Is your period upsetting your digestion?

Are digestive symptoms linked to your period?

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
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05 October 2016

Digestive symptoms and your period

It is common to experience some digestive upset in the lead up to and around the time of your period, but why is this the case? Understanding what is happening inside your body is an important first step in tackling your issues!

I aim to provide some useful information in order to make this all a little clearer. I then go on to discuss some natural remedies which can help to give your body the support it needs.

Can hormones influence your digestion?

What is actually happening in your body in the lead up to your period? Well, in a nutshell, your sex hormones are fluctuating like crazy. This can have a whole host of effects around your body and can even give rise to symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).

Your female sex hormones have an important role in regulating your periods; the rise and fall in these hormones at specific times in the month means you ovulate and have your period.

So, why do some women sail through their period without a second thought whilst others feel they can hardly face the day ahead of them? Roughly the same patterns of hormones exist, right?

Well, usually this is the case but in reality hormones can easily fluctuate from ‘the norm’. Fluctuations are all part of the normal cycle (within reason) but if these hormones fluctuate too much, resulting in one becoming more dominant over the other when it shouldn’t, you can really feel the effects and symptoms can appear.

It doesn’t stop there though, as well as pesky hormones, it seems that other factors also have a part to play.

One of these to throw into the mix is the action of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are pro-inflammatory chemicals which exert hormone-like effects around your body. Prostaglandins are released from the cells lining your womb at the time of your period and are involved in initiating contractions. Prostaglandins are thought to contribute to many pre-menstrual symptoms, although, just like hormones, their effects can vary from woman to woman.

Digestive complaints are commonly reported as part of a long list of period troubles. Below I discuss constipation, diarrhoea and why these issues often make an appearance, both in the lead up to, and around the time of your period.

Why do I get constipation before my period?

In those few days in the lead up to your period do you ever feel, well, just a bit lethargic? Everything just seems a bit sluggish, including your bowels, and you can end up feeling heavy and bloated. This is a common complaint from many women but why is this the case? 

There are many different reasons as to why you can be left feeling like this and it may not always be related to your monthly cycle. However, if these tummy troubles arrive around the same time each month, the likelihood is that hormones are to blame.

Many premenstrual symptoms (as with menopausal symptoms too!) are thought to be the result of an imbalance in your sex hormones, which, in turn, can have an impact on your digestive system.

Constipation is a likely outcome when the hormone progesterone is too high and oestrogen us low relative to this. This creates an imbalance – the ratio of hormones to each other is crucial: constipation can become an issue if progesterone is particularly elevated, oestrogen is diminished, or both. Progesterone is thought to slow the contractions in the gut which if given the chance, can give rise to bloating, flatulence and constipation.

You may notice these issues appearing nearer the middle of your cycle too when progesterone is naturally at its highest. However, if this hormone remains higher than oestrogen in the lead up to your period (despite them both decreasing by this stage), its effects can dominate and you can end up constipated.

What if I get diarrhoea before my period?

On the other hand what if oestrogen is too high? Oestrogen dominance means your levels of oestrogen are higher relative to progesterone and this can translate into unwelcome symptoms.

Particularly heavy or painful periods are a common indication of this imbalance of hormones as well as feeling angry, irritable, experiencing mood swings and having sore breasts. The actions of progesterone (which generally has a slowing or quietening effect on the bowels) can be outweighed by oestrogen and guess what; you can experience diarrhoea as a result.

In the days leading up to your period (and during the first few days as I will go on to discuss next) the lining of your uterus starts to disintegrate and prostaglandins are released. These chemicals can easily migrate to surrounding tissues and can easily stimulate contractions of your bowels. This explains why diarrhoea in the run up to your period isn’t unheard of.

Is period poop a real thing?

Prostaglandins can contribute to diarrhoea during your period in exactly the same way as during the pre-menstrual phase, although, often to a greater extent. Prostaglandins are rife by the time your period decides to make an appearance – their release is in full flow. Prostaglandins actively stimulate contractions of the smooth muscle in the womb, shedding the lining, and the end result being your period.

However, the effects of prostaglandins don’t necessarily stop in the womb and they can easily leak through into your nearby large intestine and give rise to sporadic gut contractions – this often means diarrhoea isn’t far away. It’s common to be unsure whether your period cramps are originating from your uterus or your gut as both end up in equal turmoil!

Also, it is important to note that at the time of your period progesterone is at its lowest level so, the calming, slowing effects of this hormone (which ironically can contribute to constipation elsewhere in your cycle if levels are too high) are relatively non-existent.

So, how can home or herbal remedies help?

So as you now know, your hormones fluctuating around the time of your period can play havoc with your bowels. Many pre-menstrual symptoms can be linked to the peaks and troughs in oestrogen and progesterone, and the changes in the ratio of one to the other – including digestive complaints.

Preferably, you want to aim to achieve a nice balance between oestrogen and progesterone, with each increasing and decreasing as they should for a normal monthly cycle. You want to avoid either one getting out of hand and dominating – it’s all a big balancing act!

Progesterone dominance often gives rise to constipation-typed symptoms. Other typical signs of progesterone-dominant symptoms can include fatigue, weepiness, a lack of self-confidence or acne. If you fall into this category it can be useful to think about gently supporting your oestrogen levels.

Fermented soy isoflavones can help achieve this or try a multivitamin rich in magnesium, zinc and chromium if you are on the contraceptive pill.

Drinking plenty of water, combined with a natural herbal remedy for occasional constipation can be really useful to give slow-moving bowels the kick-start they need. Linseed, Senna and Frangula can all work to gently stimulate your bowels.

On the other hand, if you are more prone to diarrhoea around the time of your period, especially if this goes hand in hand with symptoms such as anger, irritability, mood swings, sore breasts, fluid retention and particularly heavy, painful periods, it is likely oestrogen is more dominant.

In this case, a herbal remedy called Agnus castus can be effective. This acts to gently support your progesterone levels. Again, if you are already modulating your hormones with the use of the pill then unfortunately this remedy isn’t suitable.

Agnus castus | Helps Relieve Pre-Menstrual Symptoms | Mood Swings, Menstrual Cramps, Bloating & Breast Tenderness

£11.99 (50ml)

Try a herbal tincture called Tormentil instead which is effective in helping to maintain and support the normal rhythmic contractions of your gut.

Essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) are also important for regulating the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Include plenty of oily fish and nuts and seeds in your diet to keep these pro-inflammatory mediators under control and stop them influencing your bowels!

By understanding what’s happening in your body you can hopefully take the first step in making some positive changes. Make those digestive complaints a thing of the past and enjoy (too strong a word?) a care-free period!

Agnus castus | Helps Relieve Pre-Menstrual Symptoms | Mood Swings, Menstrual Cramps, Bloating & Breast Tenderness


£ 11.99

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A traditional herbal remedy used to relieve the symptoms of PMS
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