Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. Perimenopause can begin at any mature age, but it usually occurs sometime in the mid-to-late forties. It’s a sign that fertility is slowing down, and monthly periods will become irregular and finally cease altogether.
At the onset of perimenopause, there is a dramatic change in a woman’s levels of the main hormones that regulate her fertility cycle (mainly estrogen and progesterone), with levels falling between eighty and ninety percent in just a few years.
During this time, the significant drop in the production of hormones can have a profound impact on many aspects of her health.
In particular, the changes in hormones can cause an imbalance in her gut, especially the microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract (the microbiome). There are trillions of microbes in the gut that humans rely on to stay alive and healthy. A well-balanced microbiome protects against germs, breaks down food to release energy, and produces vitamins. These microbes are sensitive to the environment in which they are living. Gut microbiota is integral to the digestion and nutrition of its host. Over hundreds of centuries, humans have cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with gut microbiota, which has implications for diet and nutrition when the environment in which the microbiota has to function is thrown out of order by a sudden change like the one precipitated by the onset of menopause.
A few studies focus on the effect the change in hormone levels can have on a woman’s microbiome. In the peer-reviewed journal Microbiology, it has been stated that ‘estrogens and related female hormones play an important role in regulating the composition of the gut microbiome.’
Studies have shown that the decline in estrogen levels during menopause can lead to several gastrointestinal problems, including changes in the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of bacteria and other microorganisms that play a crucial role in maintaining digestive health. When the balance of these microorganisms is disrupted, it can cause various digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Additionally, menopause is also associated with decreased blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract, which can cause a reduction in the production of digestive enzymes, leading to further digestive problems. The decrease in blood flow also results in slow transit time, which can result in food staying in the gut for more extended periods, leading to increased bloating and discomfort.
One way to alleviate some of these digestive problems is by incorporating probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help restore balance to the gut microbiome. By consuming probiotics, such as those found in fermented foods like yogurt and kefir, or probiotic supplements, women can help boost the levels of good bacteria in their gut, promoting digestive health and reducing the symptoms of gastrointestinal problems associated with menopause.
There are many different types of probiotics, and each one can have unique benefits for the gut microbiome. Some of the most commonly consumed probiotic-rich fermented foods include:
- Yogurt: a popular source of probiotics, particularly those belonging to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genera
- Kefir: a fermented milk product that is rich in several strains of probiotics, including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and yeast
- Sauerkraut: a type of fermented cabbage
- Kimchi: a traditional Korean dish made from fermented vegetables like cabbage and spices
- Kombucha: a fermented tea that contains a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.
- Miso: a traditional Japanese condiment made from fermented soybeans.
- Tempeh: a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans.
- Sourdough bread: made by fermenting dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts
- Cheeses like Gouda, Cheddar and some others.
Adding probiotics to your diet with supplements
While it is possible to get the benefits of probiotics from fermented foods, it can be challenging to know how much, and which, probiotics you are actually getting. The types and concentrations will vary depending on the food, how it was produced, and the quantity you eat.
To get the right type and proper dose of the best probiotics for your condition, consider adding probiotic supplements to your daily nutritional intake.
Probiotic supplements can be an excellent way to ensure that you get a consistent and sufficient amount of probiotics. However, it is important to choose a high-quality supplement that has been tested for purity and potency. Look for a probiotic supplement that has been clinically tested and proven effective.
For probiotic supplements, some of the best options that address issues with the microbiome in menopause, consider:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Streptococcus thermophilus
Remember that everyone’s gut microbiome is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition.