Hello my people!
It is in a woman’s nature to put herself second, third, fourth, etc. to anyone or anything else. Thankful that a lot of us are starting to put ourselves first! We deserve to be prioritized. There are a number of reasons why, but one of them is that not doing so can affect our physical health in strong ways.
In this post, I am introducing you to Phoebe Lapine, a food and health writer, gluten-free chef, speaker, and the voice behind the award-winning blog Feed Me Phoebe. She is here to share why women are so prone to bloating and what we can do about it! Named by Women’s Health Magazine as the top nutrition read of 2017, Phoebe’s debut memoir, The Wellness Project, chronicles her journey with the autoimmune disease, Hashimotos Thyroiditis. She is the host of the SIBO Made Simple podcast and author SIBO Made Simple which helps those newly diagnosed or chronically fighting small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Phoebe’s work has appeared in Food & Wine, Marie Claire, SELF, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Mind Body Green, who named her one of 100 Women to Watch in Wellness. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and beagle.
Thanks for tuning into my site each week! It means so much to me. Exciting things to come for WhitneyPort.com – can’t wait to share!!
Why Women Are So Prone to Bloating & What You Can Do About It by Phoebe Lapine
A few years ago, I thought I knew everything there was to know about gut health. I had just published a book about overcoming my autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, by applying all the wisdom from top gut sensei’s and functional medicine minds around the world.
I was eating all the fermented veggies, crushing chickpeas and other fiborous legumes, and guzzling kombucha. And yet, I still felt off after every meal.
Having been through half a decade of digestive woes, at first I didn’t pay much attention to the bloating and constipation. I didn’t even worry that my habitual burping, and more than occasional tooting, was becoming a regular companion soundtrack to my partner and I’s nighttime Netflix binges.
But after a few months of this, and having turned a more discerning eye on my daily habits, I could see myself more clearly. And what I saw was a balloon in my abdomen. Once I started to put the physical pieces together—the outward bloating with the inward distress—I decided to see a doctor for a full workup. And the diagnosis I received was SIBO: small intestine bacterial overgrowth.
I quickly fell down the internet rabbit hole, and what I discovered about SIBO not only changed my entire understanding of gut health, but taught me so much about why women in particular are so prone to bloating, gas and other digestive distress in the first place.
75 percent of IBS sufferers are women, and those numbers are on the rise. One reason why intense bloating is often part of this matrix is due to SIBO. You might have the right bacteria, but it’s in the wrong place—too far up your intestinal tract. When those critters feast on their favorite foods, i.e. all the things microbiome specialists tell you to eat—they release gas. So much that it can make you look 5 months pregnant after a meal!
Researchers have estimated that over 60 percent of IBS cases are actually being caused by SIBO. So the question remains…why are we ladies more susceptible to SIBO, bloating and gut issues?
Here are some of the things that get in the way of our guts firing on all cylinders.
Stress & lack of sleep
As caretakers of the human race, women take on a lot of stress in this world. We are constantly putting people (ehem, everyone) before ourselves. We are also more vulnerable to violence, which means we walk around on high alert without even realizing it. These might just sound like facts of life, but the result is a lot more stress. Stress that gets stored in our gut, reduces our stomach acid, disrupts our sleep cycles, and creates more hormone imbalances as a result.
If we are stressed, our Migrating Motor Complex (MMC)—the street sweeper mechanism that moves food through our small intestines—doesn’t work as well during our waking hours. If we aren’t sleeping through the night, that housekeeper wave can’t do its most thorough cleaning. The night shift is also the liver’s time to shine, so impaired sleep can lead to more toxins and excess hormones floating around the body. Which leads us to big issue number 2…
Too much estrogen in the body—either thanks to an inefficient liver, growth hormones in the animals we eat, foreign chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body, or simply not pooping every day—can cause a cascade of problems in our gut. It can affect our ability to convert thyroid hormones. It can promote yeast overgrowth. But perhaps most notably for IBS, estrogen dominance puts you at higher risk of losing your gallbladder. If you have gallbladder dysfunction and you don’t make bile acid, you’re missing one important line of defense for neutralizing unwanted bacteria in your small intestines.
In order to convert your inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to its active form (T3), you have to have a healthy gut and a high-functioning liver. But you also need T3 in order for your gut to function optimally. Which is why Hashimoto’s and SIBO can become a vicious cycle.
Without adequate thyroid hormone, your stomach will not make enough HCl or intrinsic factor, which is the only way you absorb your B12. If you don’t absorb your B12, the MCC can’t function. As a result, symptoms most commonly associated with hypothyroidism are constipation, bloating and brain fog. If you’re not pooping every day, now you’re not getting your excess estrogen out. Constipation and estrogen dominance can lead to SIBO and further thyroid dysfunction. Hello, vicious cycle!
So what can women do to actively protect against SIBO and the downstream symptoms of bloating? Here are a few tips:
- Get your thyroid levels tested. As you can see above, this vicious cycle works in both directions. If your gut is struggling, a simple thyroid hormone replacement drug could help give you a leg up and improve your nutrient balance. For more tips on how to boost your thyroid through lifestyle changes, consider picking up a copy of my other book, The Wellness Project.
- Track your menstrual cycle along with your GI symptoms. For some of us, a gut issue might not be to blame for our symptoms. Rather, they might just be side effects of what’s going on with our hormones. Many women will experience an increase in GI issues during menstruation as our body flushes out excess estrogen. If you have estrogen dominance, these symptoms could be amplified. Pay attention to where in your cycle things flare.
- Clean up your personal care products. Your bathroom cabinet is the source of many xenoestrogens and hormone disrupters. If women paid half as much mind to how many of these chemicals we put on our skin as they do the food in their body, we would have a much easier time healing our gut issues.
- Boost your stomach acid. One of the most common causes of SIBO is regular run of the mill food poisoning! The best way to protect against unwanted bacteria is to make sure it’s neutralized before it has a chance to take hold in the gut. Our bodies are designed to do this with stomach acid. But per the above cycles of thyroid dysfunction, so many women are deficient. Try supplementing with HCl or digestive enzymes before meals and be extra careful when you travel to foreign places. You can find my full travel survival kit in my book SIBO Made Simple.