If you menstruate you know that menstruation comes with a variety of physical and emotional changes. One common yet seldom discussed side effect of menstruation is the phenomenon of “period poops.” It’s time to demystify this monthly phenomenon and learn some ways to keep your bowels happy during that time of the month.
Why Do Periods Affect Your Bowels?
The menstrual cycle is a complex interplay of hormonal fluctuations, and these changes can impact various systems within the body, including the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. While not all women experience period poops, many find that they have changes in their bowel movements during their period. Several factors contribute to this:
1. Hormonal Fluctuations
During menstruation, estrogen and progesterone, two key hormones, play a significant role in influencing the bowels. Estrogen levels rise during the first half of the menstrual cycle, leading to increased levels of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that affects mood and bowel movements. This can cause the bowels to move more quickly, resulting in looser stools for some women.
As menstruation progresses, estrogen levels drop, and progesterone takes the spotlight. Progesterone can have a constipating effect on the bowels by slowing down their movement.
Prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds produced in the body, have a significant impact on the bowels during menstruation. When a woman’s period begins, the uterus releases prostaglandins to trigger contractions, helping to shed the uterine lining. However, these prostaglandins don’t solely focus on the uterus—they also affect the GI tract.
During menstruation, prostaglandins can stimulate the muscles in the intestines, leading to increased bowel contractions. This heightened motility can result in more frequent and urgent bowel movements for some women. Additionally, prostaglandins may contribute to abdominal cramping and discomfort during periods, further influencing the bowel’s function.
3. Water Retention
Water retention during menstruation can have an impact on the bowels, contributing to changes in bowel movements. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly the rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone, can cause the body to retain more water, leading to bloating and swelling.
The excess water in the body can also affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, leading to a feeling of fullness and discomfort. Some women may experience a temporary increase in gas and bloating during this time. Additionally, the added pressure from water retention can slow down the movement of food through the intestines, potentially resulting in constipation for some women.
While water retention during menstruation is a normal part of the menstrual cycle, staying hydrated and incorporating fiber-rich foods into the diet can help alleviate discomfort and support regular bowel movements during this time.
4. Gut Microbiota
The gut microbiota, a community of trillions of microorganisms residing in the GI tract, plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including digestion and immune system regulation. During menstruation, hormonal fluctuations can influence the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota.
These hormonal shifts may lead to imbalances in the gut bacteria, impacting the bowels. Some women may experience changes in bowel movements, such as increased frequency, altered stool consistency, or abdominal discomfort, due to these fluctuations in gut microbiota.
Moreover, the gut-brain axis, a bidirectional communication pathway between the GI tract and the brain, can also be influenced by hormonal changes during menstruation, potentially affecting bowel function. While the exact mechanisms are not entirely understood, taking care of gut health through a balanced diet and stress management may help maintain smoother bowel movements during this time of the month.
5. Stress and Anxiety
Menstruation can be a stressful time for some women, and stress and anxiety can also impact bowel movements. The gut-brain axis plays a role in how emotions can influence GI function.
Ways to Alleviate Period Poops
While period poops may be uncomfortable, there are several ways to ease the discomfort and promote better bowel health during menstruation. Here are five effective methods:
1. Maintain a Healthy Diet
During menstruation, it’s crucial to pay attention to what you eat. Focus on a balanced diet rich in fiber, as this can aid in regulating bowel movements. Fiber helps add bulk to stools and promotes regularity. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of fiber.
Avoid or limit foods that are known to cause bloating and gas, such as greasy and fried foods, carbonated beverages, and high-sodium processed foods. Also, consider reducing your caffeine intake, as it can contribute to dehydration and worsen GI discomfort.
2. Stay Hydrated
Drinking plenty of water is essential for overall health, but it’s especially important during menstruation. Staying hydrated can help combat water retention and prevent constipation. Adequate water intake also supports the function of the GI tract and aids in digestion. Aim for at least eight glasses (64 ounces) of water per day, if not more.
3. Menstrual Cup Size & Position
The pressure from your menstrual cup or disc may cause discomfort and alter bowel habits, resulting in constipation or looser stools. Additionally, some individuals may experience increased gas or bloating due to the cup’s positioning. It’s essential to ensure the proper insertion and fit of the menstrual cup to minimize any potential impact on bowel function.
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4. Regular Exercise
Engaging in regular physical activity can be beneficial in alleviating period poops. Exercise helps stimulate the bowels and promotes bowel movements. It also aids in reducing stress and anxiety, which can have a positive impact on GI function. Choose activities that you enjoy, such as walking, jogging, yoga, or swimming, and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
5. Manage Stress
Stress and anxiety can exacerbate GI symptoms during menstruation. Practicing stress-management techniques can be incredibly beneficial in alleviating period poops. Consider activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or spending time in nature to help calm your mind and body.
6. Holistic & Over-the-Counter Remedies
For some women, supplements and over-the-counter remedies may provide relief from period-related GI discomfort. Anti-diarrheal medications can be useful if you experience loose stools during your period. Similarly, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and lessen prostaglandin-induced bowel contractions. Herbal supplements that are made with high-quality herbs can help alleviate a variety of menstrual symptoms.
However, always consult your healthcare provider before using any medications to ensure they are safe and appropriate for you.
Concluding Insights: Unveiling the Truth Behind Period Poops
While period poops may not be a widely discussed topic, they are a common and natural part of the menstrual cycle for many women. Understanding why periods affect your bowels and learning how to alleviate the discomfort can help make this time of the month more manageable and less distressing.
By adopting a healthy diet, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, managing stress, and considering over-the-counter remedies, you can take charge of your bowel health during menstruation. Remember that every woman’s body is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Listen to your body, be kind to yourself, and don’t hesitate to seek medical advice if you experience severe or persistent GI symptoms during your period. With a little self-care and awareness, you can navigate period poops with confidence and grace.