Written by Nutritional Therapist Lorna Driver-Davies.
Many women suffer from menstrual or hormonal bloating during their period. Menstrual bloating is different to other kinds of bloating that may be connected to poor digestion and the health of the gut - for example, an imbalance in gut flora, or dysbiosis. (read about other causes of bloating here).
Some people suffer from cramps and flatulence when they're bloated, read more about gas & flatulence here.
For some women, fluctuations in hormones can result in symptoms of bloating, constipation and water retention. However, it’s important to understand that some bloating or cramping just before, and during the beginning of, your period is perfectly normal. After all, your body is busy preparing to go through shedding the lining of your womb! This article is more catered to you if you feel bloating or constipation is excessive leading up to, and during, your period. (Click here to read more about constipation and bloating occuring together.)
It’s really important to be safe, so check with your GP if you are suffering from uncomfortable bloating throughout the month, particularly if it has got worse recently and is causing you any constant pain.
Are hormones to blame?
A good way of trying to see if the bloating or constipation may be triggered by hormonal fluctuations is to make a diary of when these symptoms occur and how they relate to your menstrual cycle.
Also, if you have some of the following, hormones are likely to play a part in your bloating. Symptoms of hormonal imbalances include:
- Painful periods
- Cycle variations (no pattern to pin-point your next period)
- Decreased libido
- Problems getting pregnant
- Lumpy (always have your GP check these) or painful breasts
- Heavy periods
- Facial spots that occur around your period
- Bad mood swings or feeling emotional around your period
- Fluctuations in your weight
- Conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
Found out more about bloating and your period.
Some hormonal fluctuations, and therefore menstrual bloating, can be eased by understanding two principles.
- Hormones require certain foods and a healthy lifestyle to help keep them in balance.
- A healthy body should naturally eliminate unwanted hormones; a build up of unwanted hormones can create a situation of imbalance in the first place.
Diet & Lifestyle Changes
What changes can be made to help better hormone balancing in the case of menstrual bloating?
- Significantly reduce or cut out tea, coffee and alcohol.
It is your liver’s job to get rid of unwanted hormones in the body but this normal everyday task can be harder to accomplish if the liver is constantly overburdened with toxins such as the above. Drink herbal tea or rooibosh tea instead and save alcohol for the weekends!
- Cut down on sugar!
Sugar can cause an elevation in blood sugar levels which the body then has to respond to by releasing stress hormones from the adrenal glands. Constant disruption to the normal flow of hormones in the body can have an effect on sex hormones and contribute to general hormonal imbalances. Women suffering from PCOS should especially cut out refined sugar from their diet. Try using maple syrup, sugar free honey or raw coconut sugar instead.
Read more about sugar and bloating here.
- Eat well
Make sure you eat plenty of dark green vegetables (especially broccoli, kale and watercress) and complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain (for example brown bread, rye, millet, brown rice and quinoa). Broccoli in particular is also a good source of selenium and folic acid, and happens to be Britain's 2nd favourite vegetable (find out more on this infographic!) Not only do these foods provide us with required nutrients but they provide us with well needed fibre. Fibre helps to soak up and eliminate excess hormones which help to better regulate bowel movements. Emptying our bowels is also another way to get rid of unwanted hormones.
- Avoid soya
Foods rich in soya, such as soya milk or tofu, contain oestrogen. This can interfere with our normal balance of sex hormones. If you are trying to avoid cow’s milk; use oat milk, almond milk or coconut milk instead of soya milk, or at least try to alternate between different kinds. It's best to avoid rice milk; this is often made from white rice which is not a complex, (slow burning) carbohydrate.
- Avoid cooking or re-heating foods in plastic.
Use ceramic or baking tins/trays instead. Once plastics are heated, tiny traces can leak into the food and this may alter our natural balance of hormones.
These are some of my favourite supplements for dealing with imbalanced hormones & bloating (don't feel like you need to take them all!);
- Liver Cleanse
I recommend a product by Herbs Hands Healing called ‘Pollutox’ which you buy here - www.nutricentre.com. This product is specifically designed to help clear the body of toxins (or a build up of excess hormones) using specific herbal foods such as dandelion and burdock (and more) in a capsule format. There is also watercress in this product; shown in research to help with oestrogen balancing.
- Omega Oils
Eat plenty of oily fish or use fish oil capsules. The omega 3 fatty acids found in fish are important for hormone production in the body and may help some women who experience excessive cramping and painful periods. I recommend 1-2 capsules a day of MorEPA by Minami.
I always recommend a quality probiotic, like For daily wellbeing EXTRA Strength by OptiBac Probiotics. By keeping your digestion supported your body will better absorb nutrients from foods and supplements. So if you’re supplementing with zinc, for example, then you have a better chance of getting that zinc into your system.
- Magnesium and vitamin B6
These may be helpful to reduce bloating, cramping and painful periods. I recommend using Biofood Magnesium by Cytoplan (take 3 tablets before bed) and using their P-5-P complex (vitamin B6).
Also from Cytoplan, use their zinc 15mg – zinc is important for hormone production and regulation in the body and can assist with those who find they are prone to hormonal spots too.
- Agnus Castus
I also recommend using another herb called agnus castus. This is naturally hormone balancing (it does not contain any hormones). Use the new licensed version by Biohealth called ‘Periagna’.
For further reading take a look at Natural Remedies for Bloating (many of which can still apply to menstrual bloating) or read more tips for bloating around your period in this recent blogpost.
Lorna is a qualified nutritionist & herbal medicine dispenser, and founder of www.feelbetternutrition.co.uk.
Image of woman holding stomach courtesy of Ohmega1982.
Image of sugar lumps courtesy of Suat Eman.
Image of got water bottle courtesy of Ambro.
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