Many women experience bloating before and at the start of their period. Can certain lifestyle changes offer some relief? Period bloating is when a woman feels her abdomen is heavy and swollen just before and at the start of her period. Bloating is also one of several premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms that can occur 1-2 weeks before a woman’s period. Other than bloating, PMS symptoms include:
- mood swings
- food cravings
- swollen breasts
Up to 85 percent of women experience PMS symptoms, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
What causes period bloating? Bloating before and during a period may result from changes in levels of the sex hormones progesterone and estrogen. About a week before a woman’s period starts, levels of the hormone progesterone fall. Reduced levels of progesterone cause the uterus to shed its lining, which is what causes menstrual bleeding. As well as causing menstrual bleeding, research suggests that changes in progesterone and estrogen levels cause the body to retain more water and salt. The body’s cells become swollen with water, causing the feeling of bloating. A 2011 study found that women retained most water and experienced the worst bloating on the first day of their period.
How to relieve bloating Avoiding foods high in salt and refined carbohydrates may help relieve period bloating. There are many lifestyle changes that a woman can make that may help to reduce water retention. In turn, these changes may help relieve the symptoms of period bloating.
- Avoid salty foods: The sodium in salt can increase the amount of water a person’s body retains. Avoiding salty foods may help decrease water retention and improve period bloating. The American Heart Association recommend people aim to limit their salt intake to 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day. Many processed foods contain salt, so cooking meals at home using only fresh ingredients is one way to avoid excess salt.
- Eat potassium-rich foods: Eating foods rich in potassium may help reduce period bloating. Research shows potassium decreases sodium levels and increases urine production. In this way, potassium may help reduce water retention and improve period bloating.
Potassium-rich foods that may reduce period bloating include:
- dark leafy greens, such as spinach
- sweet potato
- Try diuretics: If something is a diuretic, it means that it increases urine production. Producing more urine helps the body to get rid of water. In this way, diuretics help to reduce water retention. Since water retention causes period bloating, diuretics may provide relief. Many foods have natural diuretic properties. Women who are looking to relieve period bloating may want to try eating more of these types of food.
Foods that act as natural diuretics include:
Diuretics are also available in pill form. A doctor may prescribe these if period bloating is more severe and other home treatments have not helped.
- Drink lots of water: Staying hydrated is often recommended for period bloating.
Many people believe drinking more water can help to improve water retention, by improving kidney function. If this is the case, drinking more water may help to improve period bloating. It should be noted, however, that there is no scientific evidence to support this presently. Nevertheless, drinking more water improves hydration, which generally improves the way a person feels. For this reason, drinking more water is always worth a try.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates: Refined carbohydrates, such as white flour and processed sugars, cause spikes in blood sugar levels. This increases the level of insulin in the blood, which causes the kidneys to retain more sodium.
Increased sodium levels lead to more water retention. For those looking to reduce water retention and improve period bloating, it is best to avoid refined carbohydrates.
- Exercise regularly: A 2013 study found that regular exercise might help improve PMS symptoms. As period bloating is a PMS symptom, regular exercise may help to reduce it. To stay healthy, people should aim to get 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week.
- Consider the birth control pill: A 2008 study suggests the birth control pill may help improve period bloating. However, some women report that the birth control pill makes them feel more bloated.
The effect of the pill can vary from woman to woman, so it is best to discuss the birth control pill with a doctor and to try a few different types to see which one works best for managing PMS.
When to see a doctor: For most women, period bloating is unpleasant but does not stop them from being able to get on with their day. However, if period bloating affects a woman’s daily life, it is a good idea for her to speak to her doctor. If bloating does not go away after a period, it is also a good idea to talk to a doctor. Bloating can sometimes be a sign of a more serious health condition.