Almost everyone gets constipated from time to time, but women are particularly prone to this digestive discomfort, and constipation is one of the common complaints of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Let’s go through the reasons behind premenstrual digestive troubles and the steps you can take to gain control.
What causes constipation before periods?
The main culprit behind premenstrual constipation is the reproductive hormone progesterone. Levels of progesterone are highest in the second half of your menstrual cycle, also called the luteal phase, after ovulation.
When you ovulate, your ovary releases this month’s fertile egg. The leftover follicle which housed that egg cell turns into a temporary gland that pumps out large amounts of progesterone. This hormone gets your body ready to support an embryo, just in case you happen to get pregnant this month.
In the two weeks or so leading up to next period, progesterone works to relax the uterine walls and the gastrointestinal tract walls. This allows a fertilized egg to implant, and helps draw more nutrients out of the food you digest to help support a developing pregnancy.
The only problem there is that relaxing the intestines means the muscle contractions that keep your digestion moving slow down. Digested material stays in your gut longer, and the intestines draw more water out of the feces. Hard and dry stools are more difficult to pass, so you can easily end up constipated as a result of progesterone.
Remedies for constipation before periods
There’s not a whole lot you can do about the progesterone surge that causes constipation before periods, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless to fight back against premenstrual constipation.
Although they aren’t suitable for everyone especially if you think you might be pregnant, you can buy laxatives and stool softeners from most pharmacies. There are also many natural methods you can try to relieve your symptoms.
Do abdominal self-massage
Belly massage can be a safe and effective way to find relief from gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, constipation and cramps. This helps by moving waste through your intestines.
Doctors have been using abdominal massage to treat constipation since the 19th Century, but you can try a simple version of this in the comfort of your own home: use a gentle clockwise circular motion and rub your hands from right to left over your belly.
You need water to flush waste through your digestive system, so get into the habit of drinking a glass of cool water first thing in the morning to get your guts moving. Make this the first of quite a few for the day: experts recommend you get at least 8 to 10 cups of fluids every day to relieve constipation.
Get a fiber boost
Dietary fiber helps regulate the action of your gut, so it’s helpful for constipation. Try snacking on a serving of fresh or dried fruits with edible skins, like prunes, apricots, peaches or berries. Functional foods like flax seed, bran flakes or psyllium husk can also be added to your usual meals to increase your fiber intake.
Preventing premenstrual constipation
Even if constipation is a mainstay of your premenstrual symptoms, there are lifestyle changes you can incorporate throughout the month to help reduce your symptoms.
Enjoy a balanced and varied diet
A diet rich in plant-based foods can help you get the fiber you need to prevent constipation. Make sure you leave room on your plate for vegetables and fruits.
On the other hand, oily processed foods don’t do your gut any favors, so try to keep things like fast-food and pastries to a minimum. To support healthy gut function, try to incorporate probiotic food. You can find these in fermented foods like yogurt, miso and sauerkraut.
Do moderate exercise
Regular exercise helps promote gut health. Even if you don’t feel like running marathons right when you’re in the thick of PMS, you can incorporate more activity into your daily life by simple changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking an extra few blocks on the way to the bus-stop.
Get into a toilet routine
If you get into the habit of going to the toilet at the same time every day, you can train your gut into being more regular. By using the toilet regularly like after breakfast or dinner, it will become second nature before long. Don’t strain yourself or sit too long if you don’t pass anything, though; this can lead to hemorrhoids.
Does constipation before periods happen if you’re pregnant?
The elevated progesterone level that causes constipation drops naturally before you get your period, so constipation usually clears up on its own when you start menstruating. However, if you happen to get pregnant, progesterone levels stay up to support the pregnancy.
It’s true that constipation is a common early pregnancy complaint, but the premenstrual period is still a little too early to judge whether implantation has occurred. Wait and see if you get your period on schedule.
If Aunt Flo is a no-show, you can take a reliable pregnancy test one week after the day you were supposed to start menstruating. If that’s negative but you’re still constipated, see a doctor to work out what’s going on.
Don’t give in to constipation before periods
Constipation before periods can be uncomfortable and even a little embarrassing, but if you suffer from it, you are far from alone. It’s a natural effect of the reproductive hormone progesterone on your gut. With the right lifestyle changes or medicines, you can find relief from this unpleasant symptom.