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Illustration by Marta Pucci

Cycle A-Z

Digestion and your cycle: A conversation between Clue and Cara

Period poop is real.

by Jen Bell, Writer
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Your digestion and stool (poop) are both influenced by your menstrual cycle. Not only that, but the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle are influenced by your gut. Cara is a free digestion-tracking app (available for iOS and Android) for discovering patterns between your nutrition and your symptoms. We had a chat with Jesaja Brinkmann, Cara’s co-founder, to find out more about the cycle and digestion.

So, is "period poop" a thing?

When people talk about periods and their effects on the body, you’re more likely to hear about mood swings and chocolate cravings, but digestion in particular suffers during this time. Even though no one really likes to talk about “period poop”–the fact is, abdominal bloating and diarrhea around the time of your period is a thing for some people. People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) tend to have aggravated gastrointestinal symptoms, leading up to and during their period. But most people don’t know about the link between their period and stool. Users of Cara have tracked increased diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating during their period. Let’s face it. Period poop is a thing!

Why do people get diarrhea around the time of their period?

During menstruation, your body releases chemical-messengers called prostaglandins, which stimulate your uterus to contract, which helps encourage the shedding of the uterine lining (the period). These prostaglandins are suggested to be responsible for increasing gastrointestinal side effects around this time, by having an effect on the nearby intestinal tissue (1).

Not everyone may notice this shift in stool patterns. One study found that around 50% of people with IBS or other bowel disorders experience a change in bowel habits around the time of their period. In comparison, only a third of women without bowel symptoms experienced a bowel change (2). This means that not everybody experiences period poop, but if someone already has bowel issues, they may be more likely to have changes in bowel habits around menstruation (1,2).

Do digestive issues like IBS fluctuate with the menstrual cycle?

Yes, our app users with IBS report a significant increase of abdominal pain and diarrhea while on their period. However, even people without digestive illnesses experience increased gastrointestinal issues during their premenstrual or menstrual phase.

Do you have any tips for preventing premenstrual bloating?

The majority of premenstrual cravings tend to be for types of foods which can exacerbate bloating and digestive issues, like chocolate bars or french fries. Besides sweet and greasy food, sparkling and soft drinks will worsen bloating. Food that generally causes bloating, such as beans, cabbage, or lentils should be eaten in moderation. Large amounts of food are challenging for your stomach and intestine—distension and bloating are the most obvious result.

If you usually experience these symptoms, changing your eating habits may help you to feel better. If bloating is still causing you stress, tea mixtures of fennel, caraway, and anise tend to have a further calming effect on your intestines (3).

Why track digestion?

Tracking your digestion can help you to keep an overview of your gastrointestinal symptoms and stool consistency. Reporting symptoms to your healthcare provider from memory often does not end up reflecting the true condition of your health. Tracking your diet and symptoms daily and over a longer period helps you and your healthcare provider analyze patterns. When are symptoms worse? Is there a relation between your menstrual cycle, levels of stress, and eating habits?

When you track, this can improve the advice your healthcare provider is able to offer. Since every person is different, tracking is essential to get the best insight into your specific symptoms. As soon as you have analyzed your patterns, you can anticipate at which point of your cycle you can expect diarrhea or abdominal pain, and take steps to ease your symptoms. If you continue tracking while adjusting your eating habits or physical activity, you’ll get immediate feedback as to whether these changes actually improve your symptoms. Tracking can help you take control of your intestinal issues.

When to see your healthcare provider

Every body is different. Variations in your cycle and body are normal and healthy. It’s best to talk to your healthcare provider when you notice something that’s unusual for you personally, or if you experience a change in bowel habits, pain, or distress. Gastrointestinal infections and food poisoning can also cause dramatic changes in bowel habits, so be sure to seek help if needed.

You can learn more about Cara here, and read their blog about digestive issues (in German).

Download Clue to learn how your digestion and stool are affected by your menstrual cycle.

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