bread and pasta or heaping spoonfuls of bran onto your breakfast cereal. Wheat bran and wheat are actually not the best kinds of fibre for your digestive system. Instead, try oat fibre, which is gentle on your system, and make sure to eat a lot of vegetables and a little bit of fruit. One great remedy for mild constipation is whole grain round brown rice. Although it takes time to cook, a nice tablespoon of it once a day can really help get your bowels moving.
A word of caution
Pelvic girdle muscles
Just a little word of caution here: we have something called the pelvic girdle muscles, and they’re important. They’re a bit like a sling that stretches from each of the hips to support the bladder, bowel and uterus. During menopause, these muscles can get a little weak, which can subsequently allow the bladder, bowel or uterus to slip down. One of the things you can end up with is a prolapsed bowel. If you find that your bowel habits have really changed, or that it’s much harder to go, or that you can’t empty your bowel properly—you think to yourself, “Oh, I need to go a bit more,” and you can’t, nothing you do works—or you find that you have to go back to the toilet maybe 15 minutes later to finish everything off, then it may mean that your bowel has prolapsed. If any of this sounds vaguely familiar to you, get it checked out by your doctor.
When to go to your doctor
So far I’ve been talking about minor bloating that comes and goes and is associated with all of your digestive problems. But if you start to get continual bloating, if you start to balloon out and find that it doesn’t subside, if you find that your tummy is either very hard or very tender, or if you’re feeling pain or discomfort of any kind, then please go see your doctor right away. If you’ve had this for more than two weeks, you need to go and get it checked out. It could be something like fibroids or cysts, which you need to deal with.
I hope I’ve managed to give you a bit of insight into the not-so-wonderful world of constipation, which we really need to take seriously, especially during menopause.