Full Moon Over Troubled Waters, Backing The Bus Out Of The Garage, Auditing Your ASSets…yup, today we’re going to talk about poop!
Do you experience constipation after ovulation?
Do bouts of diarrhea seem to come out of nowhere right before and during your period?
Do you feel like the only time you have somewhat normal poops is during your follicular phase?
When we talk about the psychological and physiological changes that we experience within each phase of our cycle, there’s one area that tends to get overlooked; our poop!
The menstrual cycle has a very direct and predictable effect on your digestive system, and if you understand what is happening you can take steps to mitigate any frustrating digestive problems that might crop up.
Why do we have normal bowel movements in the follicular phase?
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 below.
Through peristalsis, muscles lining the bowel contract and relax in a rippling, wave-like motion to move things through the intestines.
As estrogen rises in the first half of your cycle, it also increases smooth muscle contractions in the digestive tract. This will keep things moving in the follicular phase.
Why do we experience constipation after ovulation?
The hormone progesterone is the main player when it comes to the changes in our digestion each month. One of progesterone’s key jobs is to stimulate the growth of the uterine lining to prepare it for the implantation of a fertilized egg, so our progesterone levels are at their highest in the luteal phase of our cycles, directly after ovulation. It’s during this phase that many women experience constipation.
So what’s going on here?
One of the properties of progesterone is that it’s a muscle relaxant. In fact, it’s commonly given to pregnant women to delay labor and preterm birth because its relaxing effects are so effective that it can reduce uterine contractions. It’s this relaxing effect that can make us feel all clogged up.
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.
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. Follow the dosage instructions on the label. However, I LOVE Natural Calm, which is magnesium citrate and not absorbed as well as glycinate, which is why it helps constipation. Just put it 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 carbs: Cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates literally removes any chance of constipation happening to me, and I’ve seen it work for tons of clients as well. These foods are so inflammatory that they disrupt the gut microbiome causing a chain reaction response in the gut. 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, 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.
Why do we experience diarrhea during our period?
Progesterone also plays a role in the diarrhea that many women experience during their period, albeit an indirect role.
Right before your period, progesterone levels drop dramatically causing the uterine lining to shed. This process releases a large amount of pro-inflammatory substances called prostaglandins, which constrict blood vessels and stimulate muscle contractions in the uterus. Higher levels of prostaglandins will cause more severe uterine contractions, which can lead to the painful cramps that are familiar to many of us. Prostaglandins can also trigger menstrual migraines too.
Due to its close proximity to the uterus, the bowel is one of the first organs to be affected by 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 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 we’d prefer to live without them. One of these ways is to go through the 6-week program in my book Fix Your Period.
While progesterone may predispose you to constipation in the second half of your cycle, and its subsequent drop before your period might mean diarrhea, just know that once you start healing your gut using the 6-week program in my book Fix Your Period, you’ll likely begin to see an improvement in both of these super-disruptive problems.
Here are some tips to alleviate diarrhea during your period:
Prostaglandins, the main cause of diarrhea during your period, are pro-inflammatory agents so the best way to limit their impact is to add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Here are 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! Or take it as a supplement.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – especially those from fatty fish like wild salmon and sardines. I love Designs for Health OmegAvail. And Rosita Extra-Virgin Cod Liver Oil.
- Antioxidant-rich foods – think blueberries, blackberries, orange colored veggies and dark leafy greens. In terms of supplementation, think Vitamins A, C, E and selenium.
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!).
Videos provided by Coloplast UK.