Irregular periods: How poor gut health may affect your menstrual cycle
Our gut can influence our ability to digest, absorb nutrients needed by our body and metabolism. Our gut health also affects our menstrual cycle. A 2014 study published in the US National Library of Medicine showed that an imbalanced gut microbiome can be linked to hormonal imbalances. This, in turn, is responsible for irregular periods. So, if you want to have regular periods, you will give importance to gut health too.
Poor gut health
The gastrointestinal system, which most of us simply call the gut, digests foods we eat and absorbs nutrients that support our body for various activities to be performed. There is balance in both good and bad bacteria in gut. Poor gut health is the imbalance of the microbiome, the complex community of microorganisms that includes bacteria, virus and fungi residing in our digestive tract, says Dr Aruna Kumari, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bellandur, Bengaluru.
This imbalance can be due to factors like a poor diet, stress, lack of sleep and excessive antibiotic use. When the microbiome is imbalanced, it can lead to various digestive issues and potentially impact overall well-being.
Signs of poor gut health are:
• Chronic bloating sensation after eating
• Loose stools
• Chronic constipation
• Heart burn
• Loss of appetite
• Poor sleep
• Skin issues
• Bad breath
How gut health affects periods
Gut health and menstrual health are interconnected. Here’s how:
1. Hormonal regulation
Female sex hormones, mainly estrogen levels, are regulated by gut microbes by regulating the levels of hormone binding globulins, says Dr Kumari. They determine the free levels of hormone in blood circulation. It is the gut microbiome that can impact hormone metabolism. Hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are metabolised in liver conjugation and gut flora plays a key role in process of their excretion. Imbalanced microbiome might affect these hormone levels, potentially leading to irregular periods or hormonal imbalances.
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A disrupted gut microbiome can lead to chronic inflammation, which can impact the menstrual cycle. You can end up with irregular periods, heavier bleeding or worsened premenstrual symptoms.
3. Immune system
Quite a big portion of the immune system can be found in the gut. An imbalanced gut microbiome might affect immune responses, and immune dysfunction can influence menstrual health. Autoimmune conditions and immune-related issues can impact the menstrual cycle.
4. Nutrient absorption
When it comes to nutrient absorption, a healthy gut lining is very important. Nutrient deficiencies can indirectly affect menstrual health by impacting hormone production and overall body function, the expert tells Health Shots.
5. Stress response
There is a strong connection between your gut and brain. An unhealthy gut can impact stress responses and mood regulation. Stress, in turn, can influence the menstrual cycle and exacerbate premenstrual symptoms.
6. Influence on body weight
Gut health can impact metabolism and body weight. Excessive weight gain or loss can disrupt hormonal balance and menstrual regularity.
Tips to improve gut health
Controlling the gut health can help to balance your hormones, says Haripriya N, Executive Nutritionist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, T Nagar, Chennai. Include these foods in your diet:
1. Anti-inflammatory foods
Such foods can help to decrease hormone-disrupting chemicals and balance the blood sugar and insulin levels. These are the two important factors in regulating hormones and reducing overall inflammation.
2. Whole foods
Whole grains and legumes should be incorporated in routine diet to support the production of neurotransmitter and calm the gut-brain connection, says Haripriya.
3. Fermented foods
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi are high in polyphenols and fiber-rich foods. They can all feed the gut microbiome and support healthy digestive function, which can help ease digestive symptoms during menstruation.
4. Soluble fiber
If you have loose stools during menstruation, go for soluble fiber like oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots and barley. It attracts water and forms a gel during the digestive process. This slows down the bowel movement and changes the consistency of stools, says Haripriya.
You can also practice stress-reduction techniques to promote a healthier gut-brain connection, drink plenty of water to maintain proper digestive function and support the gut lining.