If you are a female reading this, then you may be all too familiar with the changes in hormones throughout the month, known as a menstrual cycle, and all the symptoms you may get along with it.
Whilst monthly hormonal changes can lead to fluctuations in energy, productivity and mood, hormonal changes may also be linked to and even exacerbated by reduced or irregular bowel movements.
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Let’s just take a step back and have a quick biology lesson.
Hormones and waste products need to be excreted from the body regularly. The first step in doing so is via the liver. The liver is responsible for binding to these hormones and converting them into water-soluble forms so they can travel down to the gut and be excreted.
If you find yourself suffering with constipation or going for a number two less than once a day, then your hormones which were ready for excretion can be recirculated into your system, due to spending more time in the system before being removed. This could contribute to increased levels of hormones, such as oestrogen, in the body.
In addition to this, imbalances in gut bacteria can upregulate the production of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, which is capable of reactivating bound hormones, causing them to be reabsorbed into the blood stream.
Constipation, together with imbalances in gut bacteria can combine forces and exacerbate matters. This is because the longer the stool hangs around before it is removed from the body, in a number two, the greater chance beta-glucuronidase has at reactivating the hormones for reabsorption.
If your constipation is long lasting, and not just a once-off spell, then you may start to suffer some of the effects of the increase hormone levels, such as higher oestrogen.
You may find your pre-menstrual syndrome feels worse or more intense and you may suffer with more headaches, breast tenderness, poorer skin, heavy periods, increase fluid retention and feeling bloated.
It is important to note that oestrogen is not an inherently ‘bad’ hormone. It gets this bad rep as it can be involved with the symptoms mentioned the above, but oestrogen is in fact an important hormone for female health.
Where issues may start to arise is when the ratio of oestrogen to progesterone becomes out of balance, and oestrogen is present in much higher amounts.
So, if this sounds like something you may be suffering with, here’s what you can do to try and get your bowels opening more regularly.
• Fluid intake – This is something we probably all underestimate, but ensuring you are drinking enough fluid is so important for having regular bowel movements and ensuring they are easy to pass.
Water should make up the majority of your fluid intake, but herbal teas and hydrating foods such as smoothies and soups can also be hydrating. Dependent on your climate and activity level, aim for about 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid per day.
• Fibre – This food group is essential when it comes to the digestive system. Think of it as the ‘soil and fertiliser’ our system needs for things such as our gut bacteria and stools to grow and flourish.
Fibre really helps to form the stool and help it pass through your system as smoothly as possible.
Fibre can be found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, chickpeas, wholegrains such as oats and quinoa, nuts, seeds, such as chia and flax seeds, and even herbs and spices.
We are recommended to eat 30g a day, but on average only manage to consume 19g daily. Try adding in an extra serving of vegetables or grains to your main meals, and snack on fruit and nuts or hummus and vegetables sticks or wholegrain crackers for the added kick of fibre.
Aim for as much diversity as possible when it comes to fibre, as this helps keep our gut bacteria healthy and diverse too.
• Movement – Gentle and regular movement, even in the form of walking can help get your intestinal muscles moving and contracting, which is required for a bowel movement.
If you can, go for a daily walk of 15-20 minutes if you are generally sat down for most of the day.
• Toilet position – Did you know that how you sit on the toilet can really affect your ability to pass your stool?
Contrary to the way most toilets are designed, we require a 35 degree angle to be made between our torso and thighs when sitting on the toilet. This allows our muscle that places a kink in the colon to relax fully and allow the stool the pass more smoothly.
To achieve this correct angle, you want to elevate your legs. Try placing some stacked books on the floor to place your feet on, or you could buy a ‘potty step’ which fits around the toilet.
• Don’t hang around – So many of us are guilty to holding in our number twos until we are in a comfortable loo or have more than a few seconds to do our business, but it is really important to try and pass your stool as soon as you feel the urge. This may be easier if you are working from home more at the moment.
Yasmin Alexander is a nutritional therapist registered with the British Association for for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine. You can hear more from Yasmin or contact her on Instagram @nutritionbyyasmin or via her website. This article was originally published on Yasmin’s blog.