Nice. Not only you’re menstruating during the holiday period, also your pooping routine is completely disrupted. You suddenly poop way more often, suffer from cramps, can hear your bowels rumbling from a mile away or fart like a stinky hurricane. Yet the week before your menstruation, you were very constipated. How is that sh*t possible? And what can you do about it?
Period! has an appointment with Nienke Tode-Gottenbos, aka ‘the Poop Doctor.’ She isn’t a real doctor, as she immediately explains, but a nutritional therapist, an expert in intestinal flora and the author of the book De Poepdokter – Gezond van mond tot kont (The Poop Doctor – Healthy from mouth to bum). A real best-seller in The Netherlands.
And that’s quite unusual. Because talking about your menstrual problems might not be the best conversation starter, but the subject of poop is guaranteed to stop even the most sparkling conversation in a millisecond. Give it a try next time on a family party or during Friday afternoon drinks at work. However: once people get talking about their bowel movements, it turns out a lot of them have problems with their intestines…
Luckily the importance of a healthy intestinal flora is recognised more and more, says Tode-Gottenbos. For her it has become normal to ask about the most intimate toilet secrets without even blushing: colour, shape, consistency, frequency and, of course, smell. ‘Your intestinal flora is one of the most important cornerstones of your physical condition. A problem with your intestinal flora can lead to all kinds of complaints: constipation, loose bowel movements or feeling bloated.’
Three times a day or three times a week?
A human being normally poops about 900 grams a day, we read in De Poepdokter. In your entire life you produce between 25,000 and 32,000 kilos of faeces. But that’s where the similarities stop. Because: ‘Normal pooping behaviour is different for everybody. Some have to go three times a day, others three times a week. Within certain boundaries, this doesn’t matter. As long as it’s a regular pattern.’
‘Needing half a loo roll to clean up, alternating between rabbit droppings and diarrhoea, feeling bloated, having trouble cleaning the toilet afterwards or a bathroom that smells like a biochemical warzone. All these things indicate a non-optimal nutrition, digestion and/or intestinal flora. This can influence your hormonal balance, with for example menstrual problems and PMS- symptoms as a result.’
A good poo:
- You poop easily and quick, without the need to strain
- One or two times wiping is enough
- You’re not suffering from cramps before or during emptying your bowels
- Your poo doesn’t float or sticks to the toilet
- Afterwards, your toilet doesn’t smell like a biochemical warzone
Your pooping routine changes…
As many womb-carriers will recognise, your pooping routine changes during your menstrual cycle. It’s mostly harder to go to the loo prior to your menstruation. This has a logical explanation. ‘Prostaglandins play a key role here. These hormone-like compounds are involved in infections and control all kinds of bodily processes, like the contraction of the womb when giving birth and during menstruation.’
It’s harder to poop…
‘In the third week of your menstrual cycle, the oestrogen and progesterone levels are high. Just before your menstruation they drop again and the hormones of the previous days have to be broken down. These highs and lows can slow your intestines, which leads to constipation. Also, and this probably doesn’t come as a surprise: you’re more sensitive to stress just before your period. When your body experiences stress, it produces adrenaline. Adrenaline isn’t pleasant for your body, so it’s one of the first things that get broken down by your liver. The fact that your liver is pretty busy with this can also lead to constipation.’
It’s easier to poop
During your menstruation, something else happens. The prostaglandins which cause your womb to contract in order to expel the uterine lining (hello menstrual cramps!) also influence your intestines. These join in with the contractions. ‘The result of this; you poop better or might even experience some diarrhoea.’
You fart more…
Also stress plays a role according to De Poepdokter. The days before your menstruation you’re often easily irritated. ‘And stress releases adrenaline. Adrenaline triggers the famous ‘fight or flight’ response, allowing you to get yourself to safety in case of danger. All the oxygen in your body goes to your brain and muscles, not to your digestion. It also doesn’t help that stress often causes you to eat more and other things than you normally would. Chocolate is a definite number one. Closely followed by greasy food and fast carbohydrates like French fries, pizza and bread. The result: more air in your intestines, which leads to flatulence.’
How to create balance
‘Start sparing your liver a week before your menstruation. For example by eating food that’s good for you. Eat lots of fibres; not from grains and gluten, but from fruit and vegetables. Drink enough water. Leave the coffee alone and be careful with refined sugars. Forget about deep-fried foods for a while: normally they might not cause any problems, but this week they could be just a bit too much. Instead, eat some extra garlic. Sweet potatoes and nuts are also good. Another possibility is taking supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) or Omega-6 fatty acids (evening primrose oil); they can support the liver function and help reducing PMS-symptoms.’
Be nice to your bacteria
Or, even better: be nice to your intestines the whole year round, not only in the week before your period. De Poepdokter gives 101 practical tips plus recipes to keep the billions of bacteria in your bowels happy. ‘And if you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to you. By changing your lifestyle as well as your eating habits, you’ll quickly experience results.’ The eye-opener of this book: there’s a lot of room for improvement, also if you think you don’t have any complaints at all.
Tode-Gottenbos: ‘Not being ill isn’t automatically the same as being healthy. I think people often suffer from more problems than they realise. Just because they get used to them. How many women are affected by heavy PMS-symptoms or menstrual pain? Women often think ‘that’s just part of the deal’ and have come to view their problems as normal. But a really healthy person not only isn’t ill, he or she is also full of energy, doesn’t have any stomach or intestinal problems, has a weight that suits their body shape and does not suffer from PMS.’
Nienke Tode-Gottenbos (1982) is a nutritional therapist, expert in intestinal flora and writer. She blogs about nutrition, intestinal flora and lifestyle on De Groene Vrouw. Her book De Poepdokter is published in Dutch by Splint Media, ISBN 978-90-824177-1-5, € 22.95.