Bloating and PMS

Bloating can be a common symptom of the premenstrual syndrome, characterised by a feeling of tightness in the abdomen

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
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An introduction to bloating and PMS

Bloating, weight gain and a general feeling of being more ‘swollen’ are common symptoms of PMS.

Some women find that they can’t get rings on their fingers in the lead up to their period; for others, it may be that their clothes do not fit as well. These symptoms tend to appear a few days before a period is due and resolve as soon after menstrual bleeding begins.

If however, you feel bloated or swollen for more than two weeks each month, or all through the month, it will be worth checking your symptoms out with your doctor. In addition, if bloating is accompanied by abdominal pains which are different from your normal period pains, seek medical advice as these symptoms may require investigation.

Why does PMS cause bloating?

There are two main reasons why women might feel bloated during this time of the month:

  • Bloating may be caused by what is commonly referred to as ‘water retention’. The female hormones have an influence on the amount of fluid present in your tissues and as they fluctuate in the 2 weeks before each menstrual bleed, there is a tendency for the body to store water. A bit of weight gain may be noticed in addition to the sensation of being swollen or bloated
  • In addition, women may experience changes in appetite during this time of the month, with a tendency to cravings for foods such as chocolate and the occasional binge on sugary foods. These dietary changes may lead to disturbances in your bowel function, altering bowel habits. Some women may become constipated, whilst others experience loose motions or diarrhoea. Both can give rise to bloating in the digestive tract  as an excess of wind or gas builds up.

What can I do to help myself?

There are a number of steps to take which could help:

  • Keep your digestive system healthy. Taking care of what you eat and drink is going to have the most significant impact upon your symptom. You should be able to work out the foods that will aggravate your symptoms and no matter how tasty they are, cut these down during this time of the month
  • Potassium and magnesium are important minerals for reducing the symptoms associated with water retention. They help to counterbalance the level of sodium in the body. Sodium leads to water retention and the more sodium you eat (found in all those salty snacks) the more potassium and magnesium your body needs to counter the effect. Magnesium and potassium occur naturally in foods such as dark leafy greens or bananas. If bloating is a regular and troublesome symptom, it may be worth trying a magnesium supplement, (as well as reducing your salt intake)
  • Cut back on foods rich in refined sugar. Consumption of sugar triggers the release of insulin into the bloodstream. This in turn, causes the body to retain sodium, which leads to water retention and bloating
  • Keep hydrated. Although it seems counterintuitive to drink plenty of water when you are suffering from fluid retention, it is actually really important to keep hydrated. If you do not drink enough, your body thinks that there is a drought about to come and stores the water it has rather than letting it pass through. It is important to keep hydrated all through the month, not just when your symptoms become apparent.

Are there herbal remedies to help me?

As PMS is at the root of your symptom of bloating, treating this should be the first approach. The herb Agnus castus has been used for decades to help with balancing the female hormones. Also known as the Chaste Tree or Chasteberry, it can help to reduce the emotional symptoms of PMS (eg. mood swing, anxiety) as well as the physical ones such as period cramps, breast pain and bloating.

TIP: Read why so many women recommend Agnus castus to relieve symptoms of PMS

However, if you are already taking HRT, hormonal medication or hormonal contraceptives, Agnus castus may not be suitable for you.

If your digestive tract is causing you to feel bloated, you might benefit from using fermented whey rich in L+ lactic acid. This substance supports good gut bacteria and helps improve the function of your digestive system.

What about medicines from my doctor?

If you have not found non-prescription medicines to be effective, then it may be worth checking with your doctor to see if there is another cause for your bloating.

If symptoms require treatment, your doctor may prescribe diuretics for water retention; however, these can strip the body of essential minerals such as potassium and magnesium, so it is important to ensure you are maintaining an appropriate diet while on these medications.

As PMS is at the root of your problem, your doctor may prescribe hormonal treatment such as the contraceptive pill.

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A traditional herbal remedy used to relieve the symptoms of PMS
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Here's what I recommend

As the A.Vogel Women's Health advisor, I recommend Agnus castus to help relieve symptoms such as menstrual cramps, breast tenderness and irritability.

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