How Hormones Affect Digestion From Pregnancy to Menopause

You may already know that as women, our hormones play a large role in our health – from our emotional wellbeing to our reproductive health. But, did you know that our hormones can actually impact our digestion, too? During our period, pregnancy, and menopause, those same hormones can contribute to some frustrating digestive issues like bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea. Fortunately, there may be some solutions to addressing what’s bubbling beneath the surface.

Your Period and Diarrhea

If you’ve ever felt like your digestion is messed up when you’re on your period, you’re not imagining it. In fact, one study published in the journal BMC Women’s Health found that 75% of women surveyed experienced gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, including abdominal pain and diarrhea, around their period.

The theory is that a hormone involved in your menstrual cycle – prostaglandin – could be to blame. Prostaglandin works by signaling to your uterus that it’s time to cause contractions and shed the uterine lining, triggering your period. However, it can also accidentally stimulate your nearby intestines causing bowel problems like diarrhea. Stress and anxiety associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may also be a contributing factor. Many studies have shown that there is a gut-brain connection as the many cells in our stomach lining interact with signals in our brains.

If you’re agonizing over constant trips to the bathroom and stomach rumblings, diet and lifestyle changes may help. Avoiding certain foods that can trigger diarrhea, like caffeine, dairy products, spicy or sugary foods, is a good idea. You may also try adding more fiber before your period by upping your intake of whole grains, fruits, and veggies to help bulk up your stool. Probiotic foods such as yogurt can also help to boost healthy gut bacteria that keeps your body functioning smoothly.

If your symptoms are severe, you may want to discuss them with your provider, as he/she can offer other potential treatments, including an oral contraceptive to help regulate your hormone levels.

Pregnancy and Nausea

Up to 70% of women will experience morning sickness during pregnancy. Although it’s labeled “morning” sickness, vomiting and nausea during the first few months of pregnancy can really hit at any time of day.

The exact cause is unknown, but many researchers believe morning sickness is due to increased hormones during pregnancy – especially the hormones human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and estrogen. HCG rises quickly during the beginning of your pregnancy, and can trigger the area of your brain that controls nausea and vomiting.

Morning sickness in the early stages of pregnancy is common, and typically no need for concern. If you’re seeking relief, your provider may prescribe a medication such as an antihistamine or phenothiazine to help ease nausea. Natural remedies like acupuncture, vitamin B-6 supplements, saltine crackers, and ginger foods can also help.

However, if you develop more severe symptoms like weight loss, fever, dizziness, or severe nausea beyond your second trimester, it could be a warning sign. You could be at-risk for a severe condition known as hyperemesis gravidarium. This could prevent you and your baby from getting the proper nourishment you need, and may require hospitalization.

Menopause and Gas, Bloating, Constipation

Menopause is another significant time in life where women experience fluctuation in hormone levels. When you go through menopause, your estrogen levels drop. This is notable because estrogen is key in helping to regulate cortisol levels. When estrogen drops and cortisol levels rise, it can upset the gastrointestinal (GI) tract leading to reduced stomach acid and slower mobility. This could mean a back-up in your GI tract that can lead to gas, bloating, and constipation.

When it comes to prevention and relief of these GI symptoms, lifestyle changes can help. This includes staying hydrated, exercising regularly, avoiding carbonated beverages, reducing salt intake, and eating smaller meals throughout the day to ease with digestion. Over-the-counter stool softeners may also provide some relief.

Bottom line

Digestion is an important part of our body’s function, even if it can be uncomfortable to talk about. Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can help avoid digestive issues to support a healthy and happy gut. If your symptoms are severe, your Axia Women’s Health provider can help to assess and discuss treatment options with you.

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