I have been impressed with the large numbers of patients who report uncomfortable symptoms of gas and embarrassing flatulence. Certainly, these symptoms occur at any age, but it appears that the menopause and perimenopause transition is a peak time for these symptoms.
John A. Sunyecz, M.D., President, MenopauseRx , Inc.
About half of all menopausal women report they experience increased flatulence. While the overwhelming numbers of the related disturbance cannot be waived, the actual reasons might or might not be related to the menopause related health conditions. It is possible that the declining estrogen levels could be the cause. At the same time, it might also be due to the aging digestive system that might produce more gas for many middle-aged people of both genders. Another possible cause could be changes in diet, coming with lifestyle adjustments.
What Is Gas?
Building up and passing gas is part of life at any stage. The body sheds gas by burping it through the mouth or releasing it through the rectum. A person--menopausal or not--may require 14 efforts to pass 1 to 3 pints of gas daily. The odor of intestinal gas is attributed to its combination of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and occasionally methane. Bacteria in the large intestine breaks down food substances into gas and adds the distinctive odor. That odor is no cause for health concern.
Passing gas between 15 and 25 times per day and some amount of abdominal bloating related to digestion is considered normal and nothing to be concerned about medically. Excessive gas production , more than 25 times per day, may be a sign of a malabsorption problem that can be detected by your doctor.
Is Menopause Really the Cause?
While many health care professionals conjecture that increased flatulence may be related to menopause, it may not be a physiological result of reduced estrogen. Doctors report their patients are changing their diets to aid their transition into menopause and the foods they are eating are ones that produce increased gas and bloating. According to a survey cited by the North American Menopause Society, 70 percent of women in menopause have made nutritional changes to fight menopausal symptoms like bone loss. Diets recommended keeping bones strong after menopause - low in saturated fats and high in fiber and soy – may actually contribute to the production of gas. And, women who attempt to increase their calcium intake with milk may have some intolerance to lactose, which can also add to the production of gas.
What Foods Cause Gas?
It's more difficult for the body to absorb some fibers, sugars and starches, so the large intestine breaks those down into the gases that result in flatulence and/or bloating. Gas-causing foods include vegetables like beets, broccoli and Brussels sprouts; legumes like black-eyed peas, lentils and a variety of beans; grains; cereals; nuts; and carbonated beverages like soda pop and beer. Rice is the only starch that doesn't cause gas.
A 2001 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey concluded that not only is soda the major source of calories in the United States but it overwhelms even the best digestive capacities and feeds gas-producing bacteria. If you are menopausal and struggling with flatulence, you might want to seriously consider eliminating soda from your diet or limiting your consumption.
Many "older" people, including women who are menopausal, may be taking medication for various disorders. The medication, combined with your less than efficient digestive system, compounded by the foods that we choose to eat, can lead to what Scott Olsen, a naturopathic doctor, refers to as "room-clearing" gas. Ask your physician if your medication may be exacerbating your gas problem.
There Is Relief – Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
1. Eat Fewer High Glycemic-Index Carbohydrates. "White" foods such as potatoes, white bread, donuts and pretzels are considered high glycemic-index foods. Consuming large quantities can cause cellular inflammation, and increase production of insulin and stomach acid. A diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in fat and protein can prevent bloating along any accompanying heartburn and indigestion.
2. Low Saturated Fat Intake. If you are upset by the passing gas problem, take the advice of the North American Menopause Society and eat meals that are high in whole grains, vegetables and fruits, helping to combat menopausal symptoms (night sweats, hot flashes and so on), but are low in saturated fats.
3. Include Protein and Healthy Fats in Every Meal. Examples of recommended foods are fruits and vegetables, brown rice, chicken breasts, peanut butter, eggs, yogurt, cheeses, tuna, nuts and seeds. However, fruit should be eaten alone. Consuming it with fat may cause bloating and indigestion.
4. Eliminate Gluten. During menopause shifting hormones may cause some women to develop a gluten intolerance. Try eliminating all breads and baked goods from your diet for at least one week to see if it relieves bloating.
5. Drink Plenty of Water. Not only does water rid the body of toxins, it also decreases appetite, moisturizes the skin and relieves tension headaches and hot flashes. Aim for four to eight 8 ounce glasses of water per day, but be still sure to drink when you are thirsty, not forcing yourself to increase the water consumption beyond your natural needs.
6. Consume Less Alcohol. Alcohol is a gastric irritant and should be avoided by anyone who regularly experiences bloating and indigestion. If you cannot completely eliminate it from your diet, try cutting your regular consumption in half.
7. Take Supplements and Digestive Enzymes. Supplements such as enteric-coated peppermint, evening primrose, lemon balm and aloe vera have been shown to soothe digestive problems. Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring substances which help the body process sugars, starches, proteins and fats and reduce bloating and gas. Supplements and digestive enzymes are available at most drug and health food stores. As with any medication, do not take any supplements or enzymes without first consulting your doctor.
8. Eat Slower. Chewing your food longer allows saliva enzymes to break food down before it heads for the digestive tract. That reduces gas production. Eating slowly is another deterrent, since it reduces the intake of air, another contributor to flatulence.
9. Avoid Large Meals. Consuming large meals - even those made up of healthy foods - elevates insulin levels and increases bloating. To prevent digestive difficulties and maintain insulin levels, better eat a 200 to 300 calorie meal every 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
10. Stop Eating Three Hours Before Bed Time. Going to bed on a full stomach can cause acid reflux and bloating. Conversely, going to bed with an empty stomach has been shown to prevent bloating and minimize hot flashes.
11. Use OTC Medications. Medications, sold over the counter to reduce gas, can be effective against flatulence. So can products, which help you to digest lactose. For example, you can try activated charcoal. Activated charcoal tablets may be helpful in preventing flatulence, since they can absorb any excess gas in your system. However, it is important to note that activated carbon can also interfere with the action of other medications. So, if you are taking any medications, you may need to consult with your pharmacist about it.
12. Reduce Stress Factors. Stress is known to trigger and aggravate the flatulence issue. Have you noticed how your abdominal muscles tighten when you are under a great deal of stress? The gastrointestinal tract is closely connected to the brain and is extremely sensitive to anxiety, anger and depression. Under stressful situations, the brain sends signals to the gastrointestinal tract, which then results, to the tightening of the muscles and painful spasms.
13. Decrease Air Intake through the Mouse. Avoid activities that result in increased intake of air through mouth such as smoking and chewing bubble gum for a very long time and drinking with the help of straw.
14. Exercise. Exercise at least four days per week. Regular exercise can help decrease water retention and alleviate bloating while pumping endorphins - or "happy hormones" - throughout your body.
Yoga and Flatulence
While we mentioned before that the physical exercises are one of the efficient ways to easy flatulence, there is one of the activities, which may be considered as extremely helpful – Yoga. Yoga is a way of life, an art of righteous living or an integrated system for the benefit of the body, mind and inner spirit. Performing regular yogic asanas and breathing exercises along with taking some natural and herbal medicines is the best way to free your life from the ailment of gastric problems. Regular focused breathing can open up blocked areas of energy in the body and thus strengthen the digestive system.
Similarly, there are certain special morning kriyas of yoga which help in the strengthening of abdominal powers to prevent and treat indigestion and other stomach related disorders. Aim of Yoga is the attainment of the physical, mental and spiritual health. Certain yoga asana that are inverted are extremely beneficial for treating indigestion since they force your blood to flow in the opposite direction. This helps to take the strain off from your lower body and when you return to your normal position the blood rushes back, this helps to clear any blockages and also nourishes your system with a fresh supply of fresh blood and oxygen so your system rejuvenates itself and functions at its optimum level.
Yoga Poses for Flatulence
Perform the Boat Pose to strengthen your abdominal area and hip flexor, tone muscles in the midsection, improve digestion, and relieve stress. You can use a Yoga Strap to aid you in holding the pose longer or if you cannot keep your legs straight.
The alternating stretching and releasing of the abdominal muscles increases blood flow to this area and aids all sorts of digestive disorders and discomforts. The Bow works all parts of your back simultaneously. The pose is so named because as you hold it, your body is bent back like a bow and your arms are held straight and taut like a bowstring.
This is simply the easiest of the yoga poses for anxiety. Lying flat on stomach rest your palms besides your shoulders. Holding the feet together and toes pointing away, push-up your head and chest gently off the ground with head lifted up fully. Breathing sequence is inhaling while pushing up and exhaling on the way back.
The Pigeon Pose isolates various muscles in the hips, reducing stiffness and increasing flexibility. It is this isolation of muscles that can make this pose so challenging. Be aware that there is definitely some physical work involved with the practice of this asana. The key is to bring your attention to and observe the sensations created in your body during your practice.
Pranayama or Breathing Exercise which promotes proper breathing. In a Yogic point of view, proper breathing is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and to control Prana or the vital life energy. Pranayama Yoga also goes hand in hand with the Asanas. The union of these two Yogic Principles is considered as the highest form of purification and self-discipline, covering both mind and body.
Yoga Asanas for Flatulence
Pavanmuktasana means freedom from air which is related to gaseous distention of stomach and as the name suggests it is beneficial in gas related problems of the stomach. It is also very much useful for persons with spinal problems such as chronic backache, slip disc or sciatica.
· Lie down on your back, fold your right leg up to the knee and lift the right knee to the chest. Interlock both the hands and keeping them on knee support knee to rest on the chest. Then lift your head and try to touch the knees by your nose. Now hold your breath and remain in this position for 10-20 seconds and then make your leg straight.
· In second stage of Pavanmuktasanaboth knees should be folded in the same way and the head should be lifted to touch in between the knees by nose as shown in picture below. Duration and timing of PavanMuktasana
· The position of pawan muktasana should be holded for 10-20 seconds and the entire procedure should be repeated 2-4 times, then second phase of Pavanmuktasana should be done. Complete cycle should then be repeated 3-4 times.
Halasana makes the spine flexible. Halasana improves the strength of the muscles and nerves of the spine. Blood circulation to the neck is increased. The waist becomes free from excess fat. The stomach is pressed well and the abdominal viscera improve their function. Digestion is improved. Constipation is removed. Practice of halasana slims the body.
· Lie flat on your back with legs and feet together, arms at the sides, closed and placed beside the thighs.
· Keeping your legs straight, inhale slowly, and raise your legs to 30, 60 and 90, pausing at each stage. While exhaling push your legs further over and above the head and then beyond, so that they touch the floor (without bending the knees).
· Stretch your legs as far as possible so that your chin presses tightly against the chest. Then raise your hands and try to hold the toes. Retain the pose from 10 seconds to three minutes. Breathe normally.
· While exhaling, return to the standing position. Slowly go through the process in the reverse order.
This asana helps to relieve arthritis and rheumatism. It strengthens the whole body, particularly the lungs, abdominal organs, sciatic nerves, prostate glands and the kidneys. It also provides relief in cases of diabetes, constipation, dyspepsia, bronchitis, etc.
· Lie down with face and the forehead touching the ground, arms extended along side the body and legs straight.
· Bend your legs at the knees towards the hips, bringing them forward so that they can be held firmly by the hands at the ankles on the respective sides.
· While inhaling, stretch your legs backwards and raise your thighs, chest and head simultaneously. Hands should be kept straight. The weight of the body should be on the navel. Knees should be kept close, if possible, with eyes looking upwards. This posture should be retained for at least a few seconds, holding the breath.
Bhujangasana is one of the most important Yoga poses. Bhujangasana is also called by the name of Cobra pose. Begin inhaling and raise your chest and head slowly to the maximum limit it can reach. While performing the exercise remember to keep your hip muscles tight so that your lower back is not injured.
· Lie in the prone position with the forehead resting on the floor, legs straight and feet together, toes pointing backwards, arms bent at the elbows, palms flat on the floor, shoulders and arms on the sides of the chest and fingers kept straight And together.
· Inhale slowly and the raise the upper body (head, neck and chest). Look at the ceiling (sky) with the neck bent as far back as possible. For raising the body, only the back muscles are to be used.
· Do not push up with your arms. Waist, legs and toes should remain on the ground. Raise your body as much as possible, holding the position and retaining the breath for a few seconds.
· Exhaling slowly, return to the original position. Repeat three to four times.
Don't Ignore Possibility of Medical Conditions
Although increased flatulence is common in menopause, it occasionally can indicate a medical condition that requires treatment. Possibilities include: appendicitis, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, and stomach ulcers. So consult with your doctor before you attribute increased flatulence to middle age--or to menopause.
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