Do you get gassy around your period? You’re not alone! If you’re a person who menstruates, the uncomfortable gas and bloating that shows up during your cycle is actually pretty common. Let’s nerd out on the science behind gas and periods and talk about ways to help you feel better.
Before we get into what the research says about gassiness during your period, we should first clarify what the menstrual cycle actually is. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test at the end!
The menstrual cycle is a 24-38 day cycle that is regulated by the hormones of the endocrine system. Menstruation or the “period” is the first day of bleeding which occurs because the lining of the uterus is shedding.
There are two main phases of the menstrual cycle: the follicular phase and the luteal phase.
For 28 day cycles, the follicular phase refers to the first half (days one to 14) of the menstrual cycle. During this phase, the levels of a hormone called estrogen rise. Estrogen promotes the growth of the uterine lining in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
A hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) peaks around day 14 of the follicular phase. FSH causes the ovaries to produce an egg during a process called ovulation.
The luteal phase refers to days 15-28 of the menstrual cycle. The levels of a hormone called Progesterone rise during this phase. The luteal phase ends when the period begins, or if an egg is fertilized.
Now that we’ve reviewed the basics of the menstrual cycle, let’s talk about how this can lead to gas.
Researchers found that many menstruating people reported digestive symptoms before and during their period. The researchers did not specifically ask about gas, but they did ask about constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating (essentially PMS symptoms). Many of these GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms can be accompanied by gas.
Scientists used to think that the amount of gas in the intestines increased during menstruation. However, this study did not find this to be true. The researchers found that the volume of gas in the bowels (“intraluminal bowel gas volume”) did not change significantly when people were on their periods.
So what is the cause of gassiness?
One study found that gastrointestinal transit time, or the time it takes for food to move through the digestive system, was slowed during the luteal phase. Remember that the luteal phase is the time leading up to the period. This could explain why some people might experience gas, bloating, and constipation right before and at the beginning of their period.
While it is not fully known if menstrual cramps can cause gas, there is a possible mechanism. Hormone-like substances called prostaglandins are released during menstruation and cause the uterus to contract. This can lead to cramping during your period. Researchers think that prostaglandins may also cause contractions in the gut which can cause digestive symptoms.
We just reviewed the potential role that contractions of the uterus may play in causing gas during your period. Gas is one thing, but how about painful gas?
Research shows that estrogen can prevent the contraction of smooth muscles, like the muscles of the gut and the uterus. Estrogen levels are usually lower during your period, so this can put you at a higher chance of experiencing painful muscle contractions along with gas during your period.
As discussed, prostaglandins are highest during menstruation and they can act on the uterus and cause occasional muscle contractions and pain. If you experience chronic digestive issues be sure to talk to your gynecologist.
While you may experience gas before or during your period, it’s not a sign of a period. You can have gas at other times of the month due to various causes. These can include digestive concerns, increased fiber, food intolerances, or other hormonal changes.
Bloating can also occur right before your period as part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS can also cause occasional headaches, cramps, breast tenderness, and acne.
Speaking of PMS, we have written an in-depth article on supplements that may provide support right before your period.
To help with gas and bloating during your period, you may want to review your diet first. It can be common to reach for comfort foods during your period (hello, chocolate!). While there is nothing wrong with these foods in moderation, too much could make your gas and bloating worse. Especially if you are sensitive to gluten, dairy, or other ingredients in the things you are eating. Digestive enzymes may be helpful if your body needs help breaking down certain foods.
We know that stress may cause gut symptoms. This is partially because of the gut-brain connection, or the “talking” that happens between the digestive and nervous system. One of the loudest talkers is a stress hormone called cortisol. Research shows that cortisol can negatively impact digestions and the gut microbiome.
Therefore, managing stress may help manage gas and bloating. Breathing techniques, mindfulness, yoga, and mediation are all potential stress management strategies.
One final tip for managing gas and bloating during your period is to get moving. We already discussed that gut motility, or the movement of food through the digestive system, can be slower right before your period. But exercise may help counteract this. One study found that aerobic exercise reduced PMS symptoms.
Having gas during your period can be uncomfortable and even isolating. You should know that you are not alone and there are strategies that may help. While there are scientific explanations for gas during your period, you shouldn’t suffer in silence. If these symptoms are impacting your quality of life, please talk to your healthcare provider for further help.