Have you ever noticed your bowel movements changing throughout the month? Perhaps when you’re about to menstruate, you notice some significant shifts? It turns out that there’s often a connection between your cycle and your poops.
What causes these shifts? As an acupuncturist and a nurse, I find it interesting to consider conditions from both modern physiological and traditional Chinese viewpoints.
After ovulation, your body supports the potential to get pregnant by raising progesterone levels to warm your body and maintain a thick uterine lining. This allows time for an embryo to implant and form a strong connection within the endometrium. All of this ‘holding’ can create what we consider stagnation in Chinese medicine, which leads to constipation.
About 24 hours before your period begins, progesterone levels plummet, and prostaglandins are released to trigger uterine contractions and shedding of its lining. The bowels also respond to prostaglandins, which can result in loose stools. This downward movement aids menstruation, but if prostaglandin levels are particularly high, stools may become very loose and even urgent.
In some ways, this premenstrual constipation is functional, as too much peristaltic action in your intestines could be overly ‘moving’ for an implanting embryo. Loose bowels could also be seen as somewhat practical, as the downward movement aids in endometrial shedding. Ideally, the transition from holding to the movement into menses is smooth. Some digestive sluggishness that transitions to looser stools is expected, but drastic symptoms can indicate an imbalance.
In addition to premenstrual constipation, you may also experience additional symptoms such as breast tenderness, bloating, and mood swings.
When supporting fertility or treating issues such as premenstrual symptoms and painful periods, we consider these monthly changes in bowel habits to be a piece of the bigger picture. Prevention of premenstrual stagnation can reduce constipation, reducing subsequent urgency and loose stools once the period begins. Regular acupuncture treatments can help regulate your cycles overall, further reducing the severity of these symptoms. As practitioners, we can also customize an herbal formula to prevent stagnation and support a smooth transition into menstruation.