For about 18 months, a small village in Wales experienced frequent internet problems. Every day, without fail, broadband would down at 7.00 am. The first solution, replacing the internet cable in the village, failed to produce any result, and the residents still struggled to connect daily.

Then the engineers decided to do a full investigation and what they found baffled them. Every day, at 7.00 am, one of the residents was switching on his old TV. It was that particular TV set that was creating electrical interferences so strong that it stopped people in the village from accessing the internet.

During their cycle, some women experience first-hand how female hormones can interfere with their health too. Just before their periods, hormonal change can disturb the digestive system, leaving women struggling with constipation every month. In this article, I will review:

  • How hormones levels are changing through the cycle
  • How hormones can affect the digestive tract
  • How you can help regulate hormone levels to stop them from affecting you ever month

Women are more likely to suffer from constipation than men.

There are a few reasons for that, but a crucial cause of constipation in women is hormones. As women go through a normal cycle, hormone levels go up and down, impacting the whole of the body. Towards the end of the cycle, this manifests in what we usually call PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome. Symptoms of PMS include mood swings, breast tenderness, tiredness, cramps and digestive disturbances (1). Digestive issues are quite prevalent, with some studies showing that up to 73% of women experiencing digestive problems whilst 53% also report tiredness just before their periods (2).

3 main hormones are affecting the digestive tract, oestrogen, progesterone and prostaglandins.

  • Oestrogen typically rises in the follicular phase of the cycle (day 1 to 14), drops around ovulation and then rises again in the second part of the cycle (3). Its role is to encourage the growth of the uterine lining.
  • The corpus luteum produces progesterone after ovulation. Progesterone levels increase during the luteal phase (day 14 to 28 of the cycle) (3). It is indispensable to establishing a healthy pregnancy.
  • Prostaglandins have two peaks, one just before ovulation and one just before the period starts. The role of prostaglandins is to encourage uterine contraction at the time of the period, to help the body shed the uterine lining (3).

As constipation just before periods occurs at the time of significant variation in hormone levels, some authors suggest that oestrogen and progesterone may contribute to hormonal constipation (4).

Progesterone slows intestinal transit.

As food travels through the gut, it is moving in the colon thanks to the contraction of the intestinal muscles. Progesterone interacts with receptors in the gut wall responsible for intestinal muscle contraction. Several studies show that lower levels of progesterone decrease bowel transit time, leading to harder, drier stools (5)

It seems to be the reason why women experience more issues with constipation during pregnancy and the menopause too.

However, oestrogen also plays an important part.

In recent years, researchers have demonstrated that oestrogen is implicated in many gastro-intestinal diseases, including IBS (7). Oestrogen receptors in the gut cells modulate intestinal contractions and transit time. Further studies have shown that oestrogen rather than progesterone might be at the root of constipation before periods (8).

Oestrogen also weakens the pelvic floor, making it harder to have a bowel movement.

Regulating hormone levels is key.

Regardless of whether oestrogen or progesterone is the critical cause of constipation, the key to avoiding such negative symptom is to support the body in regulating hormone levels.

One essential organ is the liver, as the detoxifying organ in the body. Thanks to various enzymes, the liver can recognise and dispose of toxins in the body, including hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone.

Many phytochemicals (chemicals produced by plants) have a positive impact on the liver detoxification process, including foods rich in folic acid and cruciferous vegetables.

Eat the rainbow!

Eating a varied, colourful range of vegetables, herbs and spices is vital to support the liver function. Some vegetables are particularly important. These are listed in the table below.

Leafy green vegetables such as: Onion
·      Kale Garlic
·      Spinach

·      Cabbage

·      Beet greens

·      Watercress

·      Romaine lettuce

·      Endive (Chicory)

·      Pak Choi

Cruciferous vegetables such as:

·      Broccoli

·      Cauliflower

·      Brussel sprouts

·      Kale

·      Rocket

·      Watercress

Well, I never have any issue with constipation, I have loose stools instead!!

And that’s not unusual either. Instead of having issues with constipation, about a quarter of women report a problem with loose stools and diarrhoea instead (2). This time, it’s prostaglandins that are involved.

Prostaglandins are responsible for increase the uterine contraction during the periods. The same process means they are also increasing the contraction of the digestive tract. This means a quicker transit time. The body has less time to absorb water from the stools (a process that happens in the colon). This leads to loose stools instead (3).

In summary

Just like the old TV set, hormones are interfering with other processes in the body. In particular, we have seen that:

  • Female hormones influence the reproductive organs but also other organs in the body such as the digestive tract
  • Progesterone and oestrogen may be responsible for the slower transit in the intestines
  • But prostaglandins have the opposite effect and play a role in loose stools before the periods
  • To regulate the bowels, eating a varied, colourful plate is essential, insisting on green vegetables.

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Why is the feeding your gut flora the best thing you can do right now

How to translate the language of your periods to improve fertility