The few days leading up to your period is usually when you suffer with one or several PMS symptoms such as abdominal pain or cramps, diarrhoea, bloating, headaches, increased appetite or weight gain from fluid retention, as well as constipation.
If you suffer from bloating in particular, you may find this article on menstrual bloating helpful.
So, what causes constipation around this time?
Just before the onset of menstruation, the body has a surge of progesterone that falls away once you start to bleed.
It is this hormone progesterone that can affect your digestive system by delaying the transit time of food through the intestines and can lead to constipation before your period. Usually though, you should find this eases with the start of menstruation.
It may be the only time you experience this symptom, but either way there are things you can do to help prevent or relieve it.
Ways to help relieve constipation during your period
Beans and peas
These pulses are high in fibre, which can help reduce constipation by adding more bulk and increasing the water content of the stools, which together allows a much more effective transit through, and elimination from, the body.
Buying them in tins is a really efficient way to keep a steady supply of beans on hand as they can be cooked in minutes and added to things like salads and rice dishes. Mix it up too and try different varieties such as butter, cannellini, kidney, lima and black beans.
Limiting salt and refined sugars
If you have a diet that is high in processed foods (e.g. prepared/ready meals, burgers, ham/bacon/salami, take-aways, etc.) you need to limit these as much as possible around the time of your period (and ideally altogether), as they contain high levels of refined sugar and salt which can have quite a dramatic effect on your hormones and your digestion. Try not to add salt and sugar to your food and drinks as well as it is very easy for these to start adding up.
It really is important to ensure you stay hydrated – especially during hot weather. Drinking enough water will ensure that your body functions and performs at its optimum, including your digestive system, which needs water to break down food effectively and move it through the intestines, moulding it into stools, for easy elimination.
Drinking more water helps to reduce fluid retention during your period too, even if it seems counter-productive. If you are dehydrated, your body retains water as a kind of self-protection, as it doesn’t know where the next glass is coming from.
I find the best way to drink enough water is to carry a bottle with you at all times – if it’s with you, you’ll be constantly reminded to drink it, unlike a glass hidden in a cupboard...out of sight, out of mind! I really like Camelbak bottles which are 600ml and come in a variety of colours. They're good for the environment too!
I’ve talked about the importance of exercise before in ‘Exercise to relieve constipation’, and around your period it’s just as important, in fact it's better if you can exercise more than normal around this time. Exercising improves blood and oxygen circulation throughout the body, including the pelvis and intestines, which will help relieve any premenstrual symptoms as well as constipation, by keeping things moving.
Whatever exercise you are doing already, try to increase each session by another 10-15 minutes, or get off the bus three stops early rather than two!
Also have a read of 'Natural remedies for constipation' by herbalist Megan - she describes some more natural ways to ease and relieve constipation, all of which can be applied during your period.
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