Female hormones as a cause of bloating

Can PMS and peri-menopause cause bloating?


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
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An introduction to female hormones and bloating

Unfortunately weight gain, feeling swollen, bloated and suffering from water retention are common complaints from many women, and hormones often have a part to play.

We have two main female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. Throughout a typical monthly cycle, these hormones fluctuate in specific patterns in order to initiate ovulation and eventually your period. However, out with these functions, these hormones can also have effects elsewhere around the body. Although they are classed as our ‘sex hormones’ actually, they can have a magnitude of effects elsewhere (we have oestrogen receptors all over our body) as well as potentially having effects on other distinct hormones. Our endocrine system is interlinked and changes in one area can easily have a domino effect on other parts. 

So why do some women suffer more than others? Conditions such as PMS and menopause are thought to be characterised by hormone imbalances which can give rise to a number of uncomfortable symptoms.

What are female hormones?

The female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone are hugely important. These hormones are responsible for kick-starting puberty, and give us a menstrual cycle for the rest of our lives, allowing us to successfully reproduce. However, these hormones are thought to exert effects around the whole body – not only in and around the womb. We know that oestrogen receptors are located all over the body, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Oestrogen is thought to be important for supporting the health of our skin, digestive system, joints and much more. However, this also means if our hormones slip out of balance, we can be left feeling the effects. 

Understanding your period and the symptoms of hormone imbalance is really important. If you think that you could be affected, why not click the link to watch our video blog on this topic as our Women’s Health Advisor Emma explains all.

How can female hormones give rise to bloating?

Our sex hormones follow a distinct pattern each month, and at certain times (for example as one hormone drops off and another becomes dominant) it means that symptoms are more likely to crop up. 

However, if a hormone imbalance is apparent, symptoms can become really quite troublesome. Symptoms related to bloating can take many different forms and people are often affected differently. Although we don’t understand fully why some women end up feeling so bloated, some theories do exist:

  • Water retention – for other women, rather than toilet troubles, water retention is more of an issue. Water weight is a common complaint and although we don’t understand the exact cause, it seems the hormone oestrogen may be to blame. For women suffering from more typical PMS symptoms including heavy, painful periods, mood swings and sore breasts – water retention is often more likely to crop up
  • Weight gain – Although bloating associated with female hormones in many cases is short-lived, in some cases, for example, in the lead up to the menopause, bloating and weight gain around the middle can become more of a long-term problem. Although the mechanisms aren’t well understood, these symptoms are thought to be related to low oestrogen. Oestrogen is thought to have an influence on a number of different hormones, some of which that may affect our appetite and metabolism, so it’s important to try and keep it nicely in balance if at all possible!

What can I try at home to help manage my hormones?

There are simple steps you can take at home in order to help protect against excess bloating thought to be caused by hormones:

  • Drink plenty of water – Drinking enough water will not only help ensure your gut moves along nicely, (helping to protect against the vicious cycle of constipation), but it also helps to ward off water retention. If you aren’t properly hydrated your body is more likely to cling onto any extra reserves!
  • Watch your body weight – Both being under or over weight can have a negative impact on your hormones, which as above, can give rise to symptoms including bloating. Our fat cells act as oestrogen reservoirs so if you have too many, or not enough, you can risk throwing this important hormone out of balance
  • Manage stress – Although not directly, stress may have effects on bloating. Stress can influence certain hormones, which can in turn disrupt our menstrual cycle, which as we now know, can lead to bloating. However, stress may also lead to bloating and weight gain around the middle for other reasons. This is all part of a protective, evolutionary mechanism which is in place to ensure that a source of energy, is easily accessible, near the liver, for when it may be needed to be mobilised into energy. 

However, with modern day stress (which is more psychological than physical) we don’t exert enough energy to use these resources, and instead, we risk storing this energy unnecessarily. Consider managing your stress more effectively and it could help your waistline too!

How can natural remedies help?

There are some natural remedies available which can help support female hormones and the associated symptoms of hormone imbalance:

Can my doctor help?

If your symptoms of PMS are severe, home and herbal remedies aren’t working for you, or you aren’t quite sure what the cause of your bloating is, we recommend you go to your doctor for advice. If hormones are the likely cause, they may suggest trying a hormonal contraceptive to help manage this temporarily.

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