How Women's Digestive Health Is Different From Men's
6 minute read
Men and women are wired differently in a number of areas: emotions, hormones, and even plumbing. Because of these differences, each sex is more prone to specific stomach and digestive problems.
Of course, we all get clogged up. Small dietary changes, stress at work, or missing your trip to the gym for a few days are all likely to impact your digestive processes.
Because no two bodies are the same, some people experience more severe digestive troubles than others. As it happens, your gender can actually give you a heads up as to what digestive ailments you are more likely to get.
While gut health does affect everybody, your sex can tell you what to expect. When you know what you could be facing, you can be better prepared and can make dietary and lifestyle adjustments accordingly.
Both genders are quick to reach for the antacids, but men are more affected by heartburn and reflux than women. Given the rapid increase in obesity rates over the last decade, the number of adults who experience heartburn has increased by almost 50 percent.
Men, however, are at a higher risk for developing complications from chronic reflux because their stomachs produce more acid. Additionally, they tend to store more fat around their middle than women, which makes the situation worse. It can even be more difficult to lose weight as we age.
Studies have shown that obesity and additional weight around the stomach contributes to GERD and reflux.
Men experience constipation less often than women, which is directly related to colon length. A male’s colon is approximately 8 centimeters shorter than females, so it empties much quicker. The easier-to-navigate colon means waste is expelled faster, which prevents the gas and bloating that results from clogged passages.
The female colon is full of twists and turns and is quite the gauntlet for food to get through. A male’s colon is much simpler and does not have to compete for space with reproductive organs, like the females.
Recently, there has been an increase in colorectal cancer cases, so even men should take care and pay attention to any digestive changes. Symptoms, such as bleeding or unexplained weight loss, are reason enough to seek immediate advice from a doctor.
Men have to worry about the damage to their esophagus from acid reflux, but women have to worry about their stomachs. Women are more prone to tummy troubles, such as dyspepsia, which is a pain in the upper abdomen. This is typically accompanied by bloating and nausea.
It is easy to reach for anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen, when feeling bloated or nauseous, but we can become over-reliant on them. Despite easing symptoms of an upset stomach and pain, long-term use can result in the development of ulcers.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Hormones play a major role in who develops IBS, and women draw the short straw. Estrogen and progesterone are the reasons that women are twice as likely to suffer from IBS than their male counterparts.
During a woman’s menstrual cycle, digestive problems, such as bloating and diarrhea, can get worse because of the shifting hormones. During the phase of the menstrual cycle after ovulation, women will notice a slowing down in their gut.
This is because of the fluctuations of prostaglandins, which are involved in pain and inflammation and can trigger uterine contractions. At this time constipation and bloating can be the most severe.
On the other hand, male hormones appear to provide some protection from IBS, as testosterone appears to thicken abdominal walls, thus preventing the risk of uncomfortable bloating.
The gut is linked to the brain by way of the gut-brain axis, so what goes on in your digestive tract goes beyond digestion alone. There is a direct link between your mental health and your digestive health.
The genders respond to stress differently, which will impact the digestive tract differently. Generally speaking, the more emotional reaction to stress that women typically have can negatively influence gut health.
Gut bacteria are important in fighting stress, as your healthy bacteria help to lower levels of cortisol. Following a healthy diet full of probiotics can help maintain a healthy gut balance, which will prevent stress from upsetting your stomach as much.
Regardless of what digestive troubles you are more likely to face, every one of us can take necessary steps to promote digestive health. By being proactive about your health, you can make changes to strengthen your digestive tract, thereby reducing the chances of experiencing any of the unpleasant troubles previously mentioned.
♦ Eat a diverse range of foods to supply nutrients to your gut bacteria
♦ Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes, beans, and fruit, specifically
♦ Add fermented foods to your diet to increase your friendly bacteria numbers
♦ Avoid eating too many artificial sweeteners
♦ Eat probiotic foods or take probiotic supplements
♦ Eat whole grains
♦ Consume foods rich in polyphenols, which reduce inflammation
The Bottom Line
Recently, studies have found that even when men and women follow the same diet, there are noticeable differences in their gut microbiota. Going forward, dietary changes aimed at improving gut health may have to be gender-specific.
What is working for one sex could be causing serious damage to the other. If men truly are from Mars and women from Venus, their digestive systems are worlds apart as well.
And optimal gut health for all means treating them as separate entities.