Digestive Health in Women vs Men—Are There Differences That Matter?

There are plenty of ways that women are different from men. Physical differences, starting with reproductive organs and hormone makeup, are what first come to mind. Then there are differences in emotional needs, communication styles, and behavioral expectations that are less obvious, but equally important.  

But what about digestive health? Is a woman’s digestive system different from a man’s digestive system? And if so, do these differences really matter? To answer these questions, let’s first take a closer look at some digestive system basics.

Women’s digestive system Digestive System Basics

Whether male or female, the digestive system does a lot of things. But its main purpose is to break down the foods you eat into nutrients that help fuel, nourish, and replenish your body. Here’s a quick map of that ride:

Digestion starts in your mouth, where chewing and saliva act on food both physically and chemically, turning it into what’s known as bolus that your body can more easily absorb further down the gastrointestinal pipeline.

The bolus then travels down the esophagus to your stomach where powerful acids and enzymes are added to the mix, turning your food into a liquid-like paste. This paste proceeds through the approximately 20-foot-long, coiling tract of your small intestines, where enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver are added to continue the breakdown of food.  

The small intestine leads to the large intestine, or colon, a five- to six-foot-long organ that absorbs nutrients and liquids, and moves the remaining stool down into the rectum using powerful muscular contractions known as peristalsis. The stool is finally expelled from your body using pelvic floor muscles and anal sphincters.

Phew, that’s a long and winding road. Research shows it takes food an average of one-to-four days to travel from top to bottom. 

And not surprisingly, the trip varies a bit, depending on whether you’re a woman or a man.

If You’re a Woman, Your Digestive System May…

  • Produce less stomach acid
  • Have a slightly longer colon (around 10 extra centimeters)
  • Have slower emptying time in the stomach and colon
  • Have a colon that shares abdominal space with reproductive organs
  • Be influenced by menstrual cycle or pregnancy hormones
  • Tend to experience more bloating and discomfort 

If You’re a Man, Your Digestive System May…

  • Work faster—approximately 33 hours compared to a woman’s 47 hours
  • Have a colon shaped like an inverted U that sits on top of the abdomen 
  • Be uncrowded by reproductive organs
  • Tend to be more regular

Another Digestive System Difference Between Women and Men? The Microbiome. 

There’s another piece of the digestive system that won’t show up on any anatomy chart because it’s not an organ, yet it’s equally important. It’s the body’s microbiome, which is made up of trillions of microorganisms (mostly bacteria) that live throughout the body, but mostly in the gut. And these environments tend to differ between biological males and biological females.

These microbes have their own genes, just like your body cells do, which direct their actions. Even more astonishing, the number of genes in your microbiome is approximately 200 times the number of genes in your own body cells! Recent gene sequencing research has unearthed rich new details on the gut microbiome, what it influences, and what influences it.

We now know that a healthy, balanced microbiome supports a resilient GI lining, which acts as a gatekeeper for things trying to enter your bloodstream. This promotes your digestive health and also your immune health. Plus, the beneficial bacteria in your microbiome—known as probiotics—help synthesize vitamins, enzymes, and fatty acids that are crucial for many body processes from head-to-toe.

Clearly, your microbiome has a big influence on your body and life…and at the same time, your body and lifestyle factors can influence your microbiome. For instance, diet, physical activity, quality of sleep, stress, social and physical environments, certain medicines, age, and hormones can all impact the makeup and effectiveness of your microbiome, especially bifidobacteria.

When it comes to the hormones in this equation, it’s no surprise that sex hormones drive differences between the microbiome of women and men. Scientists have even coined the phrase “microgenderome” for the multidirectional relationship between the gut microbiome, sex hormones, and the immune system. 

Consider the Vaginal Microbiome, Too

While science is just beginning to dig into the hormone-driven differences between female and male microbiomes, there’s another more obvious factor to consider: Anatomically, women and men have uniquely different urinary and genital environments. Not to mention, females have vaginas, which have their very own microbiomes to balance.

Just like the gut microbiome, the vaginal microbiome functions best when it’s in balance. And specific strains of beneficial bacteria may offer just that, with targeted support for vaginal and urinary tract health, including Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus fermentum, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

These Lactobacilli strains are known to produce lactic acid and this, in turn, may offer unique support for the maintenance of healthy pH levels in the vaginal and digestive microbiomes. Happily, these probiotic strains are some of the most widely available probiotics in the world. They’re abundant in yogurt, cheese, and fermented foods, in addition to existing naturally in the digestive system, vagina, urinary tract, and even your skin. They’re also present in many probiotics targeted for women’s health, such as in our Probulin’s Total Care Women’s UT Probiotic. 

In fact, if you’re a woman looking for top digestion support, plus benefits for your urogenital health, look no further than our Women’s Health Probiotic or our Total Care Women’s UT Probiotic. They feature an advanced 12-strain probiotic blend, with the UT Probiotic including all four of those Lactobacillus strains found to be so effective for pH balance.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to digestive health, women and men do have differences. Sex specific hormones and reproductive organs play a role in this, as does the body’s intricate and powerful microbiome. 

Certain strains of beneficial bacteria in the microbiome may be particularly beneficial for female urogenital health, in addition to overall digestive health. These strains are from the Lactobacillus genus and are some of the most prevalent probiotics known to man. 

But despite their differences, the digestive systems in men and women have a lot in common, too. The basics of the digestive system are the same, regardless of sex. And food travels the same route through the digestive system (although at a slightly different pace). 

Whether you’re a woman or a man, you can support your digestive system by taking a quality probiotic. Regularly replenishing the beneficial bacteria in your body helps keep your microbiome balanced and strong, which is critically important for your digestion and so much more. 

Every probiotic formula in the Probulin lineup delivers multiple strains for optimal potency, plus prebiotic inulin to feed the probiotics so they can thrive. And our advanced MAKTrek® 3-D Delivery System as well as our unique Cold + Protected Shipping ensures your probiotics arrive alive to do their good work in your gut…and throughout your body!

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