Ugh. As if the cramping and unpredictable mood changes weren’t bad enough, periods can also bring on bloating and bowel issues, ranging from constipation to diarrhea (yes, that’s sexy AF, we know).
When they kick in, periods are natural, healthy, and often supremely irritating.
In this article, we deal with one of the side effects of menstruating: stomach wibblies. When your cycle pedals round once more, you might find it harder to poop because of cramps.
However, once you start pooping, it might feel like you’re never going to stop. Sort of like Pringles, but in the wrong direction. This not-so-merry dance of diarrhea and constipation can make periods even more uncomfortable and painful.
Let’s take a look at why this happens and what to do — so you can get back to worrying about whether your paycheck will stretch to cover the amount of pizza you have in mind instead of whether or not you can digest it.
So why does your digestive system go crazy during that time of the month? We tapped Raquel Dardik, MD, clinical associate professor of gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, to get some answers.
You’re not imagining things if you tend to feel bloated and constipated right before you get your period. “During the second half of the menstrual cycle, your body is making more progesterone, which happens after you release an egg,” Dardik says.
That’s a good thing, but it comes with a frustrating side effect: “Progesterone slows down contractions of the bowel, so it slows down how quickly food and gas move through. Everything slows down and backs up, so you feel bloated and constipated.”
To add insult to injury, once your period starts, some women find themselves dealing with the opposite problem for the first day or 2: diarrhea. “The diarrhea and cramping is a double whammy,” says Dardik.
Two things are likely at play:
- Progesterone levels drop, which revs bowel contractions back up again so food may pass along quicker than before.
- Prostaglandins, hormone-like substances released by the uterus, trigger uncomfortable cramps.
Some cramps cause pain, and they can also give people diarrhea. Because the one thing you need during period cramps is that to brighten your day.
Menstruation is a sign that your sexual organs are behaving themselves and your hormones are in check.
The good news is that you’re not at the mercy of this monthly hormonal roller coaster. You can take steps to combat bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are an option for managing digestive issues. Some medications and supplements can gently help nudge stool through your colon.
- psyllium (Metamucil)
- methylcellulose (Citrucel)
- osmotics such as magnesium hydroxide (Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia) and polyethylene glycol (Miralax)
Or, you can go the natural route. Eat more fiber-rich foods, drink more fluids, and exercise.
These actions will help keep your poops in check by decreasing their bulk and softening them so they’re easier to pass, notes Dardik. “It doesn’t counteract progesterone, but it does decrease the symptoms,” she says.
Most fruits and vegetables will settle your stomach, but mangoes, prunes, and kiwis are particularly good for keeping your pooping peaceful. A 2018 study found that eating mangoes for 4 weeks improved constipation better than an equivalent amount of fiber.
Rather than take a harsh laxative that’ll leave you crampy and running for the toilet, give probiotics a try for constipation relief. These helpful bacteria don’t cause disease like their harmful cousins. Instead, they help maintain a healthy balance in your GI tract.
One study found that probiotics like Bifidobacterium lactis keep stool moving smoothly through your digestive tract. And while smooth-moving stool may sound gross, it’s a great way to prevent backups and blockages.
Better out than in.
Lactobacillus GG, acidophilus, and bifidobacteria are other strains of bacteria that can give gut health a kick. Probiotics may also be helpful for slowing diarrhea down along with unclogging constipation.
You can buy probiotics in a supplement bottle or find them in fermented foods like these:
- pickled ginger
Yogurt with added live cultures will also help restore the balance of good bacteria in your gut.
Frozen yogurt, however, will never be ice cream, no matter how many well-intentioned bacteria it contains. Yes, even if it believes in itself.
There’s a few natural remedies can help ease bloating, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal woes. One is peppermint, which has been a staple of GI treatment for centuries.
Peppermint oil helps to keep waste moving through your intestines and combats inflammation. (Don’t ingest pure peppermint essential oil! Take it as a tea or capsule and always consult your healthcare provider first).
According to a 2016 study, peppermint may help relieve stomach pain, reduce bloating, and make a person feel less regularly like they need to poop everywhere.
Digestive issues don’t always wait for your period to rear their ugly head. For monstrous premenstrual symptoms, a cup of ginger tea could be just the ticket. According to a 2014 study, ginger may ease nausea, relieve joint and muscle aches, and improve mood during that uncomfortable pre-period period.
If your symptoms are truly unbearable and last beyond your period, you may want to investigate whether your birth control pill is to blame.
Hormones in the pill might make the immune system wonky, increase inflammation, and change the balance of bacteria in the gut in a way that is simply not cool, setting the stage for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to research from 2016.
The link between the pill and IBD symptoms is especially pronounced in women who smoke. So Google some ways to quit and ask your healthcare provider whether you can switch to a non-hormonal mode of protection, like condoms, a copper IUD (IUD), or listening to Peanut Butter Jelly Time at earsplitting volume in a public place.
You might be craving a cigarette, but if you’re also craving a period that doesn’t turn your backend into a faucet of liquid-brown misery, you may want to put the lighter back in your pocket.
The hormones that cause havoc during menstruation are also responsible for not being able to poop or not being able to stop pooping. And cramps can make the whole thing feel rotten on top of any irritable bowel distress.
If GI issues have driven you to your wit’s end, there are plenty ways you can find relief, including fiber supplements and probiotics. Women who take a contraceptive pill might find that this has links to the stomach-based chaos unfolding during and after their period.
Take heart: Within a few days, your symptoms should resolve. And then you’ll have next month’s session to look forward to. But this time… you’ll be ready.