Here’s something that’s super common, but most women don’t talk about: major digestive problems during your period. It’s definitely a thing. And for women who suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s, monthly digestive issues like diarrhea, gas, bloating and just general uncomfortable-ness can be ten times worse. But have you ever wondered why? Turns out, the hormones that fluctuate during your menstrual cycle also have an impact on your digestive system.
Let’s break it down:
Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and other IBDs cause inflammation in the digestive tract resulting in issues like severe gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Although the symptoms can be similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), IBDs cause more serious symptoms like ulcers or lesions, rectal bleeding, anemia, fever, joint pain, and loss of appetite/weight loss.
So what do these diseases have to do with your hormones and menstrual cycle? As I often say, it’s all connected — and in this case, it’s all about how your body responds to fluctuations of a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin.
During your menses (when you’re on your period), your uterine muscles contract in order to shed your uterine lining (no longer needed since you’re not pregnant). This stage of your menstrual cycle is triggered by prostaglandins. Instead of being released by a gland like other hormones, prostaglandins are created in a chemical process all over the body as a result of injury, illness, menstruation, or giving birth. Specifically, prostaglandins cause inflammation, pain, and even fever, all as part of the healing process, as part of your period, and/or as part of giving birth.
There are a few studies that have looked at the relationship between bowel disorders and the menstrual cycle. In one study of 121 women with IBD, 25 percent experienced a change in their menstrual cycle one year before their IBD diagnosis, including change in intensity of their menstrual pain and/or duration of flow. In another study, researchers questioned women with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, and women with no digestive diseases. 93 percent of all the women experienced premenstrual symptoms, but the women with Crohn’s disease were more likely to report gastrointestinal problems during their menstrual period, the most common being diarrhea.
Here’s the most significant connection between Crohn’s/IBDs and your period: prostaglandins are not only responsible for muscle contractions related to labor pain and menstrual cramps, they also affect contractions of the muscle tissue in the intestines that can lead to digestive cramping and diarrhea. Even women with no bowel disorders sometimes experience digestive discomfort in conjunction with menstruation because of increases in prostaglandin levels before menstruation.
Essentially, the healthier and more balanced your hormones (including prostaglandin) are, the happier your gut is, and vice versa—if your hormones are out of balance, gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, etc. are just going to get worse. So if you do suffer from IBD (or even if you just hate having diarrhea during your period) what can you do?
The first step is to tackle inflammation. Because fluctuating hormones affect the production of prostaglandins, and because prostaglandins cause inflammation, one way you can address digestive discomfort during your period is by naturally reducing inflammation in the body. This means avoiding highly inflammatory foods (i.e. gluten, dairy, sugar, vegetable oils, GMOs, soy and excessive caffeine & alcohol), as well as cleaning up your environment so you’re not exposing yourself to a bunch of inflammatory toxins and chemicals.
The next step is to improve the condition of your gut microbiome, which has the benefit of not only easing digestive issues, but also helps to keep your hormones in balance (for more information about how your gut microbiome affects your hormone health, read How Does Gluten Intolerance Affect Fertility).
So how do you go about reducing inflammation and healing your gut? There are plenty of changes you can make, starting today, in your eating habits and lifestyle that will help you accomplish both.
A quick disclaimer: if you suffer from severe Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis and are on medication, make sure you talk to your doctor, naturopath, or schedule a consultation with me before making any major changes to your diet.
First, eliminate inflammation-causing foods from your diet:
Next, add in lots of anti-inflammatory foods:
In addition, you can reduce inflammation and regulate hormone production with healthy fats, like:
Naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir water, and naturally fermented pickles (that don’t contain vinegar) provide beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and lauric acid — all of which promote a happy digestive tract.
Prebiotics are essentially food for the good bacteria in the gut. While there are prebiotic supplements available, I recommend getting them directly from a food source. These can be hard to digest at first, so go slow and make sure that you’re eating lots of fiber along with them:
There are several supplements that can also help with digestive issues during your period:
Evening primrose oil: research has shown that women with Crohn’s disease who take a prostaglandin blocker experience relief from premenstrual/menstrual diarrhea. Evening primrose oil has high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that is an effective prostaglandin blocker and helps combat inflammation. .
Gastromend: a blend of botanical extracts, all of which support a healthy microbial balance and help maintain a healthy gut tissue. GastroMend is great for heartburn, GERD, or reflux.
Digestzymes: digestive enzymes help your body completely break down proteins, complex sugars,starches and fats which can reduce intestinal inflammation and ease bloating, gas and digestive discomfort in general.
MegaSporeBiotic: my favorite potent, high quality probiotic — the one I always recommend to my clients. To order, click on REGISTER in upper right corner, then click PATIENT, then enter code SJS2018 when asked for Patient Direct code to order. Start with 1 capsule daily and work up to 2 capsules daily over a 7 day period. Continue on 2 capsules per day.
L-Glutamine Powder: L-glutamine helps to repair the gut and intestinal lining. Glutamine is used as fuel by the cells that line the intestines to keep them healthy — and can help repair leaky gut, in particular.
DFH Whole Body Collagen: supplementing with collagen or gelatin is important because it can help boost your gastric juices and aid in restoring the integrity and health of your mucosal lining. Collagen also contains the amino acids proline and glycine which are essential building blocks to repair damaged intestinal lining.
Looking for more information about how to treat Crohn’s, IBD, or IBS by balancing your hormones? Schedule a consultation with me!