While the origins of irritable bowel syndrome may be murky, one thing is clear: it’s an illness that affects women far more than men.
A growing body of research shows that hormones such as progesterone and estrogen may be the reason. Let’s take a closer look at how hormones affect IBS symptoms.
How Hormones Affect IBS
The cells in your digestive system have receptors that hormones can latch on to, affecting your gut in a few ways:
Digestion – Studies have shown animals take longer to empty their intestines when given a low dose of sex hormones than when they receive a higher one. This could be the reason lower hormone levels can cause constipation.
Inflammation – Estrogen and progesterone can raise your body’s inflammation levels, which in turn worsens your IBS symptoms.
Pain level – Hormones can affect your pain levels. Lower estrogen can reduce your threshold for pain, while a spike in estrogen can make cramps less painful.
Research into how hormones affect IBS has also shown that male sex hormones such as testosterone can protect against IBS, which could be why men are less likely to suffer from the disorder.
IBS and The Menstrual Cycle
Hormonal levels rise and fall during the month, so it makes sense that they can affect the symptoms of IBS. A study conducted at the University of North Carolina Center School of Medicine found that 70 percent of women had worsened IBS symptoms during menstruation.
The menstrual cycle lasts for approximately 28 days, and spans four stages. During the final stage – luteal – women who haven’t become pregnant during the cycle will see their hormone levels fall. This is when women living with IBS are more likely to feel bloated and experience constipation or diarrhea.
When hormone levels reach their lowest point, IBS symptoms become much more regular and pronounced. Patients with painful periods – what’s known as dysmenorrhea – are more likely to see this uptick in IBS symptoms.
IBS, Pregnancy and The Pill
Next in our discussion of how hormones affect IBS, a look at how pregnancy and birth control medication can or can’t change living with the syndrome.
Pregnancy brings with it a rise in hormone levels, which can cause IBS symptoms to abate. There’s also evidence to suggest pregnant women can handle more pain, which means less cramping and discomfort. However, women who are expecting can experience more constipation, whether they normally deal with IBS or not.
While birth control pills offer a steady supply of estrogen and progestin (a synthetic version of progesterone), there’s no evidence the pill has any effect on IBS. Women with IBS who use birth control pills typically have the same symptoms has women who do not.
IBS and Menopause
After menopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone begun to decline. But so far, it’s not clear how that affects IBS. In the University of North Carolina study we cited earlier, 57% of participants who had gone through menopause said their IBS symptoms worsened. But other women report improved IBS after their hormonal changes stopped.
Science needs more time to determine how hormones affect IBS. Until someone arrives at an answer, people living with IBS can curb their symptoms with the help of Proper Nutrition.
Our whole food supplements – made from a protein-rich white fish – contain bioactive peptides that combat the effects of digestive issues such as IBS.
Visit our product page today to find a supplement that makes living with IBS easier for you.