Menopause Belly Bloat: The Causes & What To Do About It
Although hot flashes and mood swings are commonly associated with menopause, there are also a variety of other side effects that can come with changes in your hormones. As many women approach menopause in their 40s and 50s, it can lead to different symptoms that develop due to a change in hormones in the body.
Many women don't expect to have significant bloating, as the abdomen shifts and starts to become more enlarged as the day progresses. If you experience this type of side effect of menopause, it's important to learn more information about the causes and what you can do to alleviate it, as it affects 60% of women who go through hormonal changes.
I interviewed Dr. Anna Barbieri, menopause expert at Elektra Health, to ask what menopause belly is all about, how it happens and much more.
What Exactly Is “Menopause Belly?”
According to Dr. Anna Barbieri, "Menopause belly” is another term for weight gain around the midsection that occurs during menopause. It’s one of the most common menopausal symptom complaints we hear from women. It may also be used to refer to a change in a woman’s body shape, regardless of weight gain."
It can come on suddenly or gradually, which can affect your confidence and make it difficult to fit into the same size of clothing. You may start to have a belly bulge that changes your body shape even without any changes in your diet and exercise. It's common for menopause belly to develop before and during menopause. For some women, it can also linger after they've gone through menopause.
Bloating can also increase at different times of the day, especially after you've eaten a large meal or certain types of food. Gas and water retention can also increase the size of the abdomen.
Menopause Belly Bloat: How and Why It Happens
Menopause belly bloat causes excess fat to form around the midsection before and during menopause. It occurs due to changes in the hormone levels as estrogen levels begin to drop. This is also when androgen starts to increase, leading to a natural imbalance of hormones, leading to weight gain.
But, it's more than that, says Dr. Anna Barbieri, "When you combine hormonal fluctuations with metabolism changes, age, and even genetics, things get complicated. Previously, it was thought that declining estrogen levels were the main culprit in menopausal weight gain, which can start during perimenopause. However, over the past few years, updated research has shown that follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) — which is usually just thought of as a reproductive hormone causing eggs to develop in the ovaries — may play a bigger role in metabolism than scientists originally thought. Rising FSH levels, which signal hormonal change in menopause, may themselves contribute to weight gain."
Some women start to experience more hunger, which can lead to increasing their food and calorie intake. It's common to feel hungry for specific types of food and experience food cravings, specifically for foods that are salty, sweet, and have a lot of carbs.
Fat that is present on different parts of the body can also move to the midsection, leading to a change in your body shape even if you don't necessarily gain extra weight.
Most women gain an average of four pounds due to hormone fluctuations during menopause.
There are a few main reasons why menopause belly bloat is extremely common during the perimenopause and menopause stages. The bloating can become a lot more frequent and excessive as you progress through the different stages of menopause, as both progesterone and estrogen constantly start to flux.
During perimenopause and menopause, estrogen levels start to drop, and the woman's body no longer ovulates. The lack of estrogen that is present can also lead to mood changes, hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Thinning tissues can also lead to discomfort in some women.
Estrogen levels can cause added water retention to occur throughout the body, causing your abdomen to become bloated.
The estrogen levels also fluctuate due to erratic production of the hormones from the ovaries, leading to excessive bloating each time it spikes. Although estrogen declines, it is a lot slower to decline compared to progesterone. This leads to estrogen being dominant. As there tends to be a lot more estrogen in the body during this time, there's a higher risk of bloating.
When there's more estrogen in the body, it attracts more water, which exasperates the issue.
Lack of Sufficient Enzymes
A lack of digestive enzymes in the body can start to occur for many women who are in the perimenopause stage from ages 30 to 40 due to the fluctuating hormone levels. The estrogen spike leads to extra water retention and a decrease in bile, making it difficult to digest food as easily. Stress that the woman experiences can also intensify, with both issues leading to excess bloating. It's common to feel a heavy or full feeling in the gut and experience changes in bowel habits.
There are also additional causes of belly bloating, which includes a lack of balance with the bacteria that is present in the gut, which is related to aging.
The metabolism can also begin to slow down, contributing to the extra weight around the belly. There's also a lack of hydrochloric acid that is produced in the body once women reach the age of 40, which facilitates digestion.
Increased Stress Levels
Increased stress levels are also common while going through menopause due to changes in the hormone levels. Some women are prone to experiencing anxiety, irritability, and depression.
This often causes the body to produce more cortisol as it assumes it needs to prepare for an attack. Increased adrenaline even leads to excess production of both progesterone and estrogen, which have a direct impact on the physical and emotional well-being of the individual.
Increased stress can also feed belly fat and lead to inflammation, making it difficult to button your jeans and feel comfortable with your weight.
Other Causes of Belly Bloating During Menopause
There are additional causes of belly bloating to be aware of during menopause, aside from hormonal changes. Understanding other effects of the symptom can make it easier to make changes to reduce the discomfort and find relief.
Dr. Anna says the following also contribute to weight gain during menopause:
"Age: slowing of metabolism, loss of muscle mass, and increased body mass with age
Genetics: a number of factors, including age, genetics, diet and the hormonal changes in menopause, especially the drop in estrogen, more women become insulin resistant at this point.
Increased insulin resistance: because of hormonal fluctuations associated with menopause, women are at increased risk for becoming insulin resistant. This means it’s harder for your body’s cells to take in glucose (aka blood sugar, from the breakdown of carbs and protein) with the same or even higher levels of insulin, a process that results in extra fat storage. This also causes you to feel tired and hungry. It’s a cascade of physiological events that gets stuck in repeat, leading to weight gain. Insulin resistance is also a precursor condition to pre-diabetes, and then diabetes. Unfortunately, aside from weight gain, most people are asymptomatic and the usual "annual blood tests" may not screen for it."
Other factors include:
There are many foods that are often consumed each day that can lead to bloating and increase the size of your midsection. As women crave different types of foods, specifically foods containing sugar and carbs, they can experience more bloating and gassiness. Foods that contain sweeteners are also linked to bloating, specifically foods or beverages containing sorbitol.
Some women attempt to stick to a clean and healthy diet while going through menopause but can still experience bloating from natural foods that are high in fiber. Foods that are prone to trigger bloating include beans, broccoli, carbonated beverages, wheat, rye, and onions.
Your Eating Habits
Your eating habits can also affect how much bloating you experience during menopause. Overeating is one of the primary causes of bloating, especially when you experience heightened levels of hunger due to changes that are occurring in the body. Some women reach for fatty and rich foods as a way to feel full, which are known to be more difficult to digest and can cause the tummy to bloat.
Failing to thoroughly chew the food, especially in times of stress, also increases the risk of bloating.
Drinking less water is also correlated with bloating because stool requires extra moisture to be soft to ensure they're easier to pass. It's important to drink at least two liters of water each day. In the same regard, drinking too much water or other beverages while eating food can also dilute stomach acid and make the food more difficult to digest. It's also important to avoid eating any foods like gluten or dairy that you may be intolerant to, which are difficult to digest if you have sensitivities.
The Health of Your Gut Flora
Although the gut flora doesn't always get a lot of attention, it plays a critical role in digesting food. If you're experiencing constant bloating, it may be due to a lack of healthy bacteria that is present in the body. Some women also have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, leading to belching, gassiness, and excessive bloating as they get older.
If you have food intolerances, it can affect the bacteria that is present, making it difficult to digest food and have regular bowel movements. Dysbosis requires having an intake of good bacteria for probiotics to make it easier to digest food and avoid bloating after eating.
Weakened Abdominal Muscles
When there's less estrogen and estrogen present in the body during menopause, it can lead to weakened abdominal muscles due to less muscle mass that is present. Weakened abdominal muscles can lead to a lack of strength in the abdomen as the estrogen levels start to drop, leading to more cortisol in the body. When there's an increase in cortisol, it often leads to pain and tension in the muscles.
Changes in the abdominal muscles is also linked to a loss of muscle mass, which naturally occurs with age. After the age of 30, muscle mass must be replaced to avoid losing it.
As estrogen levels drop during menopause, it can lead to more body fat that develops, especially around the midsection. Approximately 68.1 percent of women are obese as they go through menopause, according to obesityaction.org.
Fat storage can begin to increase later in life, and the visceral abdominal fat begins to increase at the beginning stages of menopause, increasing in the risk of obesity.
What Can We (as Women) Do About Menopause Belly Bloat?
Although belly bloat is extremely common in menopause, it can still be managed. As women, there are many different steps we can take to treat the belly bloat and slim our midsection without taking drastic measures.
How To Stop Menopause Belly Bloat
Menopause belly bloat is easy to treat with the right steps taken, making it easier to slim down and feel more comfortable with your figure while experiencing hormonal changes in the body. There are a few important tips to follow to stop belly bloat at any stage of menopause.
Drink Water, Stay Hydrated
One of the most effective ways to reduce bloating during menopause is to increase your water intake and stay hydrated. This makes it easier to improve digestion and keep it moving. Women need to drink at least eight cups of water each day to remove excess sodium that builds up in the body, which also prevents the body from retaining as much water. Consider drinking one cup of water before each meal to limit how much bloating occurs during menopause.
Incorporate Healthy Eating Habits
What you eat is just as important as drinking enough water during the day to combat menopause belly bloat. Bloating is primarily caused by eating foods that have a lot of sodium, making it necessary to stick to cleaner foods.
It's also important to limit your alcohol intake, which reduces how fast your body digests food and leads to more water retention. Although you may find yourself frequently urinating after drinking alcohol, it gradually leads to dehydration, which can also prompt the body to hold onto more water, leading to a bloated belly.
Carbonation is also a culprit of bloating because it adds more gas to the digestive tract. The bubbles from sodas and carbonated water are prone to sticking around and can also lead to excessive gas. Instead, stick to drinking tea, which works well in relaxing the digestive tract and relaxing muscles.
Avoid chewing gum, which leads to swallowing additional air that also gets trapped in the digestive tract, which causes bloating.
Make Changes to Your Diet
If you're prone to experiencing bloating while you're in menopause, the main foods to avoid include dairy, watermelon, wheat, salty foods, apples, legumes, cabbage, broccoli, garlic, and onions. Low FODMAPs foods are effective in reducing bloating, making it necessary to incorporate celery, asparagus, avocados, bananas, papaya, cucumbers, pineapple, fish, and chicken into your diet. I stick to counting macros and use a great macro tracking app.
Manage Your Stress The Right Way
Managing stress is also a key component of reducing any bloating you may experience, allowing the muscles in your body to relax. Because stress is prone to disrupting digestion, it makes it necessary to keep your stress levels low each day. Consider practicing breathing techniques, meditation, and even yoga to clear your mind and alleviate any anxiety you may experience during the week.
Exercising is extremely effective in alleviating stress, making it necessary to walk, jog, ride a bike, or participate in low-intensity sports. Getting massages, spending time with friends, reducing your caffeine intake, and practicing positive affirmation are also effective techniques.
Take Anti-Bloating Supplements
In some cases, it may be necessary to take anti-bloating supplements if your diet isn't alleviating some of the bloating. There are a variety of supplements available that are useful in reducing gas that is present.
Probiotics add beneficial bacteria to the gut and can also alleviate gas that develops. Ginger, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, digestive enzymes, psyllium, and vitamin D are also recommended and should be taken throughout the week.
Reduce Your Salt Intake
Reducing how much sodium you ingest is one of the best steps to take to avoid menopause belly bloat. Avoid consuming packaged or processed foods which have high sodium levels. Instead, opt for foods that are labeled as having less sodium. If you're purchasing pre-packaged meals, stick to products that contain less than 600 milligrams of sodium. When buying meat, opt for fresh options that aren't seasoned, which are prone to having more salt. Avoid salted, cured, processed, or smoked meats.
It's also important to reduce your portions. Eating larger meals can increase bloating due to how long it takes to digest all of the food.
How to Prevent Menopause Belly Bloating
Most women experience belly bloating before and during menopause, but it doesn't have to be something you suffer from as your body changes. There are a few important points to follow to prevent menopause belly bloating during perimenopause and menopause to feel more comfortable.
Focus On Stress Management
Dr. Anna Barbieri says, "Cortisol is a hormone our bodies use to respond to stress and regulate our immune response/metabolism. Levels of our stress hormone increase with age (and with stress, duh!). Chronically high levels can then lead to insulin resistance, which can then lead to weight gain."
Focus on High Quality Sleep
According to Dr. Anna Barbieri, sleep is vitally important. Here's what she had to say about focusing on getting high quality sleep. "Poor sleep can cause hormonal fluctuations, including higher cortisol levels. Plus, because our bodies receive hunger signals from hormones such as ghrelin (increases our cravings) and leptin (causes feelings of satiety), a disrupted sleep cycle can lead to patterns of overeating. In fact, a study conducted by the American Heart Association found that people who slept an hour and 20 minutes less consumed 549 more calories than the control group."
Stick To a Consistent Exercise Routine
Get into the habit of exercising regularly during the week to avoid bloating that can develop as your body starts to experience hormonal changes. This can include going on a walk to move food through the digestive tract, spending time on the elliptical machine (or any fitness equipment), going on a bike ride, or even playing tennis. Staying active allows the body to release more gas and can increase the speed of your digestion.
If you feel like you're really out of shape, here's some tips on how to start exercising when you're out of shape.
Dr. Anna also agrees on exercise, noting the following:
"Keep up the cardio, but don’t forget about strength training – Aerobic physical activity that gets our heart rates up is not only important for our cardiovascular health; it also helps with sleep, cognition, mental health, and more. But it’s important to incorporate strength training during the menopause transition as well. Why? It helps us maintain muscle mass (which we naturally lose), it keeps bones strong (which protects us from osteoporosis), and also helps with weight management and increasing our metabolic rate."
Consider Adding a Probiotic
Many women start taking probiotics to make it easier to digest your food by adding more beneficial bacteria to the gut. Look for a probiotic that has multiple strains and can survive stomach acid to ensure it has a chance to reach the gut and colon. The best probiotics for bloating include Bifidobacterium lactis, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Switch the probiotic brands you use every few months to ensure your gut is more diversified with the strains of bacteria that are present. Probiotics can help you lose weight, especially visceral fat. Gradually, you'll start to experience less stomach pain or discomfort, more frequent bowel movements, and a flatter tummy that feels less full.
Be Wary of Supplements for Weight Loss
Dr. Anna and I both agree that you need to be very careful supplements marketed as quick weight loss fixes. Here's what Dr. Anna had to say about it, "There are lots of supplements and blends marketed to help you “get rid of belly fat.” Unfortunately, if they sound too good to be true, they likely are — weight loss (and overall wellness) is not found in a bottle. Some contain excessive amounts of caffeine, for example, which could cause side effects. If you consider any specific weight loss supplements, we recommend that you discuss with your doctor."
When To See A Doctor About Menopause Belly Bloat
If you're going through menopause and are experiencing frequent belly bloat, it's important to talk to a medical professional to find relief. It's important to seek help when you experience prolonged bloating that doesn't subside throughout the day or prevents you from feeling hungry. Excessive bloating can make it difficult to eat enough during the day and get enough nutrition through your diet.
You should also speak to your physician when the bloating becomes painful and makes it difficult to participate in physical activity. There may be an underlying condition present if bloating persists for several weeks.
It's also necessary to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you constantly feel sick due to the bloating, the bloating triggers vomiting, you have blood in your stool, your bowels look black, you're struggling to keep fluids down, or you have a high temperature that's accompanied with stomach pain.
Although the symptoms that come with menopause can affect how comfortable you feel, there are ways to find relief with the right diet and habits formed. Bloating is never enjoyable or comfortable and is a sign that adjustments need to be made to your diet or lifestyle, even as your hormones fluctuate. Working with a qualified medical professional can make it easier to find the right solutions and avoid the pain and discomfort that can come with excessive bloating.