If you're in your late 30s or 40s and starting to experience some rather unusual reactions to your favourite foods, you're not alone.

Welcome to the wild world of perimenopause, where hormonal changes can sometimes bring on food intolerances or sensitivities. Let's talk about why this happens and why it's not the same as food allergies.

First off, what's perimenopause?

Well, it's the transitional phase your body goes through before reaching menopause, and it often brings with it some unexpected twists and turns. One of those twists can be a sudden change in how your body responds to certain foods.

Hormones, Hormones, Hormones

So, what's the link between your hormones and food intolerances? It all boils down to those pesky hormones that love to play havoc with our bodies during perimenopause. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are doing their own little dance, and this hormonal imbalance can influence your digestion and how your body handles food.

There are several things that can cause food intolerances:

  • Inflammation; in perimenopause we are in an inflammatory state that can lead to changes in the gut lining which may contribute to food intolerance.
  • Lack of digestive enzymes that are needed to digest certain foods.
  • Stress can directly affect your gut lining making it more sensitive to certain foods.

Digestive Drama in Perimenopause

Your digestive system is a delicate balance of enzymes, gut bacteria, and other components. Hormonal changes during perimenopause can disrupt this balance. Estrogen, for instance, can influence how your intestines absorb nutrients and regulate inflammation. When those hormones go on a rollercoaster ride, it can make your gut more sensitive to certain foods. 

Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergies: Not the Same!

Now, let's clear up a common misconception: food intolerances are not food allergies. They might have similar symptoms, like bloating, diarrhea, or nausea, but they're fundamentally different.

A food allergy is an immune system reaction to a specific food protein. Think of it as your body's way of saying, "Hey, we don't like this stuff," and it typically happens seconds to minutes after eating the offending food.

Symptoms can range from mild hives to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Food intolerances, on the other hand, involve your digestive system rather than your immune system. They often develop later in life, and they can take hours or even days to show up. It's more like your gut saying, "Hmm, this isn't sitting well with me."

Common culprits include lactose, gluten, and certain FODMAPs (fermentable carbohydrates).

Food sensitivities can manifest as weight gain (from inflammation), headache, fatigue, sinus issues, GI problems like bloating, or anxiety.

Tracking Your Triggers in Perimenopause

If you suspect you're dealing with food intolerances during perimenopause, it's crucial to identify your triggers. Start a food diary and note down everything you eat, along with any symptoms that follow. This can help you spot patterns and pinpoint which foods might be causing trouble.

Navigating the Perimenopause Food Intolerance Storm

So, what's a gal to do when she's sailing through the perimenopausal sea with a belly full of food intolerances? Here are a few tips:

Stay Informed: Educate yourself about common food intolerances and which foods contain them. Reading ingredients labels is key.

Experiment with Your Diet: Try eliminating suspect foods one at a time to see if your symptoms improve.

Consult a Pro: If you're struggling to figure things out on your own, don't hesitate to consult a healthcare professional or a registered nutritionist or dietitian. They can help you develop a personalised plan.

Mindful Eating: Pay attention to your body's signals. Eat slowly and savor your meals. This can help reduce digestive distress.

Stay Hydrated: Drinking enough water is crucial for good digestion. It can also help alleviate some digestive symptoms. Best to hydrate away from meal times.

Remember, perimenopause is a unique journey for every woman, and food intolerances might be just one stop along the way. It's all part of the adventure of getting older, right?

So, embrace your body's quirks, adjust your diet as needed, and keep your sense of humour intact. After all, this too shall pass, and you'll come out the other side of perimenopause wiser, stronger, and maybe even with a new list of favourite foods. 

September 19, 2023 — Angela Greely

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