In theory, the menstrual cycle is awesome Full Instagram. Each month a gland in the brain sends a message to your ovaries saying it’s time to release an egg. If you’re “normal” (we mean this in the best way!), this happens around 450 times in your lifetime. The reality is that having to experience this every month feels anything but awesome. Menstruating can make you feel like a completely different person, both physically and emotionally. Besides the mood swings, feeling bloated can be one of the more unpleasant side effects of menstruation. Fortunately, it isn’t something you have to suffer through. There are a few lifestyle tweaks you can make to beat it.
Where does the bloating come from?
The exact causes for bloating, and other PMS symptoms, is unclear, but hormonal changes seem to play a major role. The most likely culprits seem to be progesterone and oestrogen. Bloating generally happens about a week before your periods, and this is when these hormones fluctuate. Lower levels of progesterone (which happens when an egg isn’t fertilized) cause the uterus to shed its lining and your period to begin. In addition to menstrual bleeding, changes in these hormones also cause the body to retain more water and salt. The body’s cells become swollen with water, causing the feeling of bloating. The good news is that 2-3 days after your period starts, your ovaries start producing dependable levels of hormones again!
In addition to hormones, other factors that could contribute to bloating include:
- Genetics: some women may be more prone to hormonal changes, and bloating, than others
- Diet: certain foods (e.g. those high in salt) increase fluid retention
- Caffeine and alcohol – both interfere with fluid regulation and could cause retention
How to beat the bloat
Replace salty snacks with potassium produce
Sodium (salt) increases the amount of fluid that your body retains, increasing bloating and making you feel puffy and swollen, whereas potassium (found in fresh vegetables) does the opposite. Processed foods and snacks are very high in salt, so replacing these with fresh produce can make a big difference. Your best sources of potassium are dark, leafy greens, avocado and sweet potatoes.
Avoid sugary foods
Sugar and refined carbohydrates (e.g. white flour, cakes, biscuits) cause changes in the level of the hormone insulin, which in turn cause the kidneys to hold on to more sodium. The sugar rush doesn’t do much for the mood swings either! For a healthier sweet option, stick to fresh fruit.
Swap out caffeine and alcohol for water
Both caffeine and alcohol act as diuretics which makes your body think it needs to get rid of extra fluid. This “dehydrates” you and can put extra pressure on your kidneys, slowing their function. Aim to make water your first drink of choice. This eases pressure on your kidneys as well as keeping your digestive system in working order, reducing bloating and feelings of discomfort. If you have a hard time skipping your morning coffee, try replacing it with a drink that has less caffeine, like tea, or substitute it with decaf.
When isn’t exercise the answer for everything? It’s not always what you feel like, but walking, swimming, or doing another type of light exercise like yoga will improve circulation to help with painful cramps and ease digestive distress. What’s more, the hormones released while you exercise relieve not only your PMS symptoms, but also your mood!
When to see a doctor
For most women, bloating is uncomfortable but doesn’t stop them from getting on with things. If, however, you find that your bloating either does not subside after your period, or starts to interfere with your daily life, then it’s time to see a doctor. Ongoing bloating can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome. If you’re unsure whether to visit your doctor, why not speak to one of ours?