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Men vs Women: Who has More Gut Issues?


men vs women with gut issues

Summary:

  • Women get treated for GI disease more frequently than men

  • Men are 11% more likely to have a fatal GI disease than women

  • Most GI diseases are completely preventable, treatable and reversible

  • Women have a higher prevalence in SIBO/IBS than men

  • Working with an expert on root causes is key to turning things around for the entire family


It’s Men’s Health Week and with Father’s Day here, let’s talk men's gut health & the importance of keeping the men in our lives healthy & celebrating this week for many years to come!


The majority of patients we see on a daily basis are women, but that does not necessarily mean that women are the only ones suffering from GI disorders; it is likely a reflection of the frequency men seek healthcare in the US and stigmas that have built around males seeking medical care in American culture.


As Integrative Gut Health Dietitians, our top priority is to get to the root cause of your bloating, cramps, and stomach discomfort by taking an integrative, whole body approach. In our Gut Health practice, we have seen this division in healthcare firsthand.


This article will take a deeper dive into what a GI disorder is, what the research says, and whether or not men have a decreased risk of GI disorders, or are simply just not seeking out care when something seems amiss with their health.


What is a GI disorder?

First, let's take a look at what a GI disorder is. A GI Disorder, or gastrointestinal disorder, is any condition that affects your digestive tract. Symptoms of these condition can be a little different for everyone but often include:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort

  • Bloating

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Feeling of fullness

  • Flatulence

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Unintentional weight loss

Common GI conditions include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), Reflux, gastritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and Colorectal Cancers.

Keep in Mind: Each person is very different and there is still a lot we do not know about GI disorders. If you are having any symptoms listed above, reach out to your care team to get tested! In our practice, we like to get an idea of a person’s complete health and nutrition history, symptoms, evidence-based testing, and more to support them in addressing the root cause of what ails them.

Now that we know what GI disorders are, let's take a deep dive into whether or not men are at a lower risk for getting these conditions, or whether or not they simply just avoid the doctors.


What does the research say?

There are a variety of factors that increase your risk of gut disorders, including pre-existing conditions and dietary intake, but there seems to be another factor that influences whether or not a person develops a GI disorder, and believe it or not, it's your gender. Emerging research shows that women actually have a higher prevalence of IBS and SIBO than men. Let's take a deep dive into why this could be.

There are certain factors that increase a woman's susceptibility to developing these conditions over men, such as estrogen causing increased visceral nerve hypersensitivity in women, making the symptoms of IBS more uncomfortable & palpable for women than men. Also women may be more susceptible to increased early childhood trauma, a well-documented risk factor for increase autoimmune disease. Studies show that 78% of those diagnosed with autoimmune conditions like celiac disease and Hashimoto’s Hypothyroid are female. Given the relationship between autoimmune conditions, Intestinal Hyperpermeability AKA leaky gut, and GI disorders, this could help explain the higher rate of IBS and SIBO in women.

Another factor that could be playing a role in these statistics is the amount of times per year each gender goes to the doctor. A recent study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic found that only 50% of men go to the doctor for preventative care, while women are much more likely to seek preventive care during annual check ups and screenings. In addition to that, women were 18% more likely to report, seek treatment for, & be hospitalized for digestive diseases. Furthermore, even though it looks like females are seen more frequently for GI conditions, males were 11% more likely to die of digestive disease.

According to a 2018 review in the Journal of Gastroenterology of The Burden of all digestive diseases in the US: Women were 20% more likely to have an investigative endoscopy, males 45-75 years old were more likely have a colonoscopy. Though males were less likely to have an endoscopy, they were 2% more likely to be diagnosed with GERD (Gastro-esophageal reflux disease) than women. It seems women are more likely to seek medical advice & care for what ails them early on, especially when it comes to their digestion, while men appear to be waiting until something more serious may be occurring, like reflux or cancer.


Further Healthcare Disparities Among Males

In addition to gender, race and geography also play a role in GI health. Men in black communities have an even higher chance of having an undetected GI disorder. For example, digestive diseases were 86% more likely to be listed for white males than black. This could be for a few reasons. Yes, they might have a higher risk genetically, but more than likely it is due to the disparities those in the black community face when it comes to their healthcare which decreases their likelihood to seek care.

Though males 45-75 years old were more likely than women to have a colonoscopy, white males were 88% more likely than black males to have a colonoscopy. Males, both white & black, unfortunately were also more likely to have cancer detected in their colonoscopy.

This is why it is critical that we are supporting the men in our lives and encouraging them to seek help when something doesn't feel right. Bridging the gap between healthcare and certain races and communities could decrease the amount of fatal GI diseases and disorders to help keep our men living healthier, and longer.

During men’s health week & every week, protect the men in your lives by encouraging them to seek preventive care & alter their lifestyles, educate on why it is important, and destigmatize healthcare for men.


Woman with gut issues/IBS/SIBO

What should you do if you think you or a loved one has a GI Disorder?

After reading all of that, you may be thinking, this sounds just like me. If so, don’t worry, most GI Disorders are highly treatable, especially with the right care team. The first step is scheduling an appointment to get checked out, this can be done with a great primary care physician, gastroenterologist, and/or integrative registered dietitian.


Diagnostic Tests Sometimes Include:

  • Blood tests

  • Stool test

  • Endoscopy

  • Colonoscopy

  • SIBO breath test

  • Other scans and imaging

Working with a care team that is familiar with GI Disorders, and that you trust, is the first step in recovering from a GI condition. Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself when something doesn't feel right.

If you suspect that a man in your life is suffering from a GI disorder and does not want to see a doctors, try to do the following:

  • Ask him about his symptoms

  • Encourage him to see a professional

  • Talk with him about his concerns surrounding the doctors

  • Identify possible specialists he could see in your area

Showing them that you care and support his decision to get help is a great first step in relieving some of the stress and tension around seeing a doctor.


Final Thoughts

As integrative gut health Registered Dietitians, we teach our clients how to listen to their bodies and nourish it in a way that can help them ‘Heal With Each Meal’ TM.

After a long history of gastrointestinal issues, it can feel overwhelming to go to the doctor or maybe even try another treatment plan that might come with empty promises, this is completely normal. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone in this journey. Many people suffer from anxiety around seeking healthcare for a variety of reasons. Try to find a healthcare provider that feels comfortable and supportive to you.

Are you interested in learning more about gut health and how to ‘Heal With Each Meal’? Reach out! We would love to help!



James Marin, RD, EN and Dahlia Marin, RDN, LD, CGN

We hope you continue to ‘Heal with Each Meal’

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References:

  1. Everhart, J. E., & Ruhl, C. E. (2009). Burden of digestive diseases in the United States part I: overall and upper gastrointestinal diseases. Gastroenterology, 136(2), 376–386. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2008.12.015

  2. Gai. (2023, March 13). 7 risk factors for autoimmune disease. Global Autoimmune Institute. https://www.autoimmuneinstitute.org/articles/about-autoimmune/7-risk-factors-for-autoimmune-disease/

  3. J.S Lasa. (2015, August 19). Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth prevalence in celiac disease patients is similar in healthy subjects and lower in irritable bowel syndrome patients. Revista de Gastroenterología de México. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0375090615000385?via%3Dihub

  4. Peery, A. F., Crockett, S. D., Murphy, C. C., Lund, J. L., Dellon, E. S., Williams, J. L., Jensen, E. T., Shaheen, N. J., Barritt, A. S., Lieber, S. R., Kochar, B., Barnes, E. L., Fan, Y. C., Pate, V., Galanko, J., Baron, T. H., & Sandler, R. S. (2019). Burden and Cost of Gastrointestinal, Liver, and Pancreatic Diseases in the United States: Update 2018. Gastroenterology, 156(1), 254–272.e11. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2018.08.063

  5. professional, C. C. medical. (n.d.). SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth): Symptoms, diet, causes & what it is. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21820-small-intestinal-bacterial-overgrowth-sibo

  6. Rao, S. S. C., & Bhagatwala, J. (2019, October). Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: Clinical features and Therapeutic Management. Clinical and translational gastroenterology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6884350/

  7. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth - statpearls - NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546634/

  8. Wheeler, T. (2019, September 5). Cleveland Clinic Survey: Men will do almost anything to avoid going to the doctor. Cleveland Clinic Newsroom. https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2019/09/04/cleveland-clinic-survey-men-will-do-almost-anything-to-avoid-going-to-the-doctor/




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