Poor gut health and bloating is stopping women from living their lives

Have you had to cancel a date because you were bloated? Or been massively delayed getting to an event because of constipation? You’re not alone.

There’s nothing like feeling bloated, groggy and constipated to put a downer on a night out. Suddenly, the outfit you’ve got lined up no longer fits properly and you’re worried that the ache is just going to get more intense as the evening goes on. If you’re used to it, you might just grit your teeth and carry on with your plans – but lots of women are in such discomfort that they have to cancel.

That’s according to a new study conducted by OnePoll and commissioned by Symprove, which has suggested that millions of adults are missing work, social events and holidays because of IBS and other gut issues.

Women are twice as likely to live with IBS as men, so when a third of respondents say they’ve turned down a date for fear of pain, bloating and tiredness, that means that an overwhelming number of women are sitting out because of poor gut health.  

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The five most common ways adults in the UK have been impacted by poor gut health, according to the study, include:

  1. Skipping a social event
  2. Not eating a meal someone’s cooked for them
  3. Avoiding staying away from home
  4. Not going into work
  5. Avoiding exercise

A 2018 study, published in the Neurogastroenterology And Motility journal, found that women with IBS tend to report more severe, frequent and longer-lasting pain than men – with bloating symptoms being more severe. 

It’s perhaps even more troubling to discover that half of respondents believe gut health isn’t an appropriate topic to discuss openly, 52% don’t believe that they’d be taken seriously if they opened up about their symptoms and 70% of respondents believe there’s a lack of understanding about gut and stomach trouble in society. 

Instagram might be full of bloating pictures and supermarket dairy aisles full of “gut-friendly” products, but gut symptoms aren’t being taken seriously enough. 

Perhaps it’s a similar situation to the way that PMS and period pain is often dismissed – despite millions of women having to take sick days to manage symptoms. A 2017 study of 32,748 women found that only a fifth of those who called in sick during their periods felt comfortable enough to tell their employerthat their absence was due to menstrual issues. 

“Even though we’re starting to normalise the discussion around gut health, the impact bloating can have on self-esteem can be so destructive and the statistics uncovered by the research show there is more work to do,” says Dr Sarah Jarvis, speaking on behalf of Symprove.

“It’s vital that people know that there are things that they can do if they feel like their bloating is out of hand.” 

How to manage IBS and bloating symptoms

Get more sleep

“Our gut health is directly linked to our brain through a connection known as the gut-brain axis, so it’s no surprise that gut health can often determine sleep quality,” says Abi Roberts, sports nutritionist at The Gut Co previously told Stylist. If you tend to be bloated before bed or before you plan to go out, try eating earlier.

Eat more fermented foods

A 2021 study led by Dr Justin Sonnenburg, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University, found that fermented food might actually be better than fibre for improving gut diversity and reaping the associated health benefits. 

Prioritise de-stressing

Easier said than done, but we know that the brain and gut are linked. If you’re mentally stressed, your gut’s going to be inflammed and vice versa. When it comes to physical stress, research may have shown that regular, moderate exercise can increase the number of healthy bacteria in our gut, but it’s also thought that intensive, prolonged exercise can cause growth of bacteria that causes inflammation in the digestive system.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is key to a healthier gut. The NHS Eatwell guide recommends between six and eight cups of water a day, which equates to around two litres. If you’re living with IBS symptoms, you might want to focus on getting that liquid independently of coffee or tea, which can have laxative effects.

For more gut health tips, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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