In coaching women, questions often come up about hormone issues, bloating and digestion – particularly during the menstrual cycle. Why so much gas and bloating? What about constipation or diarrhea? Is sugar a possible culprit? What can be done about the situation?
Many women experience water retention, which can cause bloating a week or so before a period begins. Digestive issues including bloating, excessive gas, diarrhea or constipation can be caused by fluctuations in a woman’s hormone levels. So let’s have a closer look at hormones.
Women’s hormone balance
A very intricate balance of hormones occurs in order for the female reproductive system to work efficiently. When it comes to hormone levels, keep in mind that every woman is unique. That means different woman can experience different effects from hormones during the menstrual cycle. Hormones can also be the culprit in other minor issues such as acne, fatigue, headaches, tender breasts and cravings.
The two main hormones are estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen is responsible for preparing the egg for ovulation, as well as having an effect on parts of the brain and a woman’s emotional wellbeing.
Progesterone is at its highest level in your body when ovulation occurs, then it slowly decreases until it is low enough to trigger menstruation. Estrogen and progesterone together (although perhaps more progesterone) can cause gas, bloating and constipation. Higher levels of progesterone cause the smooth muscle of the intestine to relax which can cause diarrhea.
Sugar and artificial sweeteners can wreak havoc
While sugar and artificial sweeteners may seem completely unrelated to hormone balance, bloating and digestive issues – there is a connection. Here are 5 ways sugar affects your body:
1. Aggravated hormone balance – Eating a lot of sugary foods and refined foods will cause blood sugar issues, which can negatively impact the chemical reaction of your hormones.
2. Cravings – it causes cravings for refined carbs, salty junk foods and more sugar. Consuming large quantities of salty foods can cause water retention and bloating.
3. Sluggishness – consuming a lot of sugary foods can zap your energy, leaving you feeling very sluggish. When you’re feeling tired, you are tempted to reach for sugar, salty junk food and/or caffeine for that kick start.
4. Gut bacteria – Excessive amounts of sugar can cause an imbalance in gut bacteria, which in turn affects digestion. Also – sugar has been linked to yeast infections (such as candida) because sugar feeds yeast, which causes it to grow.
5. Weight gain – Sugar causes the body to release the fight-or-flight hormones cortisol and adrenalin, which can cause anxiety and weight gain.
Artificial sweeteners can have many negative effects on your body including digestive issues. Excessive gas, constipation and/or diarrhea can be caused by artificial sweeteners because they can upset the healthy balance of gut bacteria. Artificial sweeteners have other health concerns, including stimulation of the addiction center of your brain, causing you to keep going back for more sweets. Certain chemical artificial sweeteners are also known to be brain toxins, aspartame in particular.
Here are 9 solutions to alleviate the issues:
1. Get moving!
Exercise can help to decrease bloating because it helps the digestive system work more efficiently and it can help you to control your weight. Having a sedentary lifestyle promotes excess weight gain and could be a factor when it comes to sluggish digestion.
2. Watch your salt intake
Many women find they crave salty foods just before or during their period. Avoid foods that are high in salt, if possible – particularly highly refined foods. Excessive salt consumption has been known to cause water retention and has been linked to heart disease.
3. Fiber and water are beneficial
Having enough fiber in your diet from high fiber whole foods, vegetables and whole grains is very important for digestive health. Most people don’t get enough fiber every day, which causes digestive issues such as constipation and gas and can lead to other health issues related to the colon.
There are 3 cautions when it comes to increasing your fiber intake:
• Increase your fiber intake slowly instead of all at once. Your digestive system needs to adjust gradually to having extra fiber.
• Add fiber by choosing whole foods (veggies, fruits, whole grains) that are good sources of fiber, instead of adding a fiber supplement. Your body needs all the nutrients that are found in whole foods, fruits and vegetables, along with the fiber.
• It is very important to increase your water intake along with your fiber consumption. Adding a lot of fiber to your diet without increasing the amount of water you drink can cause bloating and possibly even constipation.
4. Have smaller, nutrition packed meals and snacks
When it comes to dietary lifestyle, eating smaller nutritionally balanced meals and snacks throughout the day is a healthy approach. This has numerous benefits:
• It keeps your blood sugar balanced, which reduces (or completely eliminates) cravings for empty carbs, sugar and salty processed foods
• It keeps you feeling full between meals, but not bloated. It also stops you from binge eating or impulsive eating.
• Eating at intervals each day by having smaller, healthy meals and snacks means that your digestive system does not become overloaded with an excessive amount of food. Your digestive system is able to work more efficiently and this reduces your risk of indigestion.
• It keeps your metabolism burning evenly, which gives you continuous energy all day long.
• The nutrients obtained from consuming balanced amounts of fiber, protein, good fats and water will build your health from the cellular level up.
5. Drastically reduce caffeine
Black tea, coffee and alcohol can put an extra burden on the liver. This makes the liver’s job of getting rid of excessive or unwanted hormones very difficult. Instead of coffee or black tea, drink herbal teas or rooibos tea that are naturally caffeine free.
6. Omega 3 fatty acids help
Omega 3 fatty acids are important for the body’s hormone production and may help with cramping. Eat plenty of fish such as salmon, mackerel, arctic char, and sardines. Another source would be a good quality fish oil supplement. If you like to get omega 3 fatty acids from plant sources, choose flaxseed (ground is best), walnuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens and broccoli.
7. Increase your intake of probiotics
Probiotics support your body’s digestion by helping keep the balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria in the gut. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi are all sources of probiotics.
8. Reduce soy in your diet
Soy contains estrogen mimicking compounds that can potentially mess up your hormone balance at certain times of the month. If you consume soy milk, try switching to unsweetened almond milk or hemp milk. Avoid rice milk as it is generally made with white rice that will easily cause blood sugar issues.
9. Get enough magnesium
Magnesium supports muscles in the colon as well as helping brain function and the heart. It can help to reduce bloating and pain that may be associated with your periods. Magnesium can be found in foods such as brown rice, oat bran, mackerel, spinach, swiss chard, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, banana, and lima beans.
Continuous bloating and other digestive matters
If you experience continuous bloating and digestive issues for more than two weeks, it would be wise to make a visit to your doctor. It could be a sign of a more serious health issue that needs to be looked at, particularly if there is pain or pressure that comes with the bloating. Other health issues include Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), an ovarian cyst, a gluten allergy or celiac disease, and possibly ovarian cancer.
Are you a woman that experiences hormone issues? Do you have sugar and carb cravings that totally interfere with your energy level and your great intentions to eat the right foods? If so, give me a call – I can help!
Copyright © 2016 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved