There are many ways PMS affects your digestion you may not be aware of. Hormonal changes during PMS can cause changes to the way your digestive tract functions, since your hormones affect every aspect of your nervous system. Many nerves have a direct or indirect connection to your digestive tract, which means your nervous system affects your digestion and vice versa. Therefore anytime your hormones are out of balance, or simply change rapidly, your digestion is bound to be affected. The two hormones, estrogen and progesterone are the top two hormones that change the most during your menstrual cycle, and both directly affect your digestion as they speed up and slow down at varying points of the month. Read up on the ways PMS affects your digestion, so you can be ready when your monthly friend stops by for a visit, and you can take care of your tummy..
Let’s just start with one of the most obvious, and least fun ways PMS affects your digestion - the dreaded constipation. Most of think our diets are to blame, and while they can be, they aren’t always the culprit. Your hormones can actually influence constipation more than your diet at certain times of the month, like during ovulation. As progesterone slows down to allow ovulation to happen, so do the smooth muscles in your digestive tract that facilitate elimination. During this time, it’s best to consume a good bit of soluble fiber in soft forms like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, oats, raisins, applesauce, and wild rice. All of these will help ensure regularity in a softer way than harsher, insoluble foods like nuts, seeds, cruciferous veggies, and most all processed foods will. Hot broths and soups are also wonderful during this time, along with many teas for PMS that are available.
You may also find that right before your menstrual cycle, you suffer uncomfortable, overactive bowels. This is not something to worry about, but a natural tendency due to an increase in estrogen. An influx in estrogen can also be accompanied by an excess in the hormone serotonin, which makes you feel more happy, along with more oxytocin, the hormone in your body associated with love and a higher libido. Both hormones can cause the bowels to move more regularly, and even profusely fast, leading to diarrhea. During this time, it’s best to avoid excess caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods, spicy foods, extremely fatty foods, too much fruit, and dairy products. All of these can exacerbate diarrhea. Be sure to follow a low residue diet if diarrhea becomes uncomfortable, but also be sure you get enough fiber from healthy foods.
Oh, this one is just no fun, right? Gas is merely a symptom that you’ve got a lot more going on in your tummy than that delicious meal you just ate. Gas can come from eating certain foods of course, but it can also be affected by your hormones. As estrogen and progesterone speed up and slow down at varying rates of the month, your digestion can slow down and speed up with them. If gas becomes uncomfortable, avoid excess roughage from plant foods, and eat softer foods like the ones mentioned above in point number one. You can also chew on fennel, anise, and caraway seeds after your meals. They help dispel gas in the stomach, and help it dissipate more quickly. This can help relieve gas pains and bloating much more efficiently than over the counter medications like Gas-X to my experience. I know it’s no fun to talk about, but it’s a real issue we all deal with. Be sure to avoid beans, excess starchy foods, and try to consume your proteins separately from your starches during meals. This will help your body digest your food more easily, and is also one reason many women don’t tolerate beans and legumes. They are both a starch and protein in one food, which makes them hard on your body to digest and assimilate. Also avoid sulfur rich foods like eggs, onions, garlic, and broccoli, which can cause excess gas as well.
Oh my goodness, this is one of the most difficult symptoms to deal with of all, if you ask me. That constant gurgling and bubbling in your stomach is a nightmare to deal with, especially when combined with the other symptoms above. One reason this occurs in regards to PMS, is because of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals released during your body to allow the uterus to slough off extra lining, preparing for ovulation. This can also cause that dreaded pain like cramping. Prostaglandins also affect your digestion, and may increase bloating, gas, and that constant gurgling in your stomach. It’s truly best to avoid hard to digest foods during this time, and also drink hot liquids whenever possible. Though diet alone might not make it go away, it will greatly reduce the symptoms if you remove hard to digest foods like gluten, red meat, excessive fatty foods, processed fats and sugars, too much fruit that is high in sugar, cruciferous vegetables, excessive grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy products. Yogurt may actually help since it contains probiotics, but do eat small amounts to be safe, and be sure to buy plain versions free of sugar.
5. IBS Symptoms
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) causes issues like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and stomach pains. Many women believe they have IBS, when really, it’s just their hormones during their menstrual cycle and hormonal changes during the month. IBS symptoms however, are most definitely prevalent during PMS, and something to consider if you suffer from them profusely every month. It never hurts to follow a diet for IBS around the time of your menstrual cycle just to be safe. Since IBS is associated with overactive and underactive nerves that affect digestion and elimination, it is natural that IBS symptoms will be associated with PMS. To find out more about an IBS diet visit helpforibs.com.
6. Increased Hunger
This is something I’m sure many of you are familiar with. During PMS, we often have insatiable appetites. You just can’t get enough food it seems like, no matter how much you eat. This is due to your hormones, and is nothing to worry about, or freak out about and go on a drastic diet. The hunger will die down, so eat up on healthy foods, with a little bit of dark chocolate of course! The reasons for your bottomless pit is as simple as your hormones estrogen and progesterone increasing and decreasing throughout the month. As this happens, your hunger levels will change dramatically. It’s not your imagination that everything in sight looks “to die for”. Be sure you keep healthy foods in your fridge during this time of the month, and you can avoid those late night binges on the almond butter, boxes of cereal, and those "healthy" snack bars loaded with dried fruits and sugar. Come on, you know you've been there, right? Oh, but don’t you dare feel guilty about that chocolate you’re craving! Your levels of magnesium and iron both plummet during PMS, so your body naturally craves chocolate, which is high in both minerals. So, just go for my favorite healthy raw chocolate to keep on hand, raw cacao paste squares. You can eat it and feel good about your health too, since it's the healthiest form of chocolate you can get your pretty hands on.
Another nasty way PMS affects your digestion is nausea. This is due to your hormones slowing down and speeding up at variable rates. You may think you have a stomach bug, but it could just be PMS, so don’t worry too much. Be sure that you eat easily-digestible foods during this time. Some of my favorites are soups made with vegetable stock, pumpkin or winter squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, tomato sauce, celery and carrots. I also love hot oatmeal made with almond milk and gluten free oats with cinnamon, cardamom, and fresh ginger. My top favorite foods for nausea are superfood smoothies, which are cold and creamy, and soothing to the digestive tract. One little secret tip I have is to add a just a tiny bit of pure peppermint oil or extract to smoothies or tea, which can soothe the stomach, reduce nausea, constipation, and diarrhea.
PMS is no fun as we all know, and poor digestion is usually the reason so many of us dread it profusely. Lucky for you, now that you know why PMS affects your digestion, you can do your best to combat digestion woes the best ways possible. Also be sure you get regular exercise, avoid spicy foods, alcohol, excess caffeine, sugary and fatty foods, and do your best to get plenty of rest. All of these things will help your hormonal function, as well as optimize digestion, motility, and elimination. What’s the worst digestive issue you suffer from during PMS? Got any tips to help the rest of us?