Health + Fitness

Why Women Have More Gut Health Problems Than Men

by Rosie McKay

New findings prove women are more prone to bloating than men. Here's what you need to know PLUS tips on how to improve your gut health...
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Ever wondered why your husband, brother or other significant male in your life seems to have an iron-clad stomach or as we like to call it in my family can always be found "sitting on the throne" at the exact same time like clockwork everyday? In fact - and this might be "too much information", but here goes,-  my husband and debate who is the "normal" one in our house given he can often "visit the throne" three times to my one or none a day! 

Well, it seems we are both right to a degree. A recently published study confirmed women are in fact more prone to bloating and also reported a higher proportion of women had gastroparesis (which causes delayed stomach emptying). They study also found women experience feeling full more quickly, fullness after a meal, stomach visibly larger, and upper abdominal pain (Parkman et al, 2018).

Since my initial interview with Bioxyne's Chief Scientist Dr Peter French about the links between gut health, mental health and low immunity, I have been taking a daily probiotic and swear by the improvement in my digestion and overall immunity - I have not been sick once since taking a daily probiotic, even when my family has been. I also noticed that the two times I ran out and missed a week or so, I immediately noticed digestion and a tickle in the throat!

 With these new findings released, I was keen to chat with Dr French again about the importance of maintaining gut health - particularly for women. Here's what he had to say...

Why are women more prone to bloating than men?

The reasons for this increased bloating are not completely understood, but one gastroenterologist, Dr Robynne Chutkan, has put forward several hypotheses: 

  • Firstly, women have a longer colon than men – on average around 10cm longer – perhaps to allow them to absorb more water or fluid during childbearing. This adds extra twists and turns, possibly increasing bloating and constipation.
  • Secondly, hormones may have a role. Men’s higher levels of testosterone mean they have a strong abdominal wall – so their bowel is better held in place. Women, however, have a weaker abdominal wall due to their hormones, so the bowels aren’t so contained.
  • Fluctuating levels of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which also affect the digestive tract, could also influence bloating.

This remains speculation, but whatever the underlying cause – hormonal or physiological, it appears to be a repeated finding that women experience more bloating than men.

What are some of the signs of an unhealthy gut microbiome?

The obvious ones include: bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain and excessive flatulence. Beyond the bathroom, some general signs that you could possibly attribute to poor gut health include appearance of eczema on the skin, bad breath, and general tiredness or malaise.

In what ways can bad gut health manifest into other areas of life / health?

There is evidence now that links an unhealthy gut microbiome with a wide range of disorders including colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, sepsis, diabetes, obesity, and even neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Alzheimer’s disease (see W. Park, Journal of Microbiology (2018) Vol. 56, No. 3, pp. 151–1530).

What are the signs of a healthy gut?

The lack of the signs of an unhealthy gut is an indication of gut health.
In addition, the clearest direct sign of healthy bowel function is the shape, colour and smell of your stools.   

Ideally, you want to see brown stools that are smooth like sausages, not hard or lumpy like pebbles, or too liquid or unformed. If their smell (or the smell of your flatulence) is suddenly really foul this also indicates a problem. The presence of any mucus or blood in your stools is also a bad sign.

What are three easy ways to improve gut health that you can start today?

1. Take a daily probiotic that has clinical and scientific evidence to support its effectiveness (many common probiotics on the market do not have this).

2. Eat probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles) on a regular basis.

3. Eat a high fibre and low sugar diet

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In your opinion what is the best way to maintain good gut health and why is this so important to overall health and wellbeing?

Nutritionists and other healthcare practitioners recommend a good diet which is high in fibre, low in sugar, coupled with regular exercise and consumption of probiotics (that have been shown to have clinical efficacy). This is a good start in my opinion. 

If you have to take antibiotics, make sure that once you have finished the course, you consume probiotics at least once daily to help restore the good gut microbiome. It is clear now from years of scientfic and medical publications that a healthy gut microbiome is key to a broad range of health benefits including a healthy immune system, neurological function and metabolism, as well as healthy skin.

It therefore makes sense to do everything we can to eat well, exercise regularly, get a good night’s sleep, and avoid the things we know contribute to poor gut health (especially sugar). 

If symptoms persist, however, it is essential that you see your healthcare practitioner, as symptoms of poor gut health can also be symptoms of more serious health issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

*Peter French is not a medical practitioner. He is a scientist and has a PhD in cell and molecular biology. This is not meant to be used as medical advice.

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