Hormones and Digestion: Why Menstruation & Anxiety Can Be a Real Punch in the Gut

Your nerves could definitely have you running to the restroom.

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Does it feel like your No. 2 schedule is thrown out of whack during your menstrual cycle, or right before a huge presentation? Don’t worry—it’s not your imagination. Hormones can affect so many aspects of your body and its processes, and your digestion is no exception.

Do Hormones Affect My Digestion?

Your hormones and nerves team up to direct digestion. They do this by sending messages between your brain and your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Nerves in your gut recognize when food is passing through, so it knows when to release digestive agents and trigger muscle contractions. These contractions help push food along (think of how a worm moves).

Digestion is a pretty well-oiled machine, unless hormone levels change. For example, when you’re stressed, the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. In turn, this hormone triggers a fight-or-flight response. This extreme response can also cause GI symptoms like:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea

Similarly, changes in ovarian hormone levels can alter digestion. Diarrhea and other GI problems are common before and during your period due to drastic changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. (Yep, “period poops” are real.)

External Triggers Can Lead to Hormone Imbalance And Tummy Troubles

Sometimes, the link between hormones and digestion isn’t always so clear. It may not always be the stress that causes tummy problems, but the things you do when you’re stressed. After all, you’re more likely to indulge in less-than-healthy habits when you’re stressed. For example, many turn to binge eating, comfort foods, alcohol consumption, or other drugs to deal with stress. All of these can lead to bloating or stomach trouble.

Now that you know how and why hormones affect your tummy troubles, it may be time to visit a gastroenterologist (GI). If you’re having consistent digestive issues no matter how well you stick to healthy habits, talk to your doctor. They may be able to provide personalized tips for how you can reduce stress, handle hormone changes, and improve a grumpy gut.