If you menstruate, then you’re well aware that bloating before and during your period is real AF and not fun at all. Why do we experience this extreme bloat-y discomfort during our periods, and how can we avoid it? To find out how to beat bloat once and for all, SheKnows asked health experts for their preferred natural tips and remedies to relieve the pain and discomfort menstruators experience during their period and while PMSing every month.
First things first, where does this bloat come from? According to Dr. Anna Cabeca, triple board-certified Emory University-trained physician, hormones like estrogen and progesterone fluctuate during this time, resulting in up to 5-10 extra pounds of fluid and sodium. Dr. Ashley Margeson, board-certified naturopathic doctor with a strong focus on women’s health, hormonal regulation, and health optimization, also adds that inflammatory molecules called prostaglandins are another large factor, which aren’t easy to drop but manageable nonetheless.
Temeaka Gray, PsyD, MBA, APRN-BC, women’s health nurse practitioner and assistant professor in The University of Toledo College of Nursing, tells SheKnows that premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual disorder (PMD) are “very real conditions that affect 3 out of 4 women” with multiple possible symptoms, including but not limited to bloating, swelling, mood changes, increases in appetite and cravings for certain foods.
Whatever the reason for bloating, Gray reminds us that the following remedies are not to be considered medical advice as they are aimed at helping you help yourself. “The key for managing PMS and its symptoms is to find a routine that works for you,” she says. “If these holistic self-care options do not work, contact your medical provider. They may want to prescribe herbal preparations or medications to assist you.”
According to Dr. Cabeca, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut can increase levels of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, which in turn triggers reabsorption of estrogen back into circulation. “This leads to estrogen dominance, a condition in which you have insufficient progesterone to balance the effects of estrogen in your body. There are numerous symptoms as a result, including [more] bloating and gas.”
Yinova Center’s acupuncturist and herbalist, Mary Hamawy, LAc, MS, recommends taking weekly probiotics to ensure your body has the healthy bacteria and balanced yeast it needs to function properly. She also recommends trying fermented foods — such as kombucha, kimchee, or sauerkraut. But go easy at first, so you don’t unintentionally trigger more gassy discomfort.
Certain supplements can work as a natural diuretic to fight bloat. “Studies show that potassium increases urine production, which helps reduce water retention by excreting it through urination. Potassium also reduces the body’s level of sodium,” says Dr. Don Grant of The Independent Pharmacy.
According to Yeral Patel, MD, a physician located in Newport Beach, CA, turmeric and omega-3 fish oil are two of the most potent and safest anti-inflammatory supplements that help beat bloat. Additionally, Dr. Nancy Lin, who has her Ph.D. in holistic nutrition and is a member of Smarter Nutrition’s scientific advisory board, says that curcumin, the bioactive compound found in turmeric, has demonstrated both anti-inflammatory and neurological effects in studies. Endometriosis survivor and women’s health coach April Summerford also suggests taking activated charcoal and magnesium up to and through menstruation.
Try CBD products
I love using CBD salves and oils to relieve PMS-induced inflammation. Although many others vouch for the anti-inflammatory magic of CBD products, Dr. Junella Chin, Medical Advisor for cannabisMD, still notes that there’s a lack of data for its efficacy.
“Looking at California alone, we have 20-plus years of anecdotal evidence supporting the efficacy of medical cannabis,” she says. “[But the] FDA has remained firm in their position that it is unlawful to introduce food or beverages containing CBD or THC into interstate commerce or market these products as dietary supplements. FDA may consider some delivery forms of CBD to be ‘drugs’ and not natural supplements.”
So, take this tip with a grain of salt (or not, because salt retains water).
Reduce salt intake
Try to avoid consuming excess salt that will hold onto more sodium and water. “Although you may crave salty snacks, they can make your body retain fluids which can lead to bloating and exacerbate your existing feelings of fullness,” says Adina Mahalli MSW, certified mental health consultant and women’s health specialist at Maple Holistics.
Drink more water
Drinking more water might sound counterintuitive, but it’s an “all-around PMS wonder drug,” and consuming it is critical at every stage of your cycle, says Hamawy. “Water nourishes and flushes, eases constipation and pain, and helps with breakouts too.” She suggests dividing your body weight by 50 to find out how many quarts of water you should drink during your cycle.
“Your kidneys need a constant supply of water to properly eliminate fluids and waste products from your body. If water is in short supply, the kidneys tend to hoard water, and bloat can set in,” adds Dr. Cabeca. Also, try to avoid (or limit) alcohol, sugary juices and caffeine, which may cause dehydration and even worsen your bloating.
When PMSing, the last thing you want to do is work out, but it’s actually a great way to de-bloat. That’s because physical activity can rid that pent up extra fluid by increasing blood flow to your tissues and making you sweat, says Mahalli. “The more you exercise, the more you’ll sweat and the less fluid your body will retain, leading to minimal period bloat and a healthier, leaner body throughout your period.”
Gray adds that meditative exercise, such as yoga, can impact pain and other symptoms associated with PMS as well. Crunched for time and can’t do a 45-minute Vinyasa flow sesh? Dr. Renee Wellenstein, double board certified physician and OB/GYN, suggests something as simple as a brisk 15 minute morning walk to wake up your intestines.
Grab a cup of tea to go with that heating pad! Mix some turmeric, ginger, and lemon in hot water and relax in bed as your bloat melts away. Okay, not literally, but Dr. Margeson swears that tea is her go-to against PMS bloat. “If your bloating is primarily focused around your belly, my secret weapon is a combination of peppermint and chamomile teas, as they’re both herbs known as carminatives.” She says that carminatives soothe the tummy and help with any unwanted gassiness and bloating, while the menthol found in peppermint relaxes the uterine muscles.
“If you’re feeling swollen everywhere before your period then your whole system might need a bit of a helping hand, especially if you get swollen, sore breasts,” she says. If this is the case, ditch your regular tea and coffee and replace it with dandelion tea. “Its diuretic properties help shift extra water out of your system, helping to reduce your breast swelling and bloating.”
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
The way you eat can be the key to less bloat leading up to and during your period. Although you might crave chips, cake, and other treats, refined processed carbs might not be your best bet as they tend to increase bloating rather than decrease it. “Avoid processed sugar, hydrogenated oils, and hard to digest gains like gluten,” says Summerford. “Eat plenty of leafy greens and broccoli to eliminate estrogens and allow for bowel movements, as the luteal phase is progesterone dominant which can cause constipation in some women.”
Dr. Margeson recommends swapping out nightshade veggies, like white potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and even paprika, with root vegetables, like beets and carrots, which are high in healthy fibers. Eating foods that promote urine production, like asparagus, pineapples, cucumber, garlic, and ginger will serve as natural diuretics, too, says Jamie Bacharach, licensed medical acupuncturist specializing in women’s health and head of practice at Acupuncture Jerusalem. And to Dr. Grant’s previous point of ingesting more potassium, he suggests eating foods rich in that sweet, sweet K, like bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados and spinach.
Amp up the heat
Most of us already keep a heating pad nearby when it’s that time of the month. That’s because heat is proven to naturally reduce pain and swelling from PMS. Hamawy says using a heat source, like a pad or even a hot water bottle, can help to stimulate blood movement, which is extra helpful for people with menstrual clotting.
Trade in that acidic glass of wine for some lemon-cucumber water instead. “Alkaline menu choices will help balance your body’s pH and reduce bloating quickly and safely,” says Hamawy. She recommends making these changes a week or so before your period.
According to Dr. Ralph E. Holsworth, D.O., director of clinical and scientific research at Essentia Water, ionized, alkaline water can also help to increase hydration, stabilize your pH, and reduce bloat. “From my clinical perspective, [alkaline water] is able to rehydrate and nurture nature’s innate ability to restore itself to a balanced equilibrium or homeostasis.”
Check out alternative therapies
If these tips don’t work to help you find your perfect bloat-busting routine, consider consulting with a therapist. Therapies like acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs can also work to relieve painful bloating and poor blood circulation associated with PMS and dysmenorrhea.
Chiropractic adjustments have also long been touted for their ability to help with nagging period symptoms, says Dr. Brandon Buttry, CEO and chiropractor at OneHealth Chiropractic. “Adjusting the lower back and pelvis ease pressure on vital nerve trunks that supply the digestive tract as well as the smooth muscle that is often involved in [menstruation].”
However, remember that these self-help tips are not meant to be used as medical advice or in place of treatment. So please seek a professional medical advisor or your primary doctor if you experience painful menstruation symptoms and need further relief.
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There are so many period products out there. Check out some of the options available to menstruators in 2020:
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