Long before we ever pop our first Midol, most of us hear about the cramps, bloating, and mood swings that can accompany our periods — but for some reason, no one ever seems to mention the unique joy of womanhood that is pooping during your period. Yet for many of us, poop struggles are as real a part of our period problems as uterine cramping, staining your pajama pants, or having to ask a stranger in the bathroom line at Starbucks for a tampon. But why? A painful, cramping uterus is horrible, sure, but at least it makes biological sense. But why does your period mess with your stomach and poop?
It turns out that, while there are a few different reasons that your crimson tide can mess with your bowels, the biggest offenders are a group of chemical compounds called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins signal to your uterus that it's time to contract, and slough off its lining for the month. However, while prostaglandins have many great qualities, they don't have great aim — so they often end up coming into contact with neighboring organs, like your bowels. But the prostaglandin message — "cramp up, damn you!" — stays the same, no matter where it lands. And since your bowels have a smooth muscle lining similar to your uterus, they will cramp up like a uterus. Except, of course, your bowels are not full of uterine lining. Your bowels are full of poop. Or, they were full of poop, until your prostaglandins came to town.
But prostaglandins are only part of the period poop problem — there are a number of other period-related factors that can wreak havoc on your bowels, stomach, and general gastrointestinal well-being. So grab your fiber supplements and your loosest pair of sweatpants, and let's explore five ways your period can mess with your most nether of nether regions.
Issue #1: You're Pooping More Than Usual
What?: You are hitting the bathroom like you just chugged five cups of coffee — especially during the first few days of your period.
Whyyy?: The aforementioned prostaglandins may be running wild in your bowels, making them contract (and thus, making you have to go more often). But your period poop situation may also be impacted by the hormone progesterone, one of the chemicals that help our bodies regulate our periods. Progesterone isn't primarily focused on controlling our bowels, but it can have a bit of a constipating effect — it's a naturally muscle relaxing hormone, so when we're producing a lot of it, it can make it harder for our bowels to move it along at a regular pace. Its levels in our bodies drop right before our periods, which can lead to an increase in emergency runs to the ladies room.
Can You Make It Stop?: Studies have shown that ibuprofen can lessen the release of prostaglandins, so if you're feeling cramp pain anyway, pop one. And try to steer clear of foods that you know irritate your bowels (so no taco truck lunches or triple espressos for you).
Issue #2: You Have Diarrhea
What?: Period diarrhea can feel exactly like regular food poisoning diarrhea — loose stools, stomach cramps, bowel urgency, the whole nine yards. Of course, if you've ever experienced period diarrhea, you definitely don't need me to explain it to you.
Whyyy?: Some women's bodies produce more prostaglandins than others; this is why some of us are crampier than others. This is also why some of us experience period diarrhea — since we have extra prostaglandins, we have even more of them that are free to get lost, wander into our bowels, and go to town. Studies have shown that women with more prostaglandins are more likely to experience period diarrhea.
Can You Make It Stop?: Eating starchy foods can help reduce your diarrhea, as can staying away from caffeine, greasy foods, and anything else that you know goes right through you. And stay hydrated! Period diarrhea, just like regular diarrhea, can dry you out.
But if diarrhea is a consistent (and horrible) part of your period routine, you might want to talk to your doctor and get check out for irritable bowel syndrome — IBS sufferers often report that their symptoms worsen during their periods.
Issue #3: You're Constipated
What?: Your bowels are suddenly locked up tighter than Fort Knox, and it feels like there isn't a damned thing that you can do about it.
Whyyy?: Constipation is often a symptom of PMS, due to both the presence of progesterone and the positioning of the uterus and colon. Your uterus and colon are right next to each other, and as your uterus thickens with lining, it can push up against the colon, and thus interfere with your colon's usually healthy flow. But some women get constipated during their actual period, as well.
Can You Make It Stop?: All the usual suspects when it comes to fighting constipation — exercising, staying hydrated, eating food with fiber in it — can help with period constipation as well. Yes, it's easy for me to say "Go exercise and eat some kale during a time of the month when all you really want is to be curled in a ball with a heating pad and a tub of cheese curds." I know that the reality is much more difficult. But give it a shot.
Issue #4: Your Stomach Aches
What?: Above and beyond the usual uterine cramping, you also have some stomach cramping.
Whyyy?: Stomach cramps during your period can be traced back to prostaglandins (those little bastards!), who are causing your bowels to forcefully contract. However, sometimes, nausea and stomach aches during your period can be a sign of endometriosis, a medical disorder where your uterine lining tissue grows outside of the uterus.
Can You Make It Stop?: If your period-related stomach aches are regular, and accompanied by terrible menstrual cramps and other symptoms like pain during sex or pain while you poop, talk to your doctor about endometriosis. There are treatments available for the disorder, so you definitely don't have to live your life in constant poopy period pain.
Issue #5: You're Farty
What?: Farts everywhere, farts all the time. Farts on farts on farts. Your gas demands to be released from your belly, no matter where you are, so it can be free to explore the world and alienate everyone around you with its extra foul scent.
Whyyy?: Lay this one again at the feet of prostaglandins (is there anything that they can't ruin?) — their general intestinal mayhem can also take your fart game up a notch. But as for that particular period fart stank, the culprit here is your gut bacteria. Your digestive bacteria changes along with your hormones over the course of the month, and the bacteria that accompanies your period hormones is what is responsible for the notoriously foul "hot dumpster located behind a mall food court" scent of period farts.
Can You Make It Stop?: You can avoid foods that you know make you personally gassy (like dairy), or you can take an over-the-counter anti-gas supplement. Or you can just roll with it, and bask in the terrifying power of your period farts. Your cubicle mate is "working from home" this week! You get to have elevators to yourself! You're the queen of Period Fart Mountain! Or not. I'm not trying to boss you around. It was just a suggestion.
Images: Rowan Saunders/ Flickr, Giphy (5)