Your Guide to a Healthy Gut


Emerson Health Gastroenterologist Jennifer Nayor, MD, discusses common abdominal symptoms,  offers strategies for good gut health, and when to see your healthcare provider.  

Q: How does gut health change as women age?  

A: Your gut changes over time. When women menstruate, stools tend to be looser. Closer to menopause, women tend to experience more bowel irregularity and bloating.  

Some symptoms of pelvic floor issues, such as fecal incontinence or feeling like you have not completely emptied your bowel, occur more often after menopause. This is especially true for women who gave birth vaginally, or had pelvic surgeries, like C-sections or hysterectomies. (See Emerson resources about pelvic health)

Q: How do stress and busy lives impact gut health?  

A: People often feel stress in their guts. It can manifest as heartburn, changes in bowl movements, abdominal pain, and bloating. Eating a healthy high-fiber diet and exercising regularly are good ways to decrease stress and abdominal issues.  

Q: What causes bloating?  

A: Bloating is often related to diet choices. Common food culprits include carbonated beverages – like soda – and greasy, fried, fatty foods. Some vegetables like cabbage, garlic, and onions, can also trigger gas and bloating. Dairy triggers bloating for women who are lactose intolerant.   

Q: How can I relieve bloating? 

A: Keep a food journal to help narrow down which foods trigger your bloating. Then avoid or limit the items you identify to gain some relief. Exercise helps relieve bloating, as can over-the-counter products like Gas-X. If bloating is accompanied by rectal swelling, unexplained weight loss, or a family history of colorectal or gynecological cancer, contact your healthcare provider.  

Q: What about heartburn?  

A: The same foods that lead to bloating can also cause heartburn. In addition to those, limit tomatoes, citrus, alcohol, and other acidic foods. Staying a healthy weight can help prevent acid reflux, the cause of heartburn.   

Q: When should I see a doctor for gut/belly pain?  

A: Contact your provider if you experience pain, a change in bowel habits, or bleeding.  

Q: What are your best tips for good gut health?  

A: Start with regular exercise and diet. When planning your food plate, divide it in half. Fill one half with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter with healthy lean protein, and one quarter with whole-grain carbohydrates.  
Drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Flavored water is good, but coffee and tea do not count toward your daily water consumption. 
Last but not least – schedule regular colonoscopies starting at age 45 – sooner if you have a family history of colorectal cancer. This is the best way to screen for colon cancer. The sooner it is caught, the more likely it can be treated.

For information and to listen to podcasts with Dr. Nayor, visit or call 978-287-3835 to make an appointment, including for a colonoscopy.