Female Hormones Control your Bowels?

Yep.  Estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, prolactin… All of these hormones affect our digestive systems.  So, certainly if a women comes to me with wonky digestion, we talk all about her hormones – how’s the menstrual cycle?  How was her digestive system during pregnancy?  How about when she was breast feeding?  What about during peri-menopause?

In naturopathy we’re lucky enough to see and make these connections.

Usually, if hormones are out of whack, women may find some interesting symptoms:

  • Constipation before the period is common.
  •  Looser stools or even diarrhea when the period starts.
  • Pregnancy is variable – with heartburn, bloating, gas, constipation and more.
  • Nursing moms often report the smoothest digestion of their lives (often abruptly changing when they wean their kids).
  • Peri-menopausal women may find their digestion becomes a source of great frustration as hormones fluctuate. Heartburn one day, constipation another day and running to the bathroom quickly another day.

So what can we do?  Through taking a thorough history, performing a physical exam and sometimes lab testing, we can figure out what’s happening with these ever-changing hormones.  Add in thyroid hormones, blood-sugar hormones, hormones for mood and feelings, stress hormones – and you get a pretty interesting puzzle.

Treatments depend, of course, on the cause of dysfunction but generally, I suggest herbs, some supplements and dietary changes to help balance the hormones and ease transitions. Acupuncture can be helpful too.  I might suggest some comfort measures for an upset stomach or bowel, but I keep in mind that over time, when we balance the hormones, the digestive symptoms will clear up.

I’ve been practicing over 10 years now, and I still find each person’s body fascinating to decipher.  In naturopathy we really do look at the whole body and how the various parts work (or don’t work) together.  And, we try to get at the root cause of what’s going on and causing trouble.

If you’re having trouble with your digestive system, check in with an ND – we’ll ask lots of questions about your entire self, including your hormones, to figure it out.

For those who would like to check out some studies about this topic, here are some that I’ve found interesting…

1. Progesterone receptors and serotonin levels in colon epithelial cells from females with slow transit constipation.
Guarino M, Cheng L, Cicala M, Ripetti V, Biancani P, Behar J.
Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2011 Jun;23(6):575-e210. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2011.01705.x. Epub 2011 Apr 11.
PMID: 21481100 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Related citations
2. Variation of symptoms during the menstrual cycle in female patients with gastroparesis.
Verrengia M, Sachdeva P, Gaughan J, Fisher RS, Parkman HP.
Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2011 Jul;23(7):625-e254. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2011.01681.x. Epub 2011 Feb 17.
PMID: 21332597 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Related citations
3. Duodenal and renal transient receptor potential vanilloid 6 is regulated by sex steroid hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in immature rats.
Jung EM, Kim JH, Yang H, Hyun SH, Choi KC, Jeung EB.
J Vet Med Sci. 2011 Jun;73(6):711-6. Epub 2011 Jan 7.
PMID: 21228508 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free Article
Related citations
4. Expression of estrogen and progesterone receptors in the anal canal of women according to age and menopause.
Parés D, Iglesias M, Pera M, Pascual M, Torner A, Baró T, Alonso S, Grande L.
Dis Colon Rectum. 2010 Dec;53(12):1687-91.
PMID: 21178865 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Related citations
5. Effects of progesterone on motility and prostaglandin levels in the distal guinea pig colon.
Xiao ZL, Biancani P, Behar J.
Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2009 Nov;297(5):G886-93.
PMID: 20501437 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article
Related citations
6. Progesterone receptor A mediates VIP inhibition of contraction.
Cheng L, Biancani P, Behar J.
Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2010 Mar;298(3):G433-9. Epub 2009 Dec 17.
PMID: 20019164 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free Article
Related citations
7. Effects of ovarian failure on submucosal collagen and blood vessels of the anal canal in postmenopausal women.
Elbanna HG, Abbas AM, Zalata K, Farid M, Ghanum W, Youssef M, Thabet WM, El Awady S, El-Sattar MH.
Int J Colorectal Dis. 2010 Apr;25(4):477-83. Epub 2009 Nov 10.
PMID: 19902226 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Related citations
8. Do fluctuations in ovarian hormones affect gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome?
Heitkemper MM, Chang L.
Gend Med. 2009;6 Suppl 2:152-67. Review.
PMID: 19406367 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article
Related citations

Published by kimcallaghannd

naturopathic doctor, children's health advocate, foodie, mom

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