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Health, Health Problem & Disorder, Lifestyle

Why You Feel Bloated During Your Period And What To Do With It

Written by Lindsay Benster
Student pursuing a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of San Diego
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No matter how hard you pull at the seams, regardless of how much you suck in, your favorite pair of jeans just won’t fit. Mother Nature’s monthly gift is limiting your outfit choices yet again.

Is this extreme discomfort normal?

Yes. Not only is it normal to experience bloating from your menstrual cycle, on average 8 out of 10 women share this recurrent anguish.[1]

In general, bloating can be caused by numerous factors, some related to diet and eating habits, while others can be attributed to hormonal changes. With regards to periods however, bloating is primarily due to hormone fluctuations.

The culprit of this undesired, excessive abdominal fullness is called the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.[2] This phase lasts for roughly two weeks following ovulation, and is characterized by the uterine lining preparing for a possible pregnancy.

The uterine lining is the lining shed in the process of menstruation, and thus must be ready for release when the time comes.

In order to prepare, a key female hormone, estrogen, first decreases significantly, then gradually increases and remains at high levels. Progesterone then increases, and the combined presence of more hormones causes a high water retention, which manifests as bloating.

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Estrogen modulates growing and development of the uterine lining, and therefore plays a critical role in the weeks leading up to the bleeding period. Progesterone, on the other hand, works to counteract some of the effects of estrogen, aiding in the control and maintenance of the uterine lining.[3]

These two hormones are ultimately the source of bloating. The underlying reason why water retention inflates is not well understood, but is believed to be caused by a slower digestive process.

How to fix and prevent bloating:

Since bloating as a result of the menstrual cycle has a hormonal basis, the best prevention and alleviation can be through controlling external factors that add to it.

Some immediate actions that may help:

  • Reducing salt intake: Excessive salt adds to fluid retention when your body receives more salt than it can readily dispose. The body utilizes massive amounts of energy stores trying to metabolize the extra sodium, overwhelming elimination systems. Therefore, water is unable to be excreted and accumulates in areas such as the abdomen.
  • Staying hydrated: This may seem counterintuitive, but when your body determines it is dehydrated, it clings to the water it has, avoiding excretion. Thus, more water remains in your system than usual, collecting in certain areas.
  • Reducing tea, coffee and alcohol: These beverages are all metabolized through the liver. Your liver is also responsible for eliminating unnecessary hormones, but has a much harder time doing this when occupied by these other toxins.[4]
  • Reducing sugar intake: Sugar directly increases blood sugar levels. More sugar in the blood triggers the adrenal glands to release more hormones in order to metabolize and store the sugar appropriately. These hormones released cause an imbalance, which effects other hormones, specifically the ones capable of inducing water retention.
  • Exercise: Exercise increases circulation, which can decrease bloating. Moreover, exercise can improve strength of your abdominal wall which has been shown to relieve gas and bloating.
  • Eating a healthy diet: Adding more vegetables, in particular leafy greens, and fresh fruits to your diet have been shown to help control bloating.[5]

Beyond these easy, actionable interventions, several alternatives exist. These include:

  • Supplements: Vitamins and minerals can reduce water retention, with one of the most beneficial being vitamin B complex group. These are responsible for various physiological processes aiding in cellular metabolism. They also contribute to balancing electrolytes, which can affect urine output and water retention.
  • Herbs and bitters: These help expedite the digestive process reducing bloating due to a slowed digestion. Some of these include peppermint tea, chamomile tea, fennel, turmeric, and many others.
  • Heating pads: Applying heat allows gases to release, and the pressure building up to subside.

Featured photo credit: Everyday Health via everydayhealth.com

Reference

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