Did you know women are twice as likely to experience bloating than men? Bloating can be caused by many things - from foods we eat to underlying medical conditions - but there is also a strong link between abdominal bloating and the hormonal fluctuations throughout our menstrual cycle. Here we’ll break down all things bloating and share some tips on how to make sure it doesn’t burst your bubble.
Why does bloating happen?
Abdominal bloating is when your tummy feels full and uncomfortable. It impacts different people to different severities and can manifest in many ways.
It may be that your stomach feels and looks bigger, but it could also be painful. Some people might also notice strange noises coming from their stomach and you might find that you are passing wind more than usual!
Ultimately bloating comes down to two things - trapped wind and trapped fluid. Gas can build up in our stomach for numerous reasons, from too many fizzy drinks to issues with digestion. When this happens, the body will try its best to expel the excess gas (hello increased farting) but some of it will get trapped and this is what can contribute to bloating.
Trapped fluid aka water retention is another underlying cause of bloating. Our body is made up of 50 to 60% water but when certain parts of the body hold on to fluid for too long it can cause uncomfortable swelling. You can experience water retention in your abdominal area but it’s also common in other areas of the body like legs and hands.
Why do we get bloated around our period?
If you experience painful abdominal bloating before or during your period, you are not alone. In fact, 75% of women report feeling bloated at this time in their menstrual cycle and a 2011 study found that bloating was generally worse on the first day of a woman’s period. But why does it happen?
As with many areas of women’s health, there is still a huge lack of research into period health symptoms like bloating, but experts believe it’s caused by the hormonal changes that happen just before our period arrives.
In our luteal phase (the time between ovulation and our period) our oestrogen levels rise and then dip again. Around the same time, our progesterone levels fall too - and this is what triggers our bleeding.
When oestrogen is high, it can cause our adrenal glands to produce aldosterone, which helps regulate our sodium levels. This can affect your kidney function and lead to a water/salt imbalance aka water retention! The lower progesterone levels we experience just before our period can also slow our digestive systems down, which can lead to constipation, issues with going to the toilet (aka dreaded period poos) and trapped wind. And what do you get when you add trapped wind and trapped fluid together? A recipe for painful bloating.
How to manage period bloating
Just because period bloating is common, doesn’t mean it’s something you have to put up with. There are many things you can do to help reduce your risk of bloating - or help ease it if it happens!
Once again, we’re here to make the case for exercising on your period. We know that with the pain and fatigue that can come with your bleed, working out might not be top of the list of things you want to do. But light exercise, like a walk in the countryside or a flowing yoga class, can help to improve circulation (which can ease water retention) and release endorphins - which are your body’s natural pain relievers!
Think About What You Eat and How You Eat It
There are some classic foods and drinks that we associate with bloating - things that are highly processed, spicy or fizzy. So if you’re struggling to break up with period bloating, it might be best to avoid these. There also might be specific foods that don’t agree with your gut - from lactose to gluten - so be aware of these trigger foods too.
When it comes to bloating, it’s not just what you eat but how you eat too. When we eat too fast we can inhale extra air as we digest - and this can inflate our stomachs like a balloon! Try to eat slowly and mindfully (that means saying goodbye to TV dinners, sorry…)
Our mind and our gut are more connected than you may think. Stress can contribute to bloating by triggering inflammation and bacterial imbalances in the gut. We know that the hormonal changes around our period can increase stress and anxiety - as well as water retention - so try to be kind to yourself around this time. Reduce stress where you can, whether that’s slowing down your schedule or making time for mindful activities like meditation and breathwork.
Our MyDebloat supplement has been created specifically to tackle 3 of the key causes of abdominal bloating - water retention, inflammation and poor digestion - whilst soothing your stomach with natural ingredients like peppermint oil. The magnesium also helps to relax your muscles - in both your digestive system and uterus - so it also helps with painful cramping!
Other conditions to be aware of
Whilst for many people period bloating will be a painful, uncomfortable inconvenience that pops up at certain points of their cycle - for some it can be a sign of something more serious.
For people living with endometriosis, painful abdominal bloating can be an ongoing and debilitating symptom. This is known as Endo Belly. If your bloating is accompanied by painful, heavy periods, pain during sex, fatigue or low mood, it could be a sign of endometriosis.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition (in fact it’s more common in women than men!) that impacts the digestive system. It’s usually a lifelong condition with symptoms including stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation that can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
Coeliac disease is a condition where your immune system attacks your body when you eat gluten. This damages your gut so your body cannot properly take in nutrients and can lead to a whole host of issues including bloating and abdominal pain. There is currently no cure for coeliac disease, but following a gluten-free diet can really help with symptoms.
No one deserves to struggle with painful bloating. MyDebloat can help with bloating associated with the menstrual cycle but if you're concerned there could be something more at play, always reach out to your doctor.