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Hormones and IBS

Estrogen and progesterone affect IBS symptoms in a few ways, from how your intestines work to how much pain you feel. Cells in your gut have things called receptors that let these hormones latch on to them. This suggests that your digestive system is designed to sense and react to them. Here are the main ways they affect IBS:

• Digestion: They control the smooth muscle in your intestines, which dictates how quickly food travels through your system. In one study, animals took longer to empty their intestines when they received a low dose of the hormones than when they got a higher one. This may explain why low levels of sex hormones can lead to constipation.

• Pain level: These hormones affect how much your cramps bother you. A dip lowers your pain threshold, in part because estrogen boosts the production of serotonin, a feel-
good chemical in your brain. A jump in estrogen can reduce some of the ouch factor, so your bellyaches or cramps don’t hurt as much.

• Inflammation: Sex hormones can raise levels of inflammation throughout your body. That makes your IBS symptoms worse.

Most research has linked estrogen and progesterone with IBS. But scientists have also found that male sex hormones, like testosterone, may protect against the condition. This may be partly why men are less likely to get the disorder.

Menstrual Cycle
Because these hormones rise and fall throughout the month, it makes sense that they can affect IBS symptoms. One study found that roughly 40% of women with IBS said it affects their menstrual cycle symptoms.

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