This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

Premenstrual Bloating: It's About Your Hormones, Not Your Diet

Premenstrual Bloating: It's About Your Hormones, Not Your Diet
woman with stomach cramps
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woman with stomach cramps

It’s a natural (and pretty amazing) process roughly half of the world’s population experience, but ask most women how they feel about their period and they’ll tell you it’s a monthly inconvenience.

Not only does it require you to become a serial clock watcher but it brings with it other fun things like breast tenderness, cramping and bloating -- the latter starting way before your period begins.

“Premenstrual bloating occurs as a result of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone levels begin to rise in a woman’s body as soon as ovulation occurs,” Professor Susan R Davis, Women’s Health at Monash University told The Huffington Post Australia.

A little science lesson: this is to prepare the lining of the uterus for a pregnancy, should fertilisation occur. And as a result, means lots of changes in the body as progesterone levels peak, including bloating around one week before bleeding starts.

“Some women feel nothing. Other women experience mood changes, breast swelling and fluid retention. On top of that, progesterone causes smooth muscle in our body to dilate. It’s basically like a little pre-pregnancy, without being pregnant,” Davis said.

By the first day of your period, progesterone levels have dropped off but that doesn’t mean the symptoms stop. Davis likens this process to a marathon, whereby your body is still feeling the effects of the progesterone peak.

“If you go for a 20-kilometre run, you might feel fine for the first day, but the next day you’re really tired,” Davis said.

When it comes to easing bloating and fluid retention, Davis said it comes down to common sense and urges that it is a hormone issue -- not a diet issue -- so basically, no magic vegetable or herbal tea will reduce symptoms.

Food has little to do with it

“What’s happening is a hormone change -- what you eat will have very little effect on how much you bloat. The only exception would be if you were to eat really gassy foods like cabbage and baked beans that will bloat you anyway,” Davis said.

Physical activity helps

“Exercise can reduce fluid retention because you’re actually pumping blood through the system and getting rid of fluid,” Davis said.

Diuretic tablets aren’t recommended

“Some women take diuretic tablets during this time to get rid of the bloating -- but this isn’t helpful. The fluid is between the cells and in the tissues and all this does is dehydrate women,” Davis said.

Get your Zzz’s

"If you’re sleep deprived, it’s not going to make the bloating worse but it may make you more conscious of the bloating. Plus, sleep deprivation doesn’t help with mood swings,” Davis said.

Don't discount a healthy diet

“Being fit and healthy is always going to help. When you are unfit and unhealthy symptoms become worse and we become more vulnerable to illness,” Davis said.

Minimise alcohol consumption

“Consuming large amounts of alcohol and coffee during this time probably isn’t recommended, especially for those women who report mood swings. That said, consuming these things in large amounts is never a good idea, at any time of the month,” Davis said.

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