Can the menstrual cycle affect IBS?


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
Ask Ali


24 August 2018

Hormones and IBS

If you are unlucky enough to experience the onset of IBS symptoms as you approach your period there’s only one thing to blame – hormones! 

These fluctuate significantly over the course of the menstrual cycle and as hormone receptors are found throughout the gastrointestinal tract, many women experience sensitivity here. Issues such as bloating, cramps and constipation can become even more prominent than normal.

So, what exactly is happening to our hormones at this time? 

First of all, oestrogen peaks just before ovulation and this triggers the release of an egg. Thereafter levels begin drop in order to make way for progesterone – this prepares the womb for fertilization. You can follow the rise and fall of these hormones in the chart below.

As you can see, both oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest level just before the start of your period. Some studies have noted that IBS symptoms tend to worsen at this time because as your hormone levels suddenly decline, the gut can become more sensitive than normal. After all, your gut contains a number of hormone receptors.

That being said, IBS is not a straightforward condition – we’d have a cure by now if it was! Instead symptoms vary from individual to individual and as a result, the effects of menstruation can vary too.

Do you find that your IBS doesn’t worsen around the time of your period? Well, this is exactly why – the condition varies so much that sufferers don’t usually have the same experience of it!

What does the research say?

Ok, so this information is all very well but here at A.Vogel we like a bit of research to back up our advice.

That’s just as well as it turns out there are actually quite a few studies which focus on the effects of the menstrual cycle on IBS. 

One particular study assessed 29 IBS patients. These individuals had to keep a symptoms diary to track bloating, abdominal pain and bowel habits before, during and after their period. Each participant used a scale to rate the severity of these symptoms.2 

The results showed that bleeding was associated with an increase in abdominal pain and bloating and guess what? Researchers put this down to hormonal changes! They said that this sensitivity highlighted that IBS patients responded differently to fluctuations in their sex hormones when compared with healthy females. 

Are symptoms different?

There is definitely some overlap in IBS and period symptoms as they can both involve bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. However, periods are also associated with mood swings, fatigue and cravings but fortunately these are not typical IBS symptoms. 

As I mentioned above, periods can exacerbate IBS-related stomach upset but that’s not the only issue that can crop up. You may also notice that you become more reactive to certain foods around this time. 

All of this can throw up some problems as you go about your day-to-day life so to help you out, I’ve included a few bits of advice below!

Managing your symptoms

Periods

You can explore our pages on period treatments to find out how to deal with it each month but as a general rule, remember hot water bottles, bubble baths and, if necessary, painkillers. These are just some tried and tested methods of dealing with the likes of cramp.

Also, vitamins and minerals can prove beneficial at this time as magnesium can relax the muscles thus helping to reduce cramp. You can get a good dose of magnesium through foods such as salmon, spinach and pumpkin seeds. 

Alternatively, our Balance Mineral Drink contains a host of vitamins and minerals including magnesium, zinc and vitamin D. By topping up your levels of these things, this drink could help you tackle the likes of cramps and fatigue. Also, it has a tasty strawberry flavour which makes for refreshing drink at any time of the day!

IBS

When dealing with IBS and your period it can be useful to keep a symptoms diary  for a couple of months. This will highlight any patterns and may even demonstrate when things are likely to be at their worst. What’s more, it’ll also help you plan - if you need to avoid dairy for a few days (sorry chocolate cravings!) you can stock up on the likes of almond or soya milk instead.

As I’m sure you are aware, diet has a huge impact on IBS symptoms so keep this in check to help manage your symptoms. You can read my blog on diet and IBS for more information but generally things like caffeine, processed foods and alcohol definitely won’t help your symptoms – fresh is best! 

What’s the treatment?

Despite the fact that IBS symptoms can be made worse by hormones, there is no evidence to suggest that the likes of birth control or hormone replacement therapy will do anything to ease the problem. 

However, for IBS symptoms you could turn to Silicol gel, a remedy that I often recommend in my digestion blogs. This will address things like stomach discomfort, abdominal pain and bowel discomfort.

The product contains silicic acid which is a compound of the minerals silicon and oxygen. When taken orally this lines the stomach and intestines and then binds with toxins and pathogens to facilitate their safe removal from the body. 

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4527267/  

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1773170/ 

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