Author: Dr. Liz Dalglish, ND
Dr. Liz is a Collingwood naturopath who provides evidence-based care to those struggling with brain fog, memory issues, chronic pain, fatigue, and all things related to your period. Click here to schedule a free consult with Dr. Liz.
Women often experience common digestive concerns, like painful bloating, gas, upset stomach, “the runs” (i.e. diarrhea) or difficulty passing a bowel movement (i.e. constipation), but did you know that where you are in your cycle can make some of these symptoms worse? This article will dive into why you get some of these symptoms and the top three ways you can feel better.
Day 1 – 5 or 7 – Your Period
Typically this is the time of your cycle when estrogen and progesterone, your two key female hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle, are on the decline. “Period poop” can happen at this time, as the two hormones are theorized to slow down your gut motility, which is the rate at which food is passed through your digestive tract. Because these hormones are at lower levels, your gut motility speeds up and you aren’t reabsorbing water and other nutrients as quickly and are more likely to have diarrhea, especially on the first few days of your cycle. Another potential reason for the diarrhea is that there are increased levels of prostaglandins during this time, which increase inflammation in your body and relax the smooth muscles of your digestive tract, making it more likely for you to experience diarrhea. If you already have a condition that increases your likelihood of diarrhea, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), your period can significantly impact your bowel function and quality of life for a few days every month!
Tip # 1 – Probiotics Can Help Stop the Diarrhea!
Probiotics are sources of “good” bacteria that can help you poop more regularly if you suffer from diarrhea. They can be found naturally in foods, including but not limited to sauerkraut, kim-chi, yogurt or kefir, miso, natto, fermented tempeh, sourdough bread, and kombucha! Some individuals might require supplementation with certain probiotics to help reduce their symptom severity, especially if you have been diagnosed with IBS too, so talk to your Collingwood naturopath about what probiotic options work for you!
Day 6 or 8 – 13 or 14 – Your Follicular Phase
Women during this time of the menstrual cycle, you are growing and developing an egg that will be released from your ovary in order to conceive. Estrogen is the predominant hormone that helps facilitate this process. Usually, women will experience bowel movements that are considered more or less “normal” at this time of the cycle.
Tip #2 – Charting your Type of Stool!
This is a good time of your cycle to determine what your baseline poops look like! Using a tool like the Bristol Stool Chart to help measure this is super helpful. Ask your Collingwood naturopath about this chart when you book your appointment to help evaluate your stools objectively!
Day 14 – Ovulation
Ovulation is the point of your cycle when the mature egg is released from your ovary to be potentially fertilized by sperm and implanted in the lining of your uterus for conception. This time of your cycle is when some women experience more difficulty with having a bowel movement and experience constipation for a few days or even until you get your period! This is due to a rise in progesterone in the body, which will slow down your gut motility, or how fast food passes through your digestive tract, as previously mentioned. Constipation is a common symptom, but not normal, and can exacerbate conditions like IBS or endometriosis!
Tip #3 – Fibre Can Help You Poop!
Increasing your fibre intake by eating an assortment of vegetables and fruit can really help to promote bowel movements by increasing your gut fill and giving your bowels some bulk, especially for women who struggle with constipation at this time in their cycle. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, arugula, kale, collard greens; root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes, asparagus, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower; and onions, garlic, and peppers are all wonderful vegetables that we encourage people to try! Fruits like berries like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and black beerries; grapes, apples, citrus fruits like lemon, lime, grapefruit and oranges; pitted fruit like peaches, plums, cherries and nectarines; pineapple, kiwi, and melons like honey dew, watermelon and cantaloupe are all delicious options! A fibre supplement like psyllium husk could also work well to help get rid of the constipation. Talk to your naturopath or other healthcare practitioner before taking any supplements to see what would work best for your case!
Day 15 – 28 – Your Luteal Phase
The second half of your menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. During the luteal phase, the lining of the uterus develops in order to get ready for the fertilized egg to be implanted in order to conceive. The predominant hormone responsible during this phase is progesterone.
Typically, during the luteal phase and especially right before your period, women can experience more gas, bloating, water retention and changes to your bowel movements. The research isn’t 100% certain of why this happens, but we think it’s due to the increase in progesterone in combination with estrogen in a woman’s body and how they fluctuate uniquely per person. If women have digestive issues in combination with other symptoms like breast tenderness, irritability, increased appetite and food cravings, muscle aches and pains, fatigue and lower energy right before their period, you could be experiencing Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). These symptoms start in your luteal phase and can persist until the first few days of your period and beginning of a new cycle.
Tip #4 – Calcium can fix your PMS!
Supplementing with calcium can really help with reducing symptoms of PMS, including some of the mood changes and diarrhea that so many women experience.1 Calcium is relatively inexpensive, quite accessible and you don’t need to take large doses to see effects!
Having an individualized treatment plan made for your specific case is a great option to help improve your digestive symptoms associated with your menstrual cycle and period. Talk to your licensed naturopath or other healthcare practitioner about what different interventions are right for your particular case! If you are interested in booking an appointment with a Collingwood naturopath, please book through our online booking link as we would be more than happy to work with you towards your health goals!
- Shobeiri F, Araste FE, Ebrahimi R, Jenabi E, Nazari M. Effect of calcium on premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind randomized clinical trial. Obstet Gynecol Sci. 2017 Jan;60(1):100-105. doi: 10.5468/ogs.2017.60.1.100. Epub 2017 Jan 15.