You don’t have to poll your friends to know that women think about gut health more than men. (You can just ask science.) Why is it that some guys can act like a garbage disposal guzzling up everything in sight while a woman might feel bloated, irregular, and sick to her stomach doing the same?
One problem may be that we’re not asking for help (or even admitting out loud that something is wrong). Two-thirds of women polled were uncomfortable talking about gut health, even with their friends, according to an online poll conducted by supplement brand RenewLife. At the same time, 72 percent of women say they’ve experienced some sort of digestive problem in the previous year.
Keep reading for all the reasons women are more likely than men to hit a rough patch, digestion-wise, on the reg—and find out what to do about it.
Women are more stressed out
Gut health 101: Stress can lead to super annoying digestion issues. According to Krieger, if you’re feeling bloated or suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the problem might not be what you’re eating, but how you feel when you’re eating it. “Women are more stressed out than men and it presents itself in the stomach,” she says.
According to one study, women are twice as likely to have IBS than men. They are also more likely to be stressed out, according to the American Psychological Association. The lesson? If you experience digestive problems on the reg, self-care has to be a priority. If the underlying issue is psychological, cutting out dairy, sugar, gluten, or FODMAP foods might not be the magic cure-all you are hoping for.
You can blame your hormones
Causing acne and mood swings just doesn’t keep hormones busy enough. “Hormones affect the bacteria in the microbiome, too,” Krieger explains. “The pH levels are always changing, which is why some women get yeast infections around the time of their period.” The connection shouldn’t be too surprising: after all, your vagina has good and bad bacteria just like your gut.
What to do? Pop a probiotic specifically formulated with women’s health in mind to keep hormones and pH levels balanced throughout the body, Krieger suggests. (Her favorite is Renew Life Ultimate Flora Probiotic, which has 10 strains of bacteria, including lactobacillus acidophilus, linked to promoting vaginal health.) “The one little change of taking a probiotic can have a huge impact,” she says.
The embarrassment factor
Another issue for women with not-so-great gut health is the shame associated with it. “Men simply don’t care as much,” she says. “Society puts less pressure on them and that doesn’t make us—women—feel better. Men make fart jokes, but [a lot] of women won’t. If we are worried about every little thing, it creates an anxiety around food.”
Case in point: Anytime you’re watching a comedy and a dude farts and it’s funny—but when a woman does it, it’s meant to be mortifying. There’s a stigma attached to being a woman and having any sort of digestive issues. And in Krieger’s opinion, it’s 100 percent unnecessary. “People should talk about it because it’s something most women are experiencing,” she says. “It’s not this taboo subject or a weakness.”
Want more gut health education? Here are five surprising ways your microbiome affects your weight, mood, and stress level. And here’s a cheat sheet on everything from enzymes to fiber to good-for-your-gut superfoods.