Does your weight vary throughout the month? Do you put on up to half a stone or even more around your period? You are not alone. This is all part of PMS - premenstrual syndrome.
If you suffer from bloat and discomfort it could be due to abdominal distension caused by IBS - irritable bowel syndrome. If you have symptoms of IBS like constipation or diarrhoea, before or during your period, this can cause the bloated feeling. This often has nothing to do with water retention and there may be no weight gain at all, however much it feels like it! Or you may just have regular bloating with definite water retention and measurable weight gain. And of course some of us are unlucky enough to have both!
The problem is what to do about it.
Many people cut out salt in an effort to stop the water retention, but if it's actually abdominal distension it won't help at all. And research shows that cutting out salt doesn't seem to make much difference to most women's symptoms. If anything, women crave saltier or sweeter foods, which seems to show that our perception of taste changes according to our cycle. However if your bloating symptoms are very severe you may want to discuss with your doctor cutting down on your salt, or even taking a diuretic.
Research carried out by Columbia University in America in the late 1990's shows that taking a calcium carbonate supplement of around 1200mg a day can significantly reduce pre-menstrual symptoms. Women in the study found that their symptoms of water retention, food cravings, moodiness and pain were reduced on average by almost half within three cycles! Some women of course benefitted even more. So it's definitely worth trying a calcium supplement to see if that helps you.
Evening Primrose Oil
There is very little evidence to show that evening primrose oil is helpful for bloating, although some women find it helpful for breast tenderness.
Many women take vitamin B6 to help PMS symptoms which can help, but you need to be careful not to take too much. Taking between 50 - 100mg of vitamin B6 is fine, but taking more than 200mg can cause neurological problems. So make sure that the total amount stays under 100mg if you take a multi-vitamin supplement as well as vitamin B6.
Some women find that going on the pill, even if they don't want it for contraceptive purposes, can help, especially in a high oestrogen-low progesterone formula. This is because suppressing ovulation seems to relieve a lot, if not all, PMS symptoms. In fact one of the ways doctors check to see if you really have very severe PMS is to suppress ovulation for between 3 and 6 months. If your symptoms go away then they diagnose PMS. If you still have problems then there is something else wrong.
Keeping A Calendar
If you keep a proper diary of your menstrual cycle and any symptoms you may have, this will help your doctor to decide on what treatment, if any, might be necessary. This obviously depends on the severity of your symptoms. Recent research by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists shows that a properly kept diary is the simplest and easiest way of diagnosing PMS. You can get a menstrual cycle chart to show your symptoms from your GP, local Family Planning Clinic or even in a chemists like Boots.