gut health stress Apr 04, 2024

Ever felt that you don’t tolerate meat anymore – especially red meat? It’s a comment I hear frequently in a clinic – and not just from my most senior clients! Usually, it’s something along the lines of “Oh, I’m vegetarian because I don’t tolerate meat anymore, it doesn’t agree with me.”

It can feel like a mystery, especially if you’ve had no problem with food before. But it’s ok, I’ve got your back, with some info to help you gain more understanding of your body and what’s going on. You don’t need to put up with it or feel rubbish after eating in general. Getting older isn’t a reason to put up with feeling rubbish either. You’ll hear that it’s normal, but while it’s common, that doesn’t make it normal.

Maybe there are some other foods, besides meat, you don’t tolerate anymore. You’ll find this info relevant too – often they have a similar root cause. It is really important to find that cause, rather than just suppressing the symptom, or avoiding the trigger (meat or other foods).

You need to enjoy a wide variety of foods to a) get the nutrients your body needs to thrive, b) for your hormones to be balanced, and c) because you don't want to miss out on your fave foods!


People may feel nauseous after eating when they don’t tolerate meat, or feel like it sits like a brick in their chest or stomach. They get bloated, often gassy. Fart city! Windier than the resident teens and dogs (how many times can you blame it on the dog, really?!)

The medical term for food feeling like a brick in your chest is dyspepsia or indigestion.


  • Feeling discomfort in your gastrointestinal system
  • Pressure or heaviness after eating
  • A sense of fullness that lasts for a long time after eating
  • Getting full really quickly when you eat (eg after a few mouthfuls)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal pains or cramps

You’re most likely the burper of the house, probably the farty pants too. You might also feel sick after taking supplements.


There are a few different reasons why you might not tolerate meat anymore. For example, there could be one or more functional reasons.

There are many muscles around the tube that is your intestines, and in the stomach, designed to move food along the intestines. This movement is called peristalsis. This functional issue may mean that the stomach and intestines aren’t moving food through as they should be.

Other functional issues can include decreased digestive secretions like hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), and the enzymes that break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Your digestive secretion production naturally decreases with age, so this can often be why you may notice a change in your food tolerance as you age. But it isn’t always your age. Stress and diet are big factors in digestive secretions, which we’ll touch on in a minute.

When there are reduced secretions, it’s harder for your body to break down your food, then to absorb and assimilate the nutrients. This makes for a vicious cycle because, with fewer nutrients available, there are fewer secretions available.


When you take some bites of protein-rich foods like meats, it stimulates the secretion of the enzymes needed for protein digestion. There’s another cycle that you can get stuck in when you have reduced digestive secretions (perhaps from stress, or another reason), you are less capable of breaking that protein down.

Over time, you eat less of the food that didn’t sit well with you. This feeds back to the body, so the fewer (animal) protein foods that you eat, the fewer enzymes you produce over time. If you go back to eating animal protein, you might notice some discomfort. I’ll leave some tips at the end for how to support digestion here, but you can also find more in this blog.


Eating meals that are high in simple sugars and low in fibre causes peristalsis to slow down.

Your body is an amazing machine, designed to protect itself and maintain balance. By slowing peristalsis when you eat high-sugar foods (including highly refined carbohydrates), your body is protecting blood glucose levels. It’s stopping your blood glucose levels from skyrocketing (and the result of you feeling awful!).


There are two arms to your autonomic nervous system – the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system makes sure you’re ready to ‘fight, flee, or freeze’ when your brain perceives danger. The parasympathetic nervous system is focused on ‘rest and digest’. Only one of the arms is dominant at a time.

When you’re feeling stressed (the brain perceives this as a danger), your sympathetic nervous system is in charge. (If you’d like to know more about what your body perceives as stress, check out this blog.) Your body is ready to run away quickly – with blood focused on the limbs, muscles, brain, and heart, and less on the digestive system.

So with the focus on survival, there are naturally fewer digestive secretions and reduced peristalsis, your body just isn't 'in the mood' for digesting that rump steak! Elevated cortisol (one of your main stress response hormones) slows down the motility (the smashing action that your stomach uses to break down your food into smaller, more easily digested pieces) and emptying of your stomach. Bigger food particles sit for too long in your stomach and small intestine, fermenting and causing symptoms of bloating, burping, a sense of fullness, early satiety. End result – you don’t tolerate meat. 

Eating on the run or in a rush = less digestive secretions too, because it puts you in fight or flight mode. You’re hypervigilant about eating and driving, or rushing to get to the meeting in time, or kids to an activity… or whatever the reason. Please just don’t do it. Wait until you get where you’re going, or allow yourself some time to sit down and eat before you go.

Reduced digestive secretions also have implications for the health of your microbiome (or gut bacteria).


So hopefully you know by now that stress alters your microbiome. (If not, go read some of my gut health blogs please!) But did you know that decreasing progesterone and oestrogen also alter the function and efficiency of your gut?

There’s so much that science doesn’t know about what oestrogen does in the body. Perimenopausal and menopausal women can usually give them a good idea! They just need to figure out how or why it has these effects.

Oestrogen and oestrogen-like compounds prevent the loss of your friendly microbes, while also helping them grow and proliferate. This is important because it helps you maintain a diverse range of friendly microbes. Research tells us that high diversity is associated with long-term health and vitality.

When there are lower numbers of the good guys, then there’s room for the ‘baddies’ to take over the place! You don’t want that, trust me.


Sometimes people get an overgrowth of microbes (good or bad) in their small intestines. Ideally, you don’t have any bacteria in the small intestines! But sometimes they come up from the large intestine to say hi. This is often because there’s an imbalance or overgrowth in the large intestine. We don't really want the overgrowth in the large intestines, or them popping into the small intestine! Both scenarios equal discomfort and dysfunction for you. And even can be linked with weight gain and other chronic diseases.

Changes in the microbiome, particularly in the small intestine, can reduce the number of villi (small, finger-like projections on the intestinal cells). These villi are the ones who secrete the enzymes that break down food and support nutrient absorption. With less enzymes, we get less out of our food, and more negative side effects - bloating, cramps, wind.

An imbalance in the microbiome is called ‘dysbiosis’ and it alters many things in the gut and the body. This is because it reduces intestinal integrity and function. These changes trigger the inflammatory response and contribute to:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea
  • Eczema
  • Allergies and intolerances
  • Asthma
  • Hayfever
  • Hives
  • Itching and rashes


So what can you do about it?

  1. Optimise peristalsis
  2. Enhance digestion and secretions
  3. Harness the power of your intestine's self-cleaning function, the migratory motor complex (MMC)
  4. Support microbiome health


  1. Stress is the biggest blocker to health, happiness and weight loss. Reducing stress, or at the very least, increasing your stress resilience is paramount. Self-care is the tool to swear by here. And it's not all fancy stuff, it's basics like caring for yourself in the same loving kind way you'd care for a baby. Regular meals, plenty of downtime and sleep, safe sun exposure, movement, connection with friends, fun and joy in your life. And not just sporadically, you're doing all these things everyday, even if it's only for 10 minutes!  
  2. Mindful eating
  3. Bitter foods & drinks just before or during your meal to stimulate digestive secretions. I love Iberogast for this as it also helps support #5. A 50mL bottle fits easily in your bag to take out and about with you. Let me know if you need some of this herbie magic in your life.
  4. Bitter herbs and foods. This stimulates your body to make more of what it needs. Digestive enzymes can be useful for some people. But when you use enzymes, it tells your body that it’s making the right amount, and you can then be reliant on supplementation long-term.
  5. Herbal teas to support peristalsis and intestinal function, like peppermint, chamomile, lemon balm, fennel, cinnamon, and ginger. (Don’t forget Iberogast will help with this too.) Please talk with a herbalist or naturopath to have your herbs prescribed safely and with you and your symptoms in mind.


Not sure what your underlying issue is? Then please reach out, and let’s have a chat about what it might be, and how I can support you and your digestive system.

Digestive issues are really common as people age, but they don’t have to be normal! Please remember that, even if you don’t remember anything else!

Common doesn’t = normal.

Your gut and digestive health have a big impact on your hormones – especially in your 40s when the road to menopause begins for many women. Imbalances can lead to mood swings, weight gain, fatigue, exhaustion, and complete overwhelm!

Does this sound like your everyday experience? If so, it doesn’t need to be your reality forever – you can uncover the cause of your struggles and feel fabulous again! To get started, book your FREE Clarity Call here.



Is it perimenopause hormone changes or something else making you cranky, exhausted, overwhelmed, and gaining weight in your 40s?


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