Gut health is an often overlooked but very crucial part of overall health. Though it isn’t as openly talked about, gastrointestinal problems are more common than you think. Millions of women go through digestive issues due to an imbalance in their gut microbiome. This imbalance may be caused by numerous factors such as chronic stress, the kinds of foods you eat, and even the medicines you take.
Having a healthy gut means your bowels move regularly. There should be no bloating, heartburn, constipation, indigestion, or diarrhea. According to Dr. Anton Emmanuel, a consultant gastroenterologist, your lifestyle, what you eat, and how you deal with stress have a lot to do with digestive problems. The good news is you can do something to prevent and address them.
How Your Gut Health Affects You
The human body houses millions of microorganisms, including bacteria. Most of these are beneficial, like the ones found in your gut. These help keep the bad bacteria in place to maintain balance. If your gut has too much bad bacteria, you may be at risk for digestive problems such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
An imbalance in your gut microbiome may also affect your other internal organs such as the heart, kidneys, brain.
Common Digestive Problems in Women
Women have different microbiomes compared to men. Here are some of the common digestive problems that women experience, according to the American College of Gastroenterology:
This is characterized by having very few bowel movements within a week and stools that may be firm. You might experience some swelling in your abdominal area. This can be prevented by eating at least 25g of fiber every day and by drinking plenty of water and other fluids.
Gastritis is commonly characterized by an inflammation in the stomach, particularly its protective lining. This is often the result of an infection brought about by the same bacteria that cause stomach ulcers.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
IBS occurs more often in women than in men. IBS symptoms may include diarrhea and/or constipation.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
This includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms may include diarrhea, weight loss, and blood in the stool.
Other common digestive problems include:
- Acid reflux
- Gallstones, and
- Anal fissures
When to See a Doctor
Digestive problems usually go away by themselves or with medical treatment, but if you’ve taken medicines for two weeks yet see no improvement, you should contact your doctor immediately. Additionally, you should go see a doctor if you experience the following symptoms:
- Drastic change in your bowel movement
- Exacerbated heartburn, indigestion, and/or stomach pain
- Drastic weight loss
- Problems with swallowing
Having Better Gut Health
You don’t have to just live with your digestive problems. Here are some simple ways to jumpstart your journey toward an improved digestive system.
Eat your probiotics.
Having better gut health starts with simple steps such as avoiding foods that don’t sit well with your body and replacing them with probiotic-and prebiotic-rich foods. According to a research by Hemarajata et.al, probiotics may be able to support a healthy gut microbiome, which in turn can prevent digestive issues such as gut inflammation. Consuming fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, and miso are natural sources of probiotics. You can also take probiotic supplements to further boost your body’s supply of beneficial bacteria. Additionally, you can use healthier dairy-free alternatives like a gum free alternative milk to boost your gut health as many gums effect digestion.
Take prebiotics, too.
While probiotics give your body the good bacteria that it needs, it’s the prebiotics that make sure everything is in working order and that your good bacteria are both in good shape and are working properly, according to Dr. Robert Martindale at the Oregon Health & Science University. He adds that prebiotics also help you make your own good bacteria and keep your own microbiome in check. A good source of prebiotics are whole grains such as wheat, corn, quinoa, and couscous. Prebiotic supplements are also available. For example, there are prebiotic capsules for BV to help prevent and alleviate symptoms of bacterial vaginosis.
Avoid consuming too much sugar.
And yes, even artificial sweeteners. Consuming too many sweets can lead to an imbalance in your gut microbiome.
Don’t take antibiotics unless necessary.
Excessive use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics may also cause an imbalance to your gut microbiome. One research has found that with the continuous use of antibiotics over a six-month period, some essential beneficial bacteria remained undetectable. Consult with your doctor to see if and how adjustments might be made.
Gut Health Matters
If you feel that something’s wrong, don’t just shrug it off. You can take proactive steps to make sure that your gut is and will stay healthy. You can start by making simple lifestyle changes like exercising regularly and managing stress to jumpstart your journey toward a healthier you.
Dr. Barry Peskin is an obstetrician-gynecologist in Coral Springs, Florida and is affiliated with Cleveland Clinic Hospital. He received his medical degree from University of the Witwatersrand and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He completed his obstetrics and gynecology residency at Hillbrow Hospital in Johannesburg, and an obstetrics and gynecology residency, including one year as Chief Resident, at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Cleveland.
Dr. Peskin is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the North American Menopause Society.