The bowel moves stool and waste (wish there was a better word for that!) through the intestines using a process known as peristalsis. You can see all the action in the video above.
Through peristalsis, muscles lining the bowel contract and relax in a rippling, wave-like motion to move things through the intestines. When there is more progesterone in our bodies, the relaxing effect this hormone has on our muscles makes it more difficult for the bowel to contract, thus making it harder to move things along.
This is completely natural, and as your progesterone levels drop in the run-up to your period, your constipation should subside. However, now that you know what’s going on, you can get proactive and do something about it!
Here are some tips to alleviate constipation during the luteal phase:
- Magnesium: If there was one mineral that I would recommend to women, this would be it. It plays a part in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body and it’s the bee’s knees for constipation, cramps and even PMS. Magnesium glycinate is the most easily absorbed form of magnesium, which will prevent diarrhea. I recommend 400-800mg a day. However, I LOVE Natural Calm, which is magnesium citrate and not absorbed as well, but still amazing. Just mix 1-2 teaspoons in water each night and your constipation (and even your PMS & cramps) will likely disappear! If you take more than 350mg of citrate you may experience diarrhea, so just experiment and see what works for you.
- Ditch the refined sugar and gluten: Honestly, this is purely anecdotal, but not really! Cutting out sugar and gluten literally removes any chance of constipation happening to me, and I’ve seen it work for tons of clients as well. Added bonus – if you have period pain, I can guarantee you’ll see a massive improvement in that too!
- Get that fiber in: I know, this reminds me of those commercials in the 80’s featuring some old person raving about fiber. However, few of us consume enough it today, so I gotta talk it up. Fiber is a bulk-forming laxative that promotes colon health, but fiber needs water to work, so increase your water intake concurrently. Long gone are the days of super gross metamucil – now you have much better fiber options. You can add a tablespoon of chia or ground flax seeds to your smoothie. Or you can try Garden of Life Organic Fiber.
The Apple-Blossom Two-Step
Progesterone also plays a role in the diarrhea that many women experience during their period, albeit an indirect role.
Right before our period, progesterone levels drop dramatically causing the uterine lining to shed. This process releases hormone-like lipids called prostaglandins, which stimulate muscle contractions in the uterus. If too many of these prostaglandins are released, they can spread from the uterus to other organs including the brain, causing period pain and menstrual migraines.
Due to its close proximity to the uterus, the bowel is one of the first organs to be affected by excess prostaglandins. Once they infiltrate the bowel, their effect is the same as it is in the uterus. They contract the muscles in the intestinal wall causing that wave-like ripple effect in the video above to look more like this…
We’ve all been there! And again, this is completely normal and will pass once the prostaglandins are out of your system and your period is over. But if there are ways that we can avoid these “uh oh” moments then I think we would agree that, natural or not, we’d prefer to live without them. So here are some tips to reduce your prostaglandin levels and limit their effects on your digestive system.
Prostaglandins are pro-inflammatory agents so the best way to limit their impact is to add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Here some suggestions:
- Curcumin (a powerful ingredient in turmeric) – I recommend making a turmeric paste and eating it every day. You’ll find many recipes online and you can add it to meals, soups and smoothies!
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – especially those from fatty fish like wild salmon and sardines. My new favorite cod liver oil is Rosita Extra-Virgin Cod Liver Oil.
- Resveratrol – think red grapes, blueberries, cranberries and bilberries.
- Flavonoids/Phenolics – found in pretty much all fruit and vegetables (eat up girl!) Green tea is a great source of flavanoids too.
YAY for targeting these pro-inflammatory trouble makers at their roots. Read all about prostaglandins and painful periods here.
Digestive issues related to my period used to be the bain of my existence! But knowing why they happen and when they are most likely to occur changed my life!
To get a clear picture of your own specific digestive changes throughout your cycle, I recommend that you track your bowel movements so that you can isolate these patterns. Most period tracking apps have a feature that allows you to include this kind of information so I recommend using these tools to help you demystify your defecation! (OMG I really just said that!).
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Videos provided by Coloplast UK.