This is how your period impacts your digestion

Shot of unhealthy young woman with stomachache leaning on the couch in the living room at home. period
Nearly three quarters of women have some sort of digestive symptoms during their period. (Getty Images)

Periods can impact women's bodies in numerous ways. Fluctuating hormones lead to mood swings, cramping, and sometimes even digestion issues.

If you’ve ever found yourself bloated, constipated, with trapped gas, or with diarrhoea during your time of the month, you’re not alone.

In fact, one study found that 73% of women experience some sort of gastrointestinal symptoms during menstruation, with abdominal pain (58%) and diarrhoea (24%) being the most common.

"Hormonal fluctuations – such as drops in oestrogen and rises in cortisol – can influence gastrointestinal movement and function," Lucy Kerrison, consultant gastrointestinal dietitian at independent charitable hospital King Edward VII’s Hospital, tells Yahoo UK.

"This can also increase levels of constipation and diarrhoea, due to slower or quicker gastrointestinal motility. Many women on their period experience bloating and fluid retention. It is also common to experience cravings and increased sensitivity during this time of the month, especially for certain foods, such as salty or very sweet foods, which can impact digestion."

Why women get digestive symptoms when they menstruate

In terms of what’s going on in women’s bodies, Kerrison explains that at the start of menstruation, a woman’s uterine lining sheds which releases chemicals call prostaglandins in the body.

"Prostaglandins can cause the uterus to contract and shed its lining but can also affect other smooth muscles in the body, including those in the gastrointestinal tract," she adds.

"Increased prostaglandin levels can lead to more intense bowel contractions, potentially resulting in gas and changes in stools for some women."

How to relieve digestion issues during menstruation

Kerrison says you may be able to manage your symptoms with some dietary and lifestyle changes.

"Stay hydrated and make sure you have a fibre-rich diet, including plenty of wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses," she says.

A woman lies on a sofa at home and hugs her stomach with her hands. A woman has a stomach ache.
Inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins is what leads to pain during periods. (Getty Images)

"At the same time, try to limit stress-inducing factors and incorporate stress reducing elements within your lifestyle, such as regular exercise, meditation and yoga."

She adds that heat therapy, including using a hot water bottle, can help with cramps, and some over the counter remedies like antidiarrhoeal medications can combat loose stools.

How to tell if digestion issues are something more serious

While some digestive changes can be normal, Kerrison says if they are particularly painful or affecting your quality of life or ability to work, you should seek professional help.

In some cases, painful bloating and other digestion issues might be a sign of 'endo belly', which can happen in women with endometriosis.

"Endo belly refers to the bloating and distension experienced by some individuals with endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus," Kerrison says.

"If you have severe bloating, you should always discuss this with your GP, or gut specialist doctor, or dietitian. There are several medical conditions which result in severe bloating, so it is important to understand the cause so it can be correctly managed.

"Often (but not always), bloating related to endometriosis can be accompanied by one or more of the following: menstrual irregularities, painful intercourse, or chronic pelvic pain."

Menstruation: Read more