It turns out that women’s bodies differ from men’s in more ways than just the obvious. It’s easy to distinguish them physically, and the presence of different reproductive systems is a clear difference, but so are the digestive systems. Although both male and female digestive systems are very similar, they do have enough differences to cause reactions to food, medications, and even a difference when it comes to making bowel movements. While some of these comparisons are a result of hormones, others are a result of physical make-ups, and others are a result of pregnancy and childbirth.
The digestive system’s main purpose is to take food from the mouth, travel through the body, where some of the food is digested and absorbed into your system, and the remainder of the food is broken down and eliminated through bowel movements. Even this basic process differs for women compared to men. A Mayo Clinic study showed that it actually took significantly longer for women to digest food than men. The study marked the average time it took to digest food in 21 healthy people, showing that it took 33 hours for men versus 47 hours for women.
There are a number of individual organs that make up the digestive system. The main players include the esophagus, stomach, colon, gallbladder, small intestine, large intestine, and liver. While the function of the esophagus is the same in men and women, it operates somewhat differently. The small “door” between the esophagus and the stomach actually opens and closes with much more force in women when compared to men. Women also tend to produce less stomach acid than men, leading to less damage to the esophagus and fewer ulcers than men.
As evidenced by the above-mentioned study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, food moves slower through women’s systems. Since the stomach empties more slowly, it can often lead to more nausea and bloating. Stomach inflammation, called gastritis, is also more common.
In addition to a slower emptying stomach, the colon also empties more slowly in women than in men. Additionally, a woman’s colon is physically longer than a man’s and is also located in the same place as the female reproductive system. In contrast, a man’s colon is found on top of the abdomen. As a result of a longer and slower emptying colon, women are more likely to experience the two extremes of either chronic constipation or the urgent need for a bowel movement. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) are also more common in women, and colon cancer is the number three diagnosed cancer in women.
All of the above-referenced differences in men and women’s digestive systems don’t factor in pregnancy. Women frequently experience digestive changes while pregnant, both from the changes in hormones and hormone levels, as well as the physical changes and placement of organs due to carrying a baby.
In addition to living a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a balanced diet, we recommend coming to Carolina Digestive Health Associates for regular exams if you begin to experience changes in your digestive system, appetite, or bowel movements. Schedule an appointment with us today to learn more about how to keep your GI tract healthy.