Approximately 70% of women suffer from increased bloating around their menstrual period. Bloating and other PMS symptoms are caused by fluctuations in the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Women who have inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely to experience increased cyclical gastrointestinal symptoms. While it can be difficult to completely resolve increased bloating, gas and constipation around your menses, you can decrease symptom severity and feel more comfortable during your monthly cycle. Dietary choices, exercise and natural supplementation can be effective in decreasing period bloating woes.
Fluctuating levels in estrogen and progesterone are the cause of increased menstrual bloating. Progesterone levels are higher mid-cycle until several days before menstruation where they take a dive. Progesterone causes decreased motility, or slowing, in the digestive tract which can lead to symptoms such as gas, bloating and constipation. Rising levels of estrogen and the decrease in progesterone that occurs several days before your period also causes increased fluid retention. More fluid retention means increased bloating. Although cyclical hormonal shifts are somewhat beyond our control, the severity of menstrual bloating can be decreased through diet, exercise and targeted supplementation.
Dietary choices directly affect the severity of bloating you may experience around your period. The fluid retention that occurs several days before bleeding can be minimized by avoiding salty foods. Excess sodium can cause further water retention. Many processed and pre-made foods contain high amounts of sodium. Choosing to cook at home during your period or making sure you are reading labels can help minimize your salt intake. On the contrary, potassium-rich foods including dark leafy greens, sweet potato, bananas and avocado can help to decrease bloat. Research shows thatpotassium decreases sodium levels and increases urine production. In this way, potassium may help reduce water retention and improve period bloating.
Period bloating can also be minimized by avoiding refined carbohydrates. Examples of refined carbohydrates include white flour, other processed grains and sugar. These foods cause a spike in blood sugar and increased levels of circulating insulin. Elevated insulin levels in the blood cause the kidneys to retain sodium which leads to more water retention and increased bloating to occur. Whole grains, protein rich items and foods low in added sugars are better choices to avoid menstrual bloating.
Exercise is a great way to help beat period bloat, as well as other PMS symptoms. Gentle exercise while menstruating can help to stimulate the digestive tract and decrease constipation. Exercise causes a release of endorphins that support a positive mood and can decrease the pain of uterine cramps. The best type of exercise to perform while menstruating is the one you enjoy the most. Even gentle exercise such as walking, yoga or stretching can be effective at reducing menstrual bloat and other associated symptoms. Specific nutritional supplements can be helpful if diet and exercise are not enough to keep your bloat at bay.
Certain nutritional supplements can also ease the effects of hormone-fueled bloating. Magnesium is a powerful ally to have around during your menstrual cycle. It is an essential cofactor in estrogen metabolism and can effectively decrease fluid retention. A 2012 study showed that 250 mg of magnesium oxide daily decreased water retention, food cravings, depression and anxiety associated with menstruation. Calcium carbonate has also been shown to be more effective than placebo in decreasing PMS symptoms. The mechanism of action is still unclear, but is thought to be tied to fluctuations in estradiol during ovulation and the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Vitamin B6, another cofactor for estrogen metabolism, has a diuretic effect which is helpful for menstrual bloating.
Bloat by Arrae can also be helpful in decreasing symptoms associated with period bloat.The ingredients in Bloat are not laxatives and they are non-habit forming, making this product safe to use frequently if needed. Ginger root, dandelion root, bromelain, slippery elm, lemon balm and peppermint work synergistically in this product to decrease gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort.
Increased abdominal bloating around monthly menstruation is an unfortunate reality for many. The shifts in estrogen and progesterone leading up to menstruation are the culprit for this common phenomenon. Menstrual bloat can be reduced by avoiding processed foods high in sodium and sugar. Potassium-rich foods, like avocado and leafy greens, are a better choice to beat menstrual bloat. Exercise and targeted supplementation are also effective in reducing abdominal bloating associated with menstruation. Although some PMS symptoms such as abdominal bloating and fatigue are considered normal before and during menstruation, your symptoms shouldn’t be causing you so much pain or inconvenience that you can’t live your normal life. If this is the case, please speak with your trusted healthcare provider as you deserve to have a more comfortable monthly cycle!
- Bernstein MT, Graff LA, Avery L, Palatnick C, Parnerowski K, Targownik LE. Gastrointestinal symptoms before and during menses in healthy women. BMC Womens Health. 2014;14:14. Published 2014 Jan 22. doi:10.1186/1472-6874-14-14
- White CP, Hitchcock CL, Vigna YM, Prior JC. Fluid Retention over the Menstrual Cycle: 1-Year Data from the Prospective Ovulation Cohort. Obstet Gynecol Int. 2011;2011:138451. doi:10.1155/2011/138451
- Premenstrual Syndrome: “A Pilot Trial”. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2013;21:141-146. 2013.