Lifestyle | Life Stages

IBS & Periods – How Does Your Period Impact Your Gut?

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Have you noticed that your IBS symptoms worsen around your period? You are not alone!

Due to hormonal changes around that time of the month, your gut will become more sensitive. You may also notice that some of your own lifestyle habits change.

Feature Image for article titled IBS & Periods - woman laying on couch with red hot water bottle on abdomen.

In this post, I will explain to you why your period may cause IBS symptoms and what you can do about it.

Did you know that female sex hormone receptors are found within a women’s gastrointestinal tract?

It is thought that they may play a role in the gut-brain axis but there is currently limited research in this area (1).

Your hormone levels tend to vary throughout the 3 phases of your cycle.

3 Phases Of Menstrual Cycle

Here are the 3 phases of your menstrual cycle:

  1. The follicular phase
  2. Ovulation
  3. The luteal Phase

Estrogen levels rise mid-luteal phase before then dropping prior to your menstruation and progesterone levels also drop at this time (3).

The drop in hormone levels seem to coincide with increased IBS symptoms (2).

Interestingly, women are also twice as likely to have IBS than men. Having periods or the hormone fluctuations that come with this may be one explanation (4).

How Menstruation Works

Mental Health, Periods & The IBS Connection

Most women will suffer with changes in their mental health in the week prior to their period (5).

This is known as premenstrual syndrome, aka PMS  (5).

Common PMS Symptoms

Common PMS symptoms include;

  • Mood swings
  • Feeling upset, anxious or irritable
  • Problems sleeping
  • Headaches

Another suggestion around why IBS symptoms worsen around this time is that a reduced mood can cause reduced tolerance or hypersensitivity (6).

This would make sense as we already known depression and stress are connected to IBS via the gut-brain axis (7).

How Do Your Lifestyle Habits Change During Your Period?

Diet Counts

You may not realize this, but your own lifestyle habits could be impacting your IBS symptoms during your period.

One study showed that women have a higher intake of calories and carbohydrates during the luteal phase (just before your period) (5). It could well be that during this time you tend to eat larger portions or more FODMAPs which could trigger your symptoms.

Get In Some Exercise

Another area to consider is looking at exercise levels.

You may feel like this is the last thing you want to do but  taking part in regular exercise throughout your period has been shown to reduce symptoms (8).

Simple Steps To Improve Your IBS During Your Period

While we don’t completely understand the connection between IBS and periods, we can put some things into place so that our IBS is better controlled.

Women in a yoga warrior pose on a beach.
  1. Daily movement – even if you don’t feel like vigorous exercise, something gentle such as yoga can help.
  2. Avoid FODMAPs – you may not need to go completely low FODMAP, but a general reduction could help your symptoms while your gut is more sensitive.
  3. Weigh out portion sizes.
  4. Prioritize sleep – getting enough sleep could help to balance the negative impact on your mood that your hormones will have.

The Takeaway

IBS symptoms appear to worsen in the week leading up to ‘that time of the month. This is likely caused by both hormonal changes and our own lifestyle habits.

While we have little control over our own hormones some good lifestyle habits may help to alleviate some of these symptoms. Following a low FODMAP diet at this time may also go a long way to preventing an IBS flare up.

 References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3949254/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19406367/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19099613/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12886671/
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pre-menstrual-syndrome/
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003426616300919
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27870997/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8027958/

 

 

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