Water Retention and the Menopause
Thursday, 03 December, 2020

Water Retention and the Menopause

Author: Susie Perrie Debice

Feeling swollen and puffy? Are you approaching the menopause? You’re not alone. Water retention is a classic menopause symptom.

These symptoms occur many years before you actually reach the menopause — these earlier stages being known as the perimenopause. During this time of change, but also during the menopause, women can experience bloating. It’s down to rapid hormonal changes within our bodies.

If you’re looking for information, help and advice, then you’re in the right place. Exactly what is menopausal water retention, how does it happen and what steps can I take to help manage fluid balance? 

Menopause water retention — it’s down to fluctuating hormones

During the menopause, oestrogen and progesterone go through a transition. These hormones — crucial for sexual and reproductive development — stop following a monthly cycle and achieve a constant resting level. After this, menstruation ceases.

Oestrogen tends to have an impact on sodium and fluid retention, and progesterone helps to keep oestrogen’s fluid retention activity in check.

However, during stages of the menopause (particularly the earlier perimenopause stage), oestrogen and progesterone levels become unpredictable, fluctuating vastly from one day to the next.

These hormonal swings can create a disruption in the body’s ability to maintain normal fluid balance. As a result, tell-tale signs of water retention may start to be experienced.

Menopause water retention — what are the signs?

The following symptoms can be crucial indicators of menopausal bloating.

  • Puffy eyes and face
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Sore or swollen breasts
  • Swollen hands, ankles and feet
  • Daily weight fluctuation of 1–3 pounds
  • Abdominal discomfort and bloating
  • Raised blood pressure

Menopausal weight gain and water retention — which one is it?

Menopausal hormonal changes can cause our bodies to gain weight faster, as well as encouraging this extra fluff to be stored more readily around the belly. You could also be gaining weight because you’re aging, or due to lifestyle changes.

On the other hand, an increase in weight could also be predominantly because of retained water. Naturally, if you’re bloated, you’ll be carrying more water weight.

To distinguish bloating from menopause weight gain, keep an eye on your abdomen; if it protrudes and changes throughout the day, you’re most likely bloated — daily weight fluctuations between 1–3 pounds (0.45–1.3kg) can be a tell-tale indicator of bloating.

Usually, bloating will also be accompanied by pain and discomfort. It’s worth noting that bloating does also only tend to happen for shorter periods of time, particularly after eating or during hormone fluctuations.

What about gas vs. water bloating?

Gas retention tends to be focused exclusively on the stomach, whereas water bloating can affect other body parts including hands, feet and ankles. A few top tips for avoiding gas bloating include avoiding fizzy drinks, chewing your food properly and having smaller meals.

How to stop menopause bloating — tips & advice

So, you’ve ruled out weight gain and gas. How do I stop menopause water bloating? Consider incorporating some of the following changes into your lifestyle.

Tackle stress

It’s one of the most fundamental but effective bloating remedies — taking action to eliminate anxiety and stress.

During times of prolonged stress, the adrenal glands secrete stress hormones. These hormones function to trip the nervous system into high-alert status, a very physiologically different state from the natural ‘rest and digest’ status.

Stress hormones are effective and quickly flip the muscles, lungs, heart, brain and eyes into a flight or fight standby mode.

The menopause, for some women, brings many challenges: heightened anxiety, poor sleep and fatigue. Hormonal changes can also make us feel more stressed than normal.

As one particular stress hormone — cortisol — increases, so too does the level of ADH (antidiuretic hormone). This encourages the body to retain water.

Therefore, find ways to manage stress levels. This could be through counselling, massage, exercise or just discussing and sharing your menopause experience. This will all help to settle these hormones and take the pressure off your water balance.

Cut back on sodium

Salt provides an important flavour profile to food and when the body is low on minerals, cravings for salty foods may start to become more apparent. Salt is made up of crystals of sodium chloride — it’s the sodium part of the compound that is important.

If you are suffering from water retention or high blood pressure, then cutting back on sodium is a recommended guideline; too much of it encourages the body to hold on to water. Reducing sodium intake is a natural way to deal with swollen and puffy extremities.

In fact, the body requires no more than 2.4g of sodium per day — this can be found in as little as 6g of salt; that’s equal to just one teaspoon.

When it comes to the practical steps for reducing sodium, it’s important to get an understanding between sodium and salt values found on the nutrition information table on food packaging.

It can be confusing because some food products list the salt value, and some list the sodium value.

  • To convert sodium to salt: multiply sodium by 2.5 (1g sodium per 100g = 2.5 g of salt per 100g)
  • To convert salt into sodium: divide salt value by 2.5 (3.5g salt per serving = 1.4g sodium per serving)

Foods that are high in salt and best avoided during times of water retention include:

  • Bacon
  • Anchovies
  • Cheese
  • Ham
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Prawns
  • Salami
  • Salted nuts
  • Salted snacks
  • Crisps
  • Stock cubes
  • Yeast extract
  • Soy sauce
  • Smoked meat and fish.

Foods containing hidden salt include:

  • Pasta sauces
  • Bread
  • Bakery products
  • Pizza
  • Soup
  • Sandwiches
  • Sausages
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Breakfast cereals.

These foods don’t always taste salty, but you need to check the labels — you could be in for surprise at just how much salt they contain!

Harness the power of potassium

Nature always provides us with a tool to help restore balance. In the case of sodium, it’s another mineral called potassium which has an opposing influence on fluid balance.

Whereas sodium encourages the body to retain water, as an electrolyte, potassium contributes to fluid balance. It is involved with the normal functioning of the nervous system and the maintenance of normal blood pressure.

So, where do we find potassium in nature? The answer is fruits and vegetables, which is why getting your 5-a-day is so important.

The AI (Adequate Intake) for potassium is 3.5g a day, but it’s thought that most people don’t achieve this daily level.

Good sources of potassium include:

  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pomegranate
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Watermelon
  • Cannellini beans
  • Edamame
  • Butternut squash
  • Dried apricots
  • Beetroot.

Herbal hydration

When you recognise that your body is retaining water, a natural first instinct may be to stop drinking as much. However, this could be counterproductive; when you’re dehydrated, your body is likely to cling onto fluids. Keeping hydrated becomes even more of a priority to help cope with fluid balance.

One way to support hydration and help your body deal with fluid retention is to focus on herbal teas such as nettle tea, fennel tea, dandelion tea and green tea — each of these have a mild diuretic effect.

In a nutshell: your water bloating remedies

Dealing with menopause water retention needs to be no more complicated than making a few simple adjustments to your lifestyle and diet.

Check in on your stress levels, make sure to exercise, watch your sodium intake and consider incorporating potassium and herbal fluids into your diet.

Needless to say, if you’re very concerned or your bloating is causing a huge amount of discomfort or pain, it’s always recommended to get in touch with a doctor for a professional medical take!

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