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The connection between IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and PMS (premenstrual syndrome)

Updated: Jan 2

In this article, I want to discuss the connection between the female hormonal system and the digestive system and list the reasons why so many women experience worsening in their symptoms when they are approaching their menstrual cycle.

The effect of premenstrual syndrome on Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Women who have a sensitive gut, tend to suffer more from gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, cramps, abdominal pain, and bloating. In addition, they usually tend to feel more emotional, anxious, moody tired, and even depressed before the start of their menstrual bleeding. There is a connection between a menstrual cycle and the functioning of the digestive system!

Why does this happen? A woman's body produces two hormones that are related to menstruation - estrogen, and progesterone. These hormones do not only affect the hormonal system. In fact, there are estrogen and progesterone receptors along the entire digestive tract. Extreme changes in the levels of these hormones cause a reaction in the digestive system.

Studies have found that during the period between menstruation and ovulation (when estrogen levels are at their peak) women experience more gastrointestinal symptoms. It usually gets worse as they get closer to the start of their period. In the days before menstruation and even in the first days after the bleeding starts, many women tend to experience symptoms of IBS such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, swelling, and hypersensitivity to certain foods.

The effect of IBS on PMS

There is also a reverse mechanism when the digestive system affects the hormonal system. That is, along with the worsening of the IBS symptoms, there is also a worsening of symptoms related to the menstruation cycle, such as fluid accumulation, breast tenderness and strong contractions of the uterus (Dysmenorrhea), back pain,

What is Dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is painful cramps in the lower abdomen caused by the contraction of the uterine smooth muscles, which helps extract the dead cells out of the cervix into the vagina and out of the body (this is the menstruation period).

Sometimes the pain of Dysmenorrhea radiates to the lower back as well.

Menstrual cramps can start a day or two before the onset of menstruation and usually last for a few days, although in some women it can last also throughout the days of menstruation.

Dysmenorrhea is affected by the hormonal system and the balance between estrogen and progesterone. IBS may worsen menstrual pain due to the difficulty of the digestive system (mainly the intestine and liver) clearing the hormones that accumulated in the body. This leads to a hormonal imbalance.

Women whose IBS is strongly linked to their emotional state, in addition to physical discomfort, tend to feel emotional symptoms, like anxiety, depression, concentrating difficulties, low mood, and sleep disorders.

As you can see, this is really a vicious circle, which expresses the indisputable connection between the digestive system and the female hormonal system.

Natural ways to reduce IBS and PMS symptoms:

So as you see, there is a clear connection between IBS and PMS. The naturopathic treatment for bothof these conditions aims to prevent and significantly reduce the intensity of abdominal pain and discomfort and strengthen the nervous, hormonal, and digestive systems. The treatment combines nutritional guidelines, food supplementation, and medical herbs.

Here are some initial guidelines to consider when dealing with IBS and/or PMS:

1. Coping with stress

It is important to remember that chronic stress worsens both symptoms of IBS and PMS, so it is important to apply relaxation techniques such as breathing, yoga, meditation, or any other preferable technique, to help reduce stress and pressure. Regular physical activity is also very important. It improves general well-being, helps reduce the intensity and the severity of the symptoms, prevents fluid accumulation, elevates mood, and increases adaptation to stress.

2. Exercising

Exercising during menstruation helps relieve pain and cramps, increases energy levels, and relieves gastrointestinal symptoms that tend to get worse during this period.

3. Keeping the balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids

Keeping the balance of the essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) in check is very important. These important fatty acids contribute to hormonal balance and encourage the proper functioning of the nervous and digestive systems.

(the normal ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 in the body should be 1:4 in favor of omega 6. When the ratio is not balanced it promotes inflammatory processes and causes muscle contraction and pain (both in the bowel and in the womb).

Omega fatty acids are found in foods such as fish, seeds, nuts, green leaves, seaweed, and more), nevertheless, my recommendation is to take a supplement that contains vegan fatty acids and is free of harmful substances such as heavy metals (mercury, cadmium) and plastics (PCB) that are usually found in fish and in supplements derived from fish.

4. Cutting down the consumption of these inflammatory foods:

- Processed meat and dairy products: these foods contain various ingredients such as artificial hormones, preservatives, and harmful saturated fatty acids which may get the hormonal system out of balance, increase inflammation, and aggravate the contractions of the uterus. Dairy products cause a decrease in the absorption of magnesium and increase its excretion in the urine, and that can also intensify the pain.

- Salt- A large amount of sodium (salt), causes fluid accumulation, therefore it is recommended to avoid consuming high amounts of salt, (especially in cases of heavy menstruation).

- Saturated fats- Foods containing saturated fat such as beef, processed food, margarine, butter, and refined oils impair the activity of essential omega - 3 fatty acids, increase the levels of inflammation in the body and contribute to hormonal imbalance.

- Simple carbohydrates- sugar, white flour, wheat products, and sweets cause spikes in blood sugar levels and release stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and cause an imbalance in the hormonal and nervous systems, and may worsen diarrhea, cramps, and pain.

- Stimulants- caffeine, chocolate, and energy drinks increase stress levels and stimulate the nervous and digestive systems, which worsens IBS and PMS symptoms.

- Alcoholic drinks - alcohol irritates the digestive system and secrets essential minerals out of the body, causing dysfunction of the hormonal system.

- Industrial, processed, artificial, and preserved foods- these foods contain food colors and flavorings that disrupt both the digestive and the hormonal systems.



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