Do you notice a change in your bowel movements before or during your period? You are not alone in this and there are reasons behind it. Loose stools, diarrhoea, constipation, smellier poo and irregular visits to the bathroom are all some of the symptoms of 'period poo'. Our nutritionists explain 'period poo', the causes and how to overcome it.
If your poo worries you at times other than before or during your period, read our nutritionists' blog 'What does your poo say about your health'.
What is period poo?
Period poo is a change in bowel habits at that time of the month. This is a change to the consistency or smell of your poo, you may find yourself constipated or have diarrhoea, experiencing looser stools, or with excessively smelly gas, or more gas than normal.
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What causes period poo?
Period poo can be caused by a change in your hormones and a change in diet.
Like anything related to periods, you can blame your hormones. Your body produces hormones called 'prostaglandins' before your period. These hormones help your uterus contract and shed its lining. When an excess level of 'prostaglandins' is produced, they have an effect outside your uterus and affect other parts of your body that have smooth muscle, including your bowels, which can cause diarrhoea.
Progesterone levels increase during the 'luteal phase' of your cycle, and then start to lower after their peak (around days 22-24) in the absence of conception, which can start the onset of PMS.
The hormone fluctuations during this phase of your cycle can cause irritability, mood swings, skin issues, breast tenderness and other symptoms. The rising levels of progesterone can also decrease the speed and function of your digestive system, leading to constipation.
A change in diet
Smelly wind is commonly due to a change in diet before your period. As we all know, it's very common to get cravings for foods you wouldn’t normally eat at the time of the month due to changes in hormones. Any drastic change in the foods you eat influences the bacteria in your gut, causing your wind to smell differently.
Who is most likely to suffer period poo?
Studies show that women who suffer with a higher degree of cramping and those with hormonal conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, PCOS, fibroids or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), experience period poo more than others. This is due to the higher levels of prostaglandins and progesterone imbalance, which also contribute towards these conditions.
Learn more in 'Common and unusual symptoms of IBS'.
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How to overcome period poo
Don't give in to cravings
As hard as it may be, giving in to cravings is not a good idea because the foods you reach for tend to be high in sugar, fat or salt. Try to maintain your usual diet to prevent a change in gut flora and risking period poo.
Learn more in 'How to look after your gut through your diet'.
Exercise is particularly beneficial if constipation is your problem. Exercise increases blood flow and promotes normal bowel movements. A gentle stroll or a 30-minute jog will do the trick - don't worry, we're not taking about a marathon here.
Work on balancing your hormones
Balancing hormones is a long-term goal and won’t happen overnight. There are however plenty of natural ways to balance hormones from eating the right foods, taking the right vitamins and PMS supplements, and making necessary lifestyle changes. It’s not always easy to do, so speak to a qualified Nutritional Therapist or Dietitian if you need advice.
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Best foods for period poo
If you're suffering period poo, some foods can really help.
High fibre foods
High fibre foods, particularly those high in soluble fibre (think fruits and vegetables) provide bulk to your poo. This helps to relieve bloating and prevent constipation by providing substance, but also by providing a food source to the friendly bacteria in your gut which helps regulate poo further.
Learn more in 'Reasons you might be bloated'.
Low sugar foods
Excess sugar in your diet is bad news. Sugar is inflammatory and changes the bacteria in your gut, causing a change in bowel habits and the smell of your gas. If you have cravings for sweet foods before your period, try to satisfy them with sweet tasting fruits such as mango, watermelon or pineapple.
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Lots of water
Water is essential for both constipation and diarrhoea. Proper hydration is needed to help soften poo, and when diarrhoea is the problem, water is vital for rehydration.
Best vitamins for period poo
A good prebiotic & probiotic supplement is ideal for improving your gut, brain, skin and immune health, and it will also help regulate your bowel movements and prevent bad smelling wind. As you build healthy gut bacteria through a good probiotic supplement, it will help to relieve constipation, diarrhoea and other symptoms of IBS. Probiotics have many functions within the body and over time could also provide other benefits related to your cycle.
B Vitamin Complex
B Vitamins are an excellent supplement to take to help regulate hormones. A B Vitamin complex, including and especially Vitamin B6, help to balance your sex hormones which play a huge part in period poo.
A Magnesium supplement may be beneficial if you suffer from constipation at that time of the month. Magnesium helps to draw water into the gut and helps to soften poo. It also works with Vitamin B6 to balance hormones in your body.
Learn more in 'How do I know if I'm deficient in magnesium?'.
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Stool frequency and form and gastrointestinal symptoms differ by day of the menstrual cycle in healthy adult women taking oral contraceptives: a prospective observational study. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32600463/