Ever thought about the surprising connection between your monthly cycle and digestive problems? It might not be a topic you chat about over brunch, but some people actually experience tummy troubles whenever Aunt Flo pays a visit. These symptoms can range from annoying stomach pain and cramps to feeling bloated, queasy, and even dealing with the dreaded "D" word.
Understanding the Impact of Your Period on Your Bowels
Let's face it, discussing periods and digestion may not be the most comfortable subject. However, it is a fact that many people experience changes in their body as their period approaches. In a 2014 study, abdominal pain and diarrhea were identified as the most common digestive symptoms associated with menstruation. Surprisingly, 24 percent of menstruating individuals reported experiencing diarrhea before their period, while 28 percent experienced it during or after their cycle. But why does this happen, and what can we do to combat these inconvenient "PMS" symptoms?
Unraveling the Role of Prostaglandins in Digestive Issues
The exact reasons behind diarrhea and constipation during your period are not fully understood. However, one prevailing theory suggests that hormones may be the culprit. Prostaglandins, chemical compounds in your body that resemble hormones and are composed of fatty acids, are released during your period. These prostaglandins cause both your uterus and intestines to contract and restrict.
During menstruation, prostaglandins stimulate the uterus to contract, facilitating the shedding of the uterine lining. However, when prostaglandins begin to relax smooth muscle tissues as menstruation begins, diarrhea can occur.
Hormones, Digestion, and You
In the latter half of your menstrual cycle, your body produces increased levels of progesterone. Unfortunately, this hormone can slow down contractions near your intestines and interfere with the speed at which digested food moves through your system. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, fullness, and even constipation.
However, as progesterone levels drop, bowel contractions may increase, resulting in food passing more quickly than before. Alongside prostaglandins, these hormonal fluctuations can create a clash with your intestines and digestion, leading to diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas buildup.
Tips to Support Digestion Throughout Your Cycle
After menstruation, it is essential to pay attention to the balance of estrogen and progesterone, as various factors such as constipation and impaired liver function can affect estrogen accumulation in the body. Normal bowel function is crucial, and to support it, we recommend diversifying your diet with fiber, maintaining adequate hydration, incorporating magnesium-rich foods, healthy fats, and consuming pro- and prebiotic foods. Probiotic foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, as well as prebiotic foods like leeks, artichokes, onions, and garlic, promote intestinal health. Beneficial lactobacilli aid in normalizing stomach function and estrogen detoxification, making a high-quality supplement a valuable support throughout the menstrual cycle. Additionally, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplements, such as Pycnogenol, may be beneficial in some cases, as many gastrointestinal issues are associated with inflammation.
During ovulation, our focus shifts to supporting liver function. Adequate protein and essential fatty acids are crucial, and we recommend a varied diet encompassing both animal and plant-based proteins. Quality olive oil, avocado, and colorful vegetables provide good fats and antioxidants. Milk thistle, whether in tea, drops, or capsules, can be an effective aid in supporting liver function.
In the luteal phase, as the next menstruation approaches, ensuring sufficient serotonin production becomes important. Tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, can be found in nuts, spinach, eggs, and salmon. L-tryptophan, a fantastic supplement, can complement this need.
Following ovulation, a decrease in libido and potential fatigue are often noticed. At this stage, adequate rest is crucial, and incorporating magnesium-rich foods is important. B-vitamins and chromium assist in managing blood sugar levels, reducing sugar cravings. A diet rich in berries and fresh vegetables also supports this phase.
Did you know that the gut and its bacteria influence the metabolism and elimination of estrogens from the body? High-quality probiotics are a crucial support in every phase of the menstrual cycle.
The above recommendations provide a comprehensive approach to supporting overall well-being throughout different phases of the menstrual cycle. However, it's important to remember that everyone is unique, and individual needs may vary. We always recommend consulting with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet or supplement regimen.
When Bowel Issues Signal Something More
If you find that your bowel issues persist or worsen during or around your period, it may be worth considering other factors, such as uterine fibroids. These benign tumors can develop within the uterus or uterine lining and may cause symptoms like frequent urination, difficulty emptying the bladder, constipation, or a protruding belly resembling bloating. Depending on their size and location, fibroids can enlarge the uterus and exert pressure on the intestines and bladder.
Fibroids may affect more people than you think, with between 70 to 80 percent of individuals developing them before the age of 50. While some women may not experience any pain, others may endure significant discomfort that negatively impacts their daily lives. Additional symptoms of fibroids include heavy periods lasting more than 10 days per month, fatigue due to anemia, pain during sex, and bleeding between menstrual cycles, as well as lower back or leg pain.
Take control of your digestive health during your period by understanding the connections and implementing strategies to alleviate discomfort. Remember, you're not alone in this journey, and there are various ways to find relief and improve your overall well-being!