Women and the Digestive System

As women we may feel challenged by our digestive system, and we are always striving to have regular bowel movements. It’s time we understand what happens internally and learn what we can do about it—trust me it’s not karma. 

First things first, a Mayo Clinic Study showed that it takes 47 hours for women to digest the same food that takes men 33 hours to digest. Because it takes longer for women to empty their stomachs, this extra time often causes bloating or nausea–which are common things we experience when we feel constipated. 

Not only does it take longer to empty our stomachs, the same can be said for our colons, too. This happens because of two physiological things we cannot control: 1) our colon is longer than a man’s colon; and 2) while a man’s colon is located on the top of the abdomen, ours is at the same place where we find our reproductive system. 

Additionally, as we get close to our monthly cycle (about a week before) we either experience bloating and constipation, or the exact opposite, diarrhea. If you experience bloating and constipation, it’s because there’s an increase in progesterone levels and a decrease in estrogen levels. Now, if you experience diarrhea, it’s due to the fluctuation of estrogen levels that can increase the movement of food through your digestive system. 

When we look closer at known pregnancy symptoms like nausea, bloating and heartburn, these are also associated with slower digestion and emptying of the stomach due to the higher levels of progesterone. So, it’s clear that our anatomy and hormones have a definite impact on our digestive process, pregnant or not.

However, speaking of pregnancy, remember two paragraphs above where I mentioned that our reproductive system is located at the same place as our colon? Well, as pregnancy progresses, and the uterus grows, it can squeeze parts of the digestive tract, also leading to slower digestion and constipation. 

So, what can we do about this? A diet high in fiber is the number one way of reducing all of these unwanted symptoms, as it helps digestion run its course more smoothly. Other minimal changes to your day can go a long way, too, such as increasing your water intake and getting yourself moving–adding as little as 30 minutes of light/moderate exercise can really help keep you regular. Mother nature already knew we were everyday champions, so cheers to us who can manage it all, even on the funkiest of days. Friendly tip: you can do it all conveniently with a vibi+® in your hands—27% of your daily fiber needs and hydration, all on-the-go.

Goldman L, et al., eds. Disorders of gastrointestinal motility. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 11, 2019. 

Normal function. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. https://aboutconstipation.org/normal-function.html. Accessed Nov. 11, 2019 

Cain, Kevin C et al. “Gender differences in gastrointestinal, psychological, and somatic symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome.” Digestive diseases and sciences vol. 54,7 (2009): 1542-9. doi:10.1007/s10620-008-0516-3