Why is digestive health especially important for women?
I always encourage my patients to be mindful of digestive health, how it regulates our elimination, and to understand how food affects us. Digestive health is particularly important during a woman's period. Often, the malaise, bloating, and discomfort is entirely attributed to hormonal changes, and the role of digestive health is ignored. A healthy, balanced digestive process can greatly contribute to a reduction in the dreaded symptoms of your monthly menses, especially bloating, abdominal pain, and distension.
Research shows that women are more sensitive to foods that contain or trigger the release of histamine - a pro-inflammatory molecule. Histamine is the chemical that activates mast cells to increase blood flow, which can cause swelling in the affected areas. This is essentially what is happening when you get a mosquito bite. Now, the truth of the matter is that technically everything we eat causes some localized irritation or inflammation. Our immune system is always engaged to some degree in monitoring the foods we consume, to make sure we can metabolize them and allow the foods to pass through our intestinal tract. However, certain foods either contain high amounts of histamine or can trigger the release of histamine, as is the case with some food sensitivities. Problem foods include dairy, alcohol, citrus fruits, nightshades, and some fermented foods.
I am not suggesting that you should avoid or eliminate these foods. Some patients may choose to, purely because they have a reduction in their bloating and digestive distress when avoiding these foods. I consider this avoiding the problem, as opposed to correcting it. But ignoring the problem can bring temporary relief, especially if you consider a situation where these histamine-triggering foods are acting up an already irritated abdomen prior to your monthly flow. This pretty much amounts to a “double whammy” for some.
I recommend a protocol that reduces the effects of histamine released from your digestive system as a means to mitigate the inflammation associated with your menses. This generally includes pre- and probiotics, L-glutamine. Sometimes a good digestive enzyme may help help regulate your bowel movements, but this depends on whether stools are hard or loose during your cycle. I would also investigate the type of foods consumed by my patient to see if they may be triggering histamine release: Do you consume high amounts of histamine-containing foods? Do you have food sensitivities? Are you generally in a stressed-out state?
Another thing to consider is the role of blood sugar control or dysglycemia in the context of hormonal balance and healthy digestion. Increasing the amount of insoluble fibre in your diet can balance both blood sugar and hormone levels, in addition to numerous other health benefits. Carefully considering the interactions between diet, histamine response, hormones, and blood sugar control can help you to better navigate through the challenges associated with menses.