Women are much more likely to experience digestive discomfort, or be diagnosed with a gastrointestinal disorder than men, but why is this? (1)
Men and women are actually quite different when it comes to their digestive tracts (and, of course, in all the other ways, too!). Sex differences have been shown to cause a multitude of physiological differences including variations in gut microbiota, different sex hormones in the brain, and even different colon sizes which plays a role in how quickly food can pass through the GI tract! (2)
Some of the most common digestive issues seen in women are:
- IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
- Colon cancer
- And gallstones (3)(4)
And the saddest part of all is that women often feel embarrassed or hesitant to talk about their digestive problems with their doctor, especially if their symptoms surround troubling bowel movements.
Don’t let your tummy troubles get you down! There’s no shame in what you are experiencing and, as you will soon find out, women all over the world are prone to experiencing many of the same digestive symptoms as you simply due to their physiological makeup.
So, next time your man gives you a hard time about how long you spend in the bathroom, send this article to him so he can get the real scoop on what’s going on inside your body!
Contents:The Bottom Line on Prebiotics, Probiotics and Postbiotics
Over the years many studies have been done to demonstrate the gut-hormone connection in women. Namely, a lot of interest has surrounded the topic of IBS and if the menstrual cycle or whether or not someone has gone into menopause can influence the frequency and severity of IBS symptoms. (5)10-15% of the Western population suffers from IBS and, out of that percentage women are twice as likely to seek treatment for IBS-related symptoms. Interestingly, research has proven that the hormone fluctuations accompanying pre-menses and menses (the days immediately before starting your period and when you’re on your period, respectively) and early menopause have a direct effect on gastrointestinal symptoms in women with and without IBS. (6)(7)
The changing levels of estrogen and progesterone levels immediately before and during menses and during early menopause are the main contributors to this uptake in GI symptoms.
- By controlling the speed at which food is passed through your digestive system via the muscles of the intestines.
- By increasing inflammation, which leads to an increase in your symptoms.
- By influencing your pain threshold, which makes your symptoms feel more or less painful depending on the hormone level and whether it's high or low. (8)
Besides hormonal differences, there are a few anatomical differences between men and women such as the size of the colon and different gut microbiota, that affect women’s gut health, too.Here are 4 major physiological differences between the GI tracts of men and women:
- Gastric motility (the process in which food moves through the digestive tract) varies between men and women. Studies have shown that it takes women significantly longer than men to digest food, leading women to experience more bloating and nausea symptoms.
- Additionally, a woman’s colon is longer than a man’s, 10 centimetres to be exact, and is located in a lower portion of the abdomen, which contributes to women experiencing diarrhoea and constipation more than men. With the colon being higher up in the abdominal area in men, it makes them anatomically less likely to experience those symptoms of extreme urgency and it helps prevent constipation since food doesn’t have to travel as far in order to be excreted.
- Women seem to be physiologically better protected than men from acid reflux, and the resulting esophageal damage and ulcers that accompany acid reflux.
- Males and females even have different enzymes in the small intestines, which can definitely contribute to the variation in digestive problems they experience since enzymes aid in absorbing vital nutrients and minerals. (10)(11)
The contrasts between men and women are visible even in their brain structures. Differences in neural structure between men and women are caused by fetal exposure to sex steroids in utero and can lead to variations in the way they think, their stress response, and especially their pain tolerance. (12)
In fact, men’s brains are actually larger in size than women’s brains and they have a larger amygdala, which is responsible for emotional experiences and the remembering of emotional experiences. But women have a larger hippocampus that functions differently when compared to men. Cross-hemisphere communication and coordination are also more common in women’s brains than in men’s. (13)
Gonadal hormones, the more formal name for sex hormones or sex steroids, play a big role in the body’s process of building a stress response. Studies have shown that the hormonal fluctuations associated with monthly periods, menopause, and pregnancy have a negative effect on the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which is the main system responsible for regulating the stress response. In terms of how this relates to digestive issues in women, stress has been shown to be a big contributing factor to gastrointestinal problems. (14)(15)
Recently, studies have been done to show a relationship between gonadal hormones and IBS since these sex hormones, especially estrogen, can influence gastrointestinal motility and the sensory side of the brain-gut axis which affects how we feel pain—two major factors contributing to IBS and many other digestive issues, for that matter. (16)(17)
If you’re tired of walking on eggshells to avoid emergency trips to the bathroom, stomach pain, and bloating, rest assured that help is on the way!
There are already many medical, as well as natural, solutions available for the most common digestive issues women experience today. We also have a very special announcement coming soon to help you improve digestion and relieve digestive discomfort!
Before you go, check out our account on Instagram where we share expert advice on how to achieve a healthy gut. Plus, stay tuned to our account for more exciting news and announcements!