Many young women, prior to their first pregnancy, suffer with severe constipation and anemia, which are often seen as unrelated symptoms. The anemia or low blood iron stems from the loss of blood due to menses while constipation is a gastrointestinal (gut) disorder resulting in difficulty in passing out feces (stool). However evidence suggests that both anemia and constipation may be linked to a common hormonal cause that plagues many menstruating women.
Malabsorption in the Gut
The fluctuation of the female hormones, estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone during the menstrual cycle, may contribute to a malabsorption syndrome. This affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food in the gut, aggravating the low blood iron levels by reducing the absorption of iron from food sources. The hormonal factors contributing to a malabsorption syndrome may also play a part in both peristalsis (movement of food through the gut), inhibit other nutrient absorption and thereby contribute to constipation.
Attempting to correct this malabsorption syndrome by taking nutritional supplements, especially iron, may further aggravate the constipation. A characteristic feature of this malabsorption syndrome, which may not be present in every woman, is the difficulty in gaining weight, especially in young girls in their teens. However this may also be impacted upon by the poor dietary habits of young women who are more conscious of their body, focusing on their figure and weight than worrying about adequate nutrition.
Anemia and Diet
The anemia can be severe resulting in serious symptoms like dizziness and fainting due to low blood pressure (hypotension), breathlessness even with the slightest activity and muscle cramps and pains leading to symptoms like a headache. While many women consider these symptoms, including constipation and low body weight as part of the early years of puberty, it is important to seek appropriate medical treatment for this malabsorption syndrome in order to alleviate the constipation and improve the blood iron levels.
Healthy Eating to Prevent Constipation
A healthy diet is the most important consideration and a balanced eating plan comprising adequate vegetable, fruit, protein and fat intake is important. Attempting to maintain a lean and slim figure should not be controlled by calorie restriction and ‘starvation diets’ as this will continue to aggravate the reduced absorption of nutrients. Rather focus on exercise for your weight management needs with an understanding of nutrition and calorie control.
Regular use of laxatives or enemas is not an answer to alleviating constipation and while they may offer some relief, the cause of the constipation should be addressed. A high fiber diet, with sufficient water intake, is key to any constipation treatment although excess dietary fiber may contribute to gas and bloating. If you are using iron supplements for your low blood iron levels, it is important to combine it with sufficient vitamin C intake, either in your diet or through a supplement. Vitamin C is known to assist with iron absorption while certain drinks that are high in tannins, like tea, may reduce iron absorption from the gut.
The early years of womanhood should not be plagued with signs and symptoms related to anemia, or constipation and painful periods and it is important that young women remember that having puberty is not the start of a life of suffering with inconveniences associated with the menstrual cycle.