Why is it common for older women to experience bloating around the abdomen? Can anything be done to reverse this aging-related experience?

Bloating is usually characterized by swelling or distention of the stomach, and is typically accompanied by pain or discomfort. Bloating happens when the gastrointestinal tract (GI) is filled with air or gas, and can be experienced by anyone at any age. It’s more common, however, as the body ages, like in adolescence or the menopausal transition.

The bloating that women experience as they age is often associated with menopause, when hormone levels fluctuate. These estrogen levels can cause water retention, which ultimately presents itself as bloating. In addition, changes in the GI tract that occur both during and after menopause can also cause bloating. These GI changes may be the result of  conditions that can accompany menopause and the transition,  such as stress related to the menopausal transition, changes in diet and/or appetite, or slower digestion.

The hormonal changes that the body experiences may also make women more likely to gain weight around their abdomen (vs. the hips or thighs). Rather than bloating, you could be experiencing weight gain that’s common for women at this point in their lives.

There is no way to reverse the symptoms of menopause, per se. There are, however, some strategies that can help relieve symptoms like bloating.

One is to avoid processed foods, because food additives and preservatives are often difficult or impossible to digest, and can cause bloating and diarrhea. Because the FDA is not required to review additives and/or preservatives present in consumer goods, it is on us to pay attention to what we put into our bodies. We need more research on the effects of food additives and preservatives, to better understand their impact on women’s health, particularly on menopausal women’s digestion.

You can also help prevent bloating by staying active throughout your lifespan. Feelings of lethargy and fatigue are common in menopausal women. This may make it more difficult to stay motivated to be active and exercise. However, even lower intensity activities, like walking, can help reduce bloating, stiffness, and other physical symptoms that occur throughout aging and menopause, and also improve digestion.

Staying hydrated by drinking lots of water, cutting down on alcohol and caffeinated beverages, and quitting smoking are healthy activities for anyone, and can also help relieve bloating and other menopause-related issues.

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