Menstrual problems are far too common these days. There is a widespread misconception that PMS is normal and just sort of happens if you have unlucky genes. In reality, issues like PMS, PCOS, and endometriosis are your body’s way of telling you that there is an imbalance somewhere. Often, digestion is involved.
Your gut flora
In a previous post, I went into detail about the organisms found in the gut. This is important to understand for pretty much any health concern.
Simply put, you have friendly organisms in your gut that produce some of your nutrients, help you digest, heal your gut lining from wear and tear, and keep unfriendly organisms under control. The unfriendly guys, on the other hand, produce waste matter which is toxic to us. In a healthy gut, there are enough of the friendly guys to keep the unfriendly ones at a harmless level. However, an imbalance in the ratio of friendly to unfriendly organisms is far too common. Contributing factors include pesticides, sugar intake, antibiotics, chlorine in water, and low stomach acid, among others.
The downward spiral of digestion
Once the unfriendly organisms start to take over, it becomes harder to reestablish balance. Their waste irritates the gut. The pores that naturally exist in the gut lining (normally only large enough to allow digested food into the bloodstream) become larger. At this point, undigested food can get into the bloodstream.
Since the immune system doesn’t recognize these large particles, it launches an attack on what it sees as an outside bug. It keeps a memory of this so-called threat in an attempt to prevent it from hurting the body in the future. This is often how food sensitivities begin.
One other major issue that comes with an excess of unfriendly organisms is the burden caused on the liver. One of the hundreds of functions of the liver involves turning toxins into a molecule that the body can safely flush out. The liver finds itself working overtime simply trying to break down the waste and gas produced by the unfriendly organisms.
How troubled digestion affects hormones
The function of hormones is to carry messages to the right cells. When they’ve completed their duty, they are ready to be broken down. The liver breaks them down into inactive compounds so that they can be flushed out through bowel movements.
When the liver is burdened, it struggles to carry out some of its functions. Some of the hormones that should be broken down may keep on circulating in the body, repeating their outdated message. This can wreak havoc on the body.
Estrogen dominance leads to menstrual problems
Estrogen is a female sexual hormone. Males also have estrogen, but in smaller quantities than in the female body. Estrogen works against progesterone, another female hormone, to stay in balance (think of an arm wrestle between estrogen and progesterone).
Estrogen dominance happens in one of two possible scenarios. In the first, there is simply too much estrogen in the body. In the second, progesterone levels are too low, allowing estrogen to win the metaphoric arm wrestle. A burdened liver can struggle to regulate levels of estrogen.
Estrogen dominance can be responsible for symptoms like mood swings, fatigue, headaches, acne, menstrual cramps, back aches, and low libido. In other words: PMS. Sadly, this is just a shortlist of symptoms. Excess estrogen can also lead to other menstrual problems like PCOS, endometriosis, and eventually infertility.
Why menstrual problems often come with digestive issues
In my practice, I’ve noticed that those who come and see me for PMS related concerns have underlying digestive issues. Food sensitivities are also fairly common in PMS cases.
The factors that lead to menstrual problems are similar to the ones that lead to food sensitivities and other digestive concerns. In both cases, the liver and the gut flora need some TLC. Additionally, once inflammation begins in the body, it is common to see a variety of health issues develop.
When you get those killer cramps during your period, what do you do? If you answered “I pop a pill- DUH!” here’s what you should know. NSAIDs, a category of drugs (which includes Midol, Advil/Ibuprofen, and Naproxen) have been linked to increased gut permeability. They can worsen inflammation in the gut lining and make those pores bigger.
In other words, the drugs you’re taking, while helpful in that moment, could be increasing your suffering in the long run. While you may be nervous to take the leap into more natural methods, I do highly recommend considering it. For instance, acupuncture can help with dysmenorrhea (period cramps) so that you can reduce your intake of NSAIDs.
Additionally, research is finding a correlation between endometriosis and microbiome imbalances in the reproductive tract. There also appears to be a relationship between gut flora and the onset of endometriosis. In fact, a study showed a link between endometriosis and IBS.
While simply addressing your digestive health most likely won’t resolve your menstrual issues, digestion is an important piece of the menstrual puzzle.