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PMS symptoms: is weight gain normal?

Laura Harcourt

Written byLaura Harcourt

Dr Shazia Malik

Reviewed byDr Shazia Malik

Young happy woman having fun while spending time with her friends in a pub.
From anxiety to weight gain, there are many PMS symptoms. Here, you'll learn more about your symptoms, and if weight gain is normal on your period.
Have you ever felt heavier or more bloated just before or during your period? Well, it’s not just in your head. The fact is that, throughout the menstrual cycle, it’s thought that you can add on extra pounds that weren’t there before.1-3

In fact, a recent study in 2023 found that women during their menstrual cycle had a weight gain of 0.5kg compared to the first week of their menstrual cycle. Extracellular fluid retention has been noted by researchers to be a potential cause for this weight gain.4

But don’t worry – researchers believe it’s completely normal for your weight to fluctuate throughout your cycle. Weight gained just before or during your period isn’t permanent weight gain and it isn’t usually anything to worry about.1

Normally, you’ll gain some weight in the couple of days before your period begins. This will then come off naturally over the first few days of your period.1

Here, we explore the reasons for weight gain and what you can do to minimise those uncomfortable bloated feelings.

Common PMS symptoms

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the name for the symptoms people who menstruate might experience in the weeks leading up to their period.5

Some people don’t experience any adverse symptoms at all, in which case they wouldn’t be considered to struggle with PMS. It’s also perfectly normal to struggle with PMS symptoms some months, and not others – or for your PMS symptoms to vary from month to month. Overall though, PMS is a common problem among people who menstruate.5,6

PMS begins about a week or so before your period starts, and involves a number of uncomfortable symptoms, such as:5,6
  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • food cravings
  • acne
  • breast tenderness
  • bloating
  • weight gain

Why can PMS cause weight gain?

As if you don’t have enough to deal with on your period, adding an extra week of PMS symptoms into the mix can make you feel like you’re on a mental and physical rollercoaster.

As every body is different, weight gain during PMS differs from person to person.

But why might you gain weight just before your period? Well, there are a number of potential reasons. Ultimately, they all come down to the natural changes you experience in your body throughout your menstrual cycle.

Hormonal changes

Just before your period, your oestrogen levels drop rapidly, letting your body know that it’s time to start menstruation. However, progesterone levels rise after ovulation – and it’s this hormone shift that can cause your body to retain more water.1

Importantly though, while this water retention might make the number on the scale increase or cause some swelling in puffiness in different areas of the body, this isn’t the same as gaining weight.1,7

Period cravings

Ever wanted to eat a life-size bar of chocolate during your period? Or maybe a cheesy pizza?

Unfortunately, being on your period doesn’t tend to make you crave salad or vegetables.

Due to changes in your progesterone and metabolism, some emerging studies have shown that you’re more likely to crave salty and sweet food during this time.8-11 However, eating salty foods and simple carbohydrates can lead to fluid retention and potentially result in extra water weight.12

Menstrual bloating

Your stomach might feel tight and swollen around five days before your period, causing pre-period weight gain.13

This may be due to hormonal changes, which can increase gas in your gastrointestinal tract and cause bloating, making you feel heavier.13-15

Constipation

Just before your period starts, progesterone levels spike, which can lead to health problems in your digestive system.16

This can result in constipation before and during your period, meaning you might retain a little extra weight during this period that your body would normally get rid of.16,17

A recent study involving 221 women in the Japanese population found that 58% of those with normal bowel movements had changes in their bowels due to menstruation. 19% of these changes in bowel movements were associated with constipation.17

Tips to help reduce period weight gain

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula for preventing weight gain during your period.

However, there are a few things you could do to possibly reduce water retention and bloating. You should try to practise these healthy habits throughout the month, as this may help you to reduce weight gain and water retention during your period.

Staying hydrated

Even though it might seem counterintuitive, making sure you drink plenty of water is our first piece of advice. This is because your body tends to conserve more fluid if you’re dehydrated.18

The NHS recommends drinking six to eight glasses of water each day.18 So, make sure you keep a glass topped up on your desk so you can stay hydrated throughout the day.

Eat a balanced diet

To keep your digestive system running smoothly throughout your cycle it can be a good idea to eat plenty of whole, fibrous foods throughout the month.19,20 Taking probiotics to maintain healthy bacteria in your gut not only helps with bloating and constipation, but few studies suggest that they can also help balance hormonal health and potentially reduce menstrual pain.21-24

To find out more about how to match up your diet with your cycle, visit our guide on what to eat during your menstrual cycle.

Exercise

When you’re suffering with cramps, working up a sweat in the gym might not be top of your to-do list.

However, sweating may help you get rid of that excess water that your body is holding on to.25,26 If you simply cannot face a low-to-moderate intensity workout, why not try a relaxing yoga session or going for a long walk instead?27,28,29

Moving can also help with improving slower gut transit times (how quickly food moves through your body) caused by your hormonal changes.30,31

Supplements

Some small studies have found that magnesium and vitamin B6 are effective in reducing PMS symptoms, including cravings and weight gain.32,33 However, there isn’t enough clinical evidence for this. What we do know however, is magnesium and vitamin B6 contributes to reducing those feelings of tiredness and fatigue you may experience during your period.

Two randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials showed the effectiveness of magnesium in relieving chronic constipation. One trial noted a 45% greater response rate in symptoms than the placebo group while the other noted a 68% overall improvement rate.34,35,36

However, there isn’t any data to suggest whether magnesium can offer support for women who suffer from constipation/bloating in their menstrual cycle, and more research in this area is needed to confirm this.

When weight gain might not be a normal PMS symptom

It’s important to note, however, that if you’re experiencing weight gain in combination with irregular periods, then you could be suffering from an underlying issue like polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS).37

But can PCOS cause weight gain? In short, yes.

This is because PCOS is a condition characterised by higher levels of androgens, such as testosterone, which can contribute to PCOS weight gain.38,39

In PCOS, the body’s cells also become less responsive to insulin, causing the body to process carbohydrates less effectively and make extra insulin to compensate, leading to further weight gain.38,40

The final say

Overall, weight gain caused by PMS is generally nothing to worry about.

However, if you’re looking to find a way to manage your symptoms of PMS, it can be a good idea to stay hydrated, eat well, move regularly, and try supplementing magnesium and vitamin B6.

Alternatively, if you’re concerned you may be struggling with PCOS, speak to a GP for more information.

Sources

  1. Spyridon Kanellakis, et al. Changes in body weight and body composition during the menstrual cycle. American Journal of Human Biology. 2023. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1002/ajhb.23951
  2. Stachoń AJ. Menstrual Changes in Body Composition of Female Athletes. Coll Antropol. 2016 Jun;40(2):111-22. PMID: 29139284. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29139284/
  3. Tomazo-Ravnik, T., Jakopič, V. Changes in Total Body Water and Body Fat in Young Women in the Course of Menstrual Cycle. Intl Jnl Anthropology. 2006; 21, 55–60. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11599-006-9007-0
  4. Kanellakis, S., Skoufas, E., Simitsopoulou, E., Migdanis, A., Migdanis, I., Prelorentzou, T., Louka, A., Moschonis, G., et al. Changes in body weight and body composition during the menstrual cycle. American Journal of Human Biology. 2023;35(11), e23951. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1002/ajhb.23951
  5. NHS. PMS (premenstrual syndrome) [Internet]. [Cited 2024 Feb 10]. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pre-menstrual-syndrome/
  6. NHS Inform. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) [Internet]. [Cited 2024 Feb 10]. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/womens-health/girls-and-young-women-puberty-to-around-25/periods-and-menstrual-health/premenstrual-syndrome-pms
  7. White, C. et al. Fluid Retention over the Menstrual Cycle: 1-Year Data from the Prospective Ovulation Cohort. Obstetrics and Gynecology International, vol. 2011;1–7. Available: https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/138451
  8. Martins, K. A., Cordeiro, M, et al. Do Food Intake and Food Cravings Change during the Menstrual Cycle of Young Women? RBGO Gynecology & Obstetrics. 2018;40(11):686–92. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0038-1675831
  9. Klump, K. L., Keel, P. K., et al. The Interactive Effects of Estrogen and Progesterone on Changes in Emotional Eating Across the Menstrual Cycle. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2013;122(1):131–7. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029524
  10. Gorczyca, A. M., Sjaarda, L. A., et al. Changes in macronutrient, micronutrient, and food group intakes throughout the menstrual cycle in healthy, premenopausal women. European Journal of Nutrition. 2015;5;55(3):1181–8. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-015-0931-0
  11. Roney, J. R., & Simmons, Z. L. Ovarian hormone fluctuations predict within-cycle shifts in women's food intake. Hormones and Behavior. 2017;90:8–14. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.01.009
  12. Rakova, N., Kitada, K., et al. (2017). Increased salt consumption induces body water conservation and decreases fluid intake. The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2017;127(5):1932–43. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI88530
  13. Office on Women’s Health. Premenstrual Syndrome [Internet]. [Cited 2024 Feb 10]. 2018. Available from: https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
  14. White, C. P., Hitchcock, C. L., Vigna, Y. M., & Prior, J. C. Fluid Retention over the Menstrual Cycle: 1-Year Data from the Prospective Ovulation Cohort. Obstetrics and Gynecology International. 2011;1–7. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/138451
  15. NHS. Bloating. [Internet]. [Cited 2024 March 19]. 2022. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bloating/
  16. Pati, G. K., Kar, C., Narayan, J., Uthansingh, K., Behera, M., Sahu, M. K., Mishra, D., & Singh, A. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the Menstrual Cycle. Cureus. 2021;14;13(1). Available from: https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.12692
  17. Maeda, K., Koide, Y., Katsuno, H., et al. Questionnaire Survey of Bowel Habit in Japanese Medical Personnel. Journal of the Anus, Rectum and Colon. 2021;29;5(3):297–305. Available from: https://doi.org/10.23922/jarc.2021-014
  18. NHS Inform. Hydration. [Internet]. 2023. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/campaigns/hydration/
  19. NHS. Good foods to help your digestion. [Internet]. [Cited 2024 March 19] 2022. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/digestive-health/good-foods-to-help-your-digestion/
  20. Nagata, C., Hirokawa, K., Shimizu, N., & Shimizu, H. Associations of menstrual pain with intakes of soy, fat and dietary fiber in Japanese women. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004;59(1), 88-92. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602042
  21. Kumar, L. S., Pugalenthi, L. S., Ahmad, M., Reddy, S., Barkhane, Z., & Elmadi, J. Probiotics in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review of Their Therapeutic Role. Cureus. 2022;18;14(4). Available from: https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.24240
  22. Itoh, H., Uchida, M., Sashihara, T., et al. Lactobacillus gasseri OLL2809 is effective especially on the menstrual pain and dysmenorrhea in endometriosis patients: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Cytotechnology. 2010;10;63(2):153–61. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10616-010-9326-5
  23. Zou, S., Yang, X., et al. Association of probiotic ingestion with serum sex steroid hormones among pre- and postmenopausal women from the NHANES, 2013–2016. PLOS ONE. 2023;18(11). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0294436
  24. I. Szydłowska, A. Marciniak, et al. Effects of probiotics supplementation on the hormone and body mass index in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women using the standardized diet. A 5-week double-blind, placebo-controlled, and randomized clinical study. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2021. Available from: https://www.europeanreview.org/article/25953 https://www.europeanreview.org/article/25953
  25. Baker, L. B. Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human health. Temperature: Multidisciplinary Biomedical Journal. 2019;3;6(3):211–59. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/23328940.2019.1632145
  26. NHS. Water, drinks and hydration. NHS [Internet]. [Cited 2024 March 19]. 2022. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-guidelines-and-food-labels/water-drinks-nutrition/
  27. NHS. Period Pain. [Internet]. [Cited 2024 March 19]. 2017. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/period-pain/
  28. Daley, A. The role of exercise in the treatment of menstrual disorders: The evidence. The British Journal of General Practice. 2009;59(561), 241-242. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp09X420301
  29. Samadi, Z., Taghian, F., & Valiani, M. The effects of 8 weeks of regular aerobic exercise on the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome in non-athlete girls. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. 2013;18(1), 14-19. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3748549/
  30. Guarino, M., Cheng, L., Cicala, M., Ripetti, V., Biancani, P., & Behar, J. Progesterone receptors and serotonin levels in colon epithelial cells from females with slow transit constipation. Neurogastroenterology & Motility. 2011;23(6), 575-e210. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2982.2011.01705.x
  31. Jensen, M. M., Pedersen, H. E., et al. Associations Between Physical Activity and Gastrointestinal Transit Times in People with Normal Weight, Overweight, and Obesity. The Journal of Nutrition. 2024;154(1), 41-48. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tjnut.2023.06.005
  32. Fathizadeh N, et al. Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research. 2010;15, 401-5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208934/
  33. Porri, D., Biesalski, H. K., Limitone, A., et al. Effect of magnesium supplementation on women's health and well-being. NFS Journal. 2021;23, 30-36. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nfs.2021.03.003
  34. Mori, H., Tack, J., & Suzuki, H. Magnesium Oxide in Constipation. Nutrients. 2021;13(2). Available from: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13020421
  35. Mori, S., Tomita, T., Fujimura, K., et al. A Randomized Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial on the Effect of Magnesium Oxide in Patients With Chronic Constipation. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2019;25(4), 563-575. Available from: https://doi.org/10.5056/jnm18194
  36. Morishita, D., et al. Senna Versus Magnesium Oxide for the Treatment of Chronic Constipation: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2021;116(1):p 152-161. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/ajg/abstract/2021/01000/senna_versus_magnesium_oxide_for_the_treatment_of.27.aspx
  37. NHS. Symptoms: Polycystic ovary syndrome. [Internet]. [Cited 2024 March 19]. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/symptoms/
  38. NHS. Causes: Polycystic ovary syndrome. [Internet]. [Cited 2024 March 19]. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/causes/
  39. Barber, T. M., Hanson, P., et al. Obesity and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Implications for Pathogenesis and Novel Management Strategies. Clinical Medicine Insights. Reproductive Health. 2019;13. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1177/1179558119874042
  40. Awoke MA, et al. Weight gain and lifestyle factors in women with and without polycystic ovary syndrome. Human Reproduction. 2021;37(1):129–41. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deab239
 
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