Have you ever wondered if improving gut health during menopause will help with symptoms or reduce your risk of diseases in the future? In this blog post I cover the latest evidence for gut health and how it may improve your health now and into the future.
What is gut health?
When we refer to gut health, we are describing the balance of microorganisms (referred to as microbiota) in your gut. Your gut is home to a host of different bacteria, fungi and viruses. Don’t worry! Not all of them cause us harm. Many of these microoganisms have beneficial affects on our body and health. The key is to have the right balance.
Does menopause affect your gut health?
Studies have shown that the diversity of gut microbiota decreases after menopause. At this stage it is not know why this happens however, many studies have shown that improving your diet can increase microbiota diversity. These studies have not specifically included post menopausal women and more research is needed to understand how menopause affects the ability to change the decrease in diversity.
How to feed your gut
Your gut microbiota feed on fibre and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) from our food. These components are undigested by our body’s enzymes and pass right through to our large bowel. Fibre comes from plant foods like fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes.
When our gut microbiota break down the fibre, they produce products that benefit our health. For example, some of them keep the cells lining the gut healthy and others are reabsorbed back into the blood stream to be transported to other parts of the body.
Plant Diversity is the key to good gut health
The more diverse our diet is, the more diverse out gut microbiota is.
How do we increase plant diversity? Aim for 30 different plants per week. This includes fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.
Tips for eating 30 plants per week
- Use the “add to” principle – add different plant foods to your normal meals and snacks. For example, adding mixed fruits and nuts to your cereal or extra vegetables to your stir fry.
- Eat mixed nuts and seeds instead of one type of nut
- Try different grains like quinoa, wild rice, cous cous, barley
- Try a variety of legumes like lentils, split peas, black beans, chickpeas, 4 bean mix. Try this smoky baked beans recipe.
- Buy mixed grain breads and cereals
- Add a variety of herbs and spices to your meals
- Add more types of vegetables than the recipe calls for in stir fry, salad, pasta or casseroles. This Midlife Nourish Bowl has a great variety of plant foods.
Can improving gut health help menopausal symptoms?
Some of our gut microbiota produce an enzyme which converts inactive oestrogen into its active form. The oestrogen is then reabsorbed into the blood stream and can help balance our oestrogen levels which may reduce menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
Improving your gut health has many benefits beyond menopause symptoms so it’s still worth while working on increasing plant diversity in your diet even if you don’t notice any symptom changes. But who knows, you may be one of the women that find their symptoms improve.
We also know that our gut microbiota can help convert phytoestrogens (plant hormones) into its active form and for some women can reduce the incidence and severity of hot flashes. Increasing phytoestrogens is a strategy many women use if they are unable to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
The research into gut health and menopausal symptoms is new and emerging so we can’t confidently say that improving our gut health will have a benefit, however, it is looking promising. Watch this space in the future.