Menopause and constipation often go together for several reasons, one of which is fluctuating hormones. Several years before menopause, your progesterone levels begin to decline, and as you get closer to menopause, your estrogen levels begin to decline as well. Both of these hormones can affect your digestive function.
Some of the symptoms of constipation can include not going often enough (less than 3 times a week), having to strain during bowel movements, hard stools or lumpy stools, or a sensation of incomplete evacuation. (Rome Foundation, 2006).
When I was forty-one, I was diagnosed with autoimmune thyroid disease. I started seeing a doctor who was also trained as a homeopath. She was giving me a constitutional remedy for the thyroid condition, and for the first time in my life, I started going more often, like every day, and there was an urge to go, unlike before.
Sometimes it came on rather suddenly – I remember being out in the Mojave Desert on an herb gathering trip, and wondering if I was going to make it to a bathroom. But overall, that feeling was much preferred over what I had before.
Causes of Menopause and Constipation
There are several ways that diet can impact menopause and constipation. One is the amount of fat in your diet. Fat-free or low-fat diets can cause constipation. According to Monastyrsky, author of Fiber Menace and Gut Sense, “Fat is the single most important factor in the physiology of defecation.”
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies could also be the problem. According to Fallon, Connelly, & Enig (1995), constipation can be a sign that you need more iodine. Other symptoms of iodine deficiency include muscle cramps, cold hands and feet, poor memory, headaches, depression and a tendency to gain weight.
If your ancestors came from seacoast areas, you will require more iodine than women with ancestors from inland areas. You need Vitamin A, the preformed version (not beta-carotene) to utilize iodine in your system. Vitamin A is found in animal fats. (Fallon, et al., 1995).
A lack of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) can lead to constipation. If you eat much sugar, this will deplete your supply of B1.
Fluctuating hormones before and after menopause can lead to constipation.
There are many diseases that can contribute to constipation, including low thyroid conditions and diabetes. Low thyroid conditions affect many women as they get older. To find out more about this, see thyroid and menopause
Many medications can lead to constipation as well. Some of these include:
Natural Remedies for Menopause and Constipation
In addition to making sure you are getting enough iodine and thiamine, you may need to add fat to your diet.
If this seems crazy, keep reading. Throughout this site I will recommend things that are contrary to the popular “wisdom.”
When you think about how sick we are, in terms of the lifestyle diseases, it doesn't seem so crazy to go against the conventional advice, because the conventional advice isn't working.
There is more and more evidence that fat, especially animal fat, especially from grass fed, free range animals, is not only healthy for you, but the lack of it in your diet can lead to many problems.
To have a healthy digestive system, you need lots of healthy bacteria in your gut. These bacteria originally came from our diets in the form of lacto-fermented beverages, vegetables and condiments.
Lacto-fermentation is a process people used to keep food from spoiling before we had refrigerators. This process also makes nutrients more available to your body, along with adding healthy bacteria to your gut.
Examples are kefir, kimchee, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables. Please note though, that the pickled vegetables you buy at the store are most likely not lacto-fermented, and therefore do not have the health benefits of lacto-fermented foods and beverages. Making and drinking lacto-fermented beverages can help with constipation. For more about lacto-fermentation, along with supplies for making these foods, visit Cultures for Health
Herbs and Supplements for Constipation
You can also take probiotics in supplement form, if you're not ready to start making fermented foods. If you also take digestive enzymes, you will be helping your system work better, which may help with constipation.
You can also supplement with magnesium. Four hundred milligrams a day should do it.
Or you can take a tincture of yellow dock, an herb known for its ability to relieve constipation.
You will need to avoid the common supplements and foods touted to help relieve constipation, such as high fiber foods and fiber supplements. These cause more harm than good in the long run. And avoid low-fat diets. You should do that anyway. There is nothing healthy about low-fat.
Fallon, S., Connelly, P., & Enig, M. (1995). Nourishing Traditions. San Diego, CA: ProMotion Publishing.
Monastyrsky, K. (n.d.). How to end the nightmare of constipation before it “ends” you. Retrieved March 12, 2012 from http://fibermenace.com/
Rome Foundation. (2006). Rome III Diagnostic Criteria for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Retrieved from www.romecriteria.org/assets/pdf/19_RomeIII_apA_885-898.pdf
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