Here’s a reason why IBS differs between men and women

We know that men lose weight and gain muscle more easily than women. Women, on the other hand, tend to hold onto water weight and live longer than men. Small differences like these may seem insignificant, but they can actually affect how men and women show different symptoms for the same illnesses.

Recently, IBS Life sat down virtually with Bonnie Brock MPH, RD, LDN, ND a registered dietitian and doctor of naturopathic medicine. We asked her to talk about how men and women differ in their nutritional needs and if these differences can also affect IBS. According to Dr. Brock, both genders start with the same dietary demands in the early stages of life. But once puberty hits, certain hormones take over, regulating changes in body development and nutrition.

For example, testosterone, which is the same hormone that cause men to grow taller, their voices to deepen, and to build their muscle mass, may lead to men craving more calories and more protein. Women, on the other hand, begin to produce more estrogen at puberty, which contributes to the softening of their features and breast development. The hormone also triggers menstruation and the body’s need for more iron. This stays constant until women hit menopause.

Interestingly, these hormones may also affect IBS.

“Too much estrogen can have a huge impact on the gut,” noted Dr. Brock. “The hormone causes increased stress response, which makes the digestive system more sensitive to change, and disrupts the gut microbiome.”

Estrogen can also cause irregular gut motility and has been linked to “leaky gut,’ a condition where the lining on the gut breaks down, allowing food particles, bacteria, and toxins to enter the bloodstream.

When asked if these hormones can specifically affect IBS, Dr. Brock notes that research has shown women are more likely to be diagnosed with IBS-C, while men are more likely to develop IBS-D.

“IBS-D causes malabsorption, a condition that makes it difficult for the body to absorb the nutrients from food, she added.”

If Dr. Brock encounters a male patient diagnosed with IBS-C, she’ll recommend that the patient undergo a hormone panel to see if his system is producing too much estrogen. If the estrogen levels are normal, then she’ll treat her male patients with IBS-C by removing trigger foods from their diet and re-balancing their gut microbiome.

While there have been a lot of studies and information gathered on how estrogen can affect the gut microbiome, not enough is known about testosterone. More studies will need to be done to determine if this hormone could alter the gut microbiome or play a role in IBS-D.

Dr. Brock’s approach to IBS emphasizes the important role that dietitians/nutritionists play in managing this complex condition. While IBS symptoms may be attributed to hormones, not all individuals can point to their gender as a primary cause. It’s important that people with IBS symptoms turn to their healthcare professionals for diagnosis and treatment.