HOW DOES YOUR PERIOD AFFECT YOUR TOILET HABITS?
Periods cause enough of a headache, both literally and figuratively, as it is without having to worry about other strange changes to our bodies. However, as unpleasant as it is to talk about, your period might not be your only reason for a trip to the public toilet when it’s that time of the month. Many people who menstruate find that their bowel habits also change throughout their menstrual cycle and especially during the week that they menstruate.
This is down to many factors, including hormone changes, the way in which our diet tends to alter during menstruation and even something as simple as stress can cause a difference. The good news is that it’s not as uncommon as we might think. In fact, one study reported that 73% Trusted Source of females experienced period-related gastrointestinal symptoms. Some people describe these changes as “period poop.” Understanding that this is a natural symptom of a natural bodily function can help those who experience a difference in their bowel movements during their period feel a little less embarrassed, especially if they are young and menstruating for the first time.
Just before menstruation, the body releases hormones known as prostaglandins. These hormones are designed to stimulate the muscle contractions that take place in the uterus to shed the lining. In other words, these hormones are what help to kickstart your period.
Unfortunately, the uterus is very close to a lot of other organs in the human body and just as carrying a baby puts pressure on the bladder and increases the need to pee, contractions in the uterus can also stimulate muscle contractions in the intestines and the bowels. This, much to our chagrin, can cause more frequent bowel movements. In addition to this, the hormones that are responsible for uterus contractions can also affect how well the body absorbs water, which only further affects our bowel movements.
Prostaglandins are not just guilty of causing increased bowel movements, however. These hormones are also responsible for other PMS symptoms such as headaches, mood swings and more. So as unpleasant as some of the symptoms may be, rest assured they are completely normal.
Periods are just hormone city and progesterone is just another hormone that increases right before menstruation. This increase can cause all sorts of problems for people who menstruate, including fatigue, swelling, anxiety and for some, bowel problems.
Unfortunately, for people who experience chronic bowel issues or diseases such as IBD or Crohn’s, the increase of progesterone can actually make these symptoms worse temporarily. For example, in people with IBD-related constipation, progesterone-associated changes can make constipation worse. The same is also true for people with conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and ovarian cysts. The body, after all, is a network of systems all working together and influencing each other, rather than individual areas that work independently of each other.
For people living with these kinds of conditions, changes in bowel movements or discomfort is sadly not a rare occurrence. However, knowing that menstruation can and might worsen these symptoms is at least something that can be planned for by tracking your period and being mindful of activities you might be planning around that time.
Period cravings are the oldest cliche in the book, but they exist for a reason. The culprit behind those midnight ice cream trips is in fact, progesterone once again. But why is it that we can never crave vegetables and fruit when we menstruate as opposed to foods that are objectively bad for our health and may even make period symptoms worse?
Some of this is purely cultural as the more images of people craving unhealthy snacks in the media we consume, the more we crave it ourselves. However there are also some scientific explanations as to why we tend to reach for certain foods. Chocolate, or more specifically cocoa, for example, is high in magnesium, which is something we are usually lacking in when we menstruate.
However, no matter the reason why we crave certain foods on our periods, the reality is still that the body has a hard time digesting these foods, and eating more of them can affect a person’s bowel movements. This is even more true if you are someone who usually eats a very balanced and healthy diet, only to then give in to cravings for those three days. Your body has a much harder time dealing with those sudden changes on top of the hormone changes it’s already experiencing.
Increased stress or anxiety
Stress in general is the enemy to health. As previously mentioned, our bodies are interconnected and our mental health has a profound impact on our physical health. But stress is more than just a mental process. When we feel stressed or anxious, we quite literally produce a hormone called cortisol which affects our entire body.
Anxiety during menstruation is extremely common. Whether it’s the increase in progesterone or a lack of sleep due to menstrual cramps, or even just the stress of menstruating during an inconvenient time, it’s unlikely that we can avoid stress altogether.
And just like we are more likely to see an increase in the need to pee when we are stressed, the same is also true for our bowel movements. An increase in specific hormone production can literally cause our colons to spasm during times of high anxiety. It’s even thought that our guts may be linked to our nervous systems and experience increased mobility when there are imbalances in the nervous system.
While it’s not realistic to assume that you can escape your irritable bowels during your period, just like with any other symptom, you can always plan for it. If you are particularly susceptible to gut irritation during menstruation, take extra care to eat as healthily as you can to decrease chances of increased aggravation and try to avoid substances such as alcohol which can make it even worse. Try to not plan any activities that will limit your access to a public washroom if you can avoid it, as this will only add to the anxiety, which is something that we want to try and avoid as much as possible during menstruation.
Overall, however, accept that as embarrassing as it may seem, these symptoms are no different to cramps or headaches. All we can do is manage them to the best of our ability and without any feelings of guilt or shame.
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