Discover the underlying cause of your bloating
Trouble buttoning up your jeans? After eating, does your stomach resemble someone who’s six months pregnant? Are yoga pants the only item of clothing that feels remotely comfortable?
Bloating is a common digestive complaint and one which causes the most distress. If you experience regular bloating, you’re not alone with up to 30% of the population also experiencing this symptom.
Many of us experience transient bloating when we’ve overindulged in food or eaten too quickly, however some of us bloat after every meal or suffer from continual bloating.
Medically speaking, bloating is the sensation of a full, tight abdomen which may also be accompanied by pain and a measurable increase in abdominal girth. Non-medically speaking bloating feels uncomfortable, sometimes painful, makes eating a dreaded event and daily life a chore.
Bloating is a symptom, a signpost pointing to something out of balance. To wave goodbye to your bloating, you’ll have to (with the help of your healthcare professional) uncover and address the underlying issue.
Here are some (but not exhaustive) causes of bloating:
Digestive causes of bloating
Malabsorption or food intolerance
Common culprits are dairy and gluten intolerance, FODMAP foods, Coeliac disease, or anything that impacts on the pancreas.
Excess sugar consumption
High sugar meals slow down the emptying of food from your stomach giving it time to ferment and produce excess gas. Try reducing your refined sugar intake to see if this helps reduce symptoms.
Eating quickly or insufficient chewing of your food
Fast eating can lead to consuming more food than your stomach can comfortably handle (think Christmas lunch). Eating on the run does not put your digestive system in the right mode to release the stomach acid and other enzymes you require to break down food resulting in food remaining in your stomach for longer.
Chewing food well is important – you didn’t spend all that money at the dentist just for your teeth to look pretty! Mastication (chewing) grinds your food into small pieces giving your stomach a smoother ride. Chewing also coats your food with saliva beginning the digestive process. The action of your jaw moving stimulates the Vagus nerve to signal the stomach to start pumping out stomach acid. This sounds almost too simple but it’s common with modern, fast-paced lifestyles for people to inhale their meals.
If things are moving slowly through your colon, this can also result in excessive gas and distention. Health conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism slow down motility, but constipation can also be caused by insufficient fibre, fluid and a lack of exercise.
Dysbiosis is an imbalance of good bacteria or ones that are hanging out in the wrong place in your gut such as in SIBO. Your gut bugs can get out of whack after antibiotic use, gastrointestinal infection or, as a result of a poor diet and sustained stress.
There are now stool tests where you can discover the makeup of your microbiome, and this will allow targeted diet and supplement treatment.
Low stomach acid
If you aren’t making enough stomach acid food, in particular, protein can remain in your stomach too long and start to ferment producing a sensation of fullness in the upper abdomen. Stomach acid output naturally declines with ageing, but it can also be affected by medications, low zinc and B vitamins and stress.
Gastrointestinal infections such as Giardia lamblia or Blastocytis hominus can also be associated with bloating. A stool test can identify if you have an infection.
A common side effect of gastric banding surgery is the tendency to bloat more easily.
Non-digestive causes of bloating
Bloating can also be caused by pregnancy, weight gain especially abdominal, and hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle.
One of the early symptoms of ovarian or bowel cancer is bloating. If you are over 50, have a family history of cancer or the bloating is accompanied by a loss of appetite, fatigue or unintended weight loss please ensure you have this investigated by your doctor.
Stress – physical, environmental or psychological causes your nervous system to engage “flight or fight” mode. This down regulates your digestive processes and may result in bloating due to reduced stomach acid and motility.
How to get on top of your bloating
Put on your detective cap and gather information
When did the bloating begin? What else was happening for you at that time? Is it there all the time or does it come and go?
If you suspect your bloating is related to your diet, record your food intake for a week or two and note when your symptoms appear.
Make some lifestyle changes
- Chew your food thoroughly and don’t eat on the run, in front of the television or while checking your smartphone.
- Move your body (enough to break a sweat) every day
- Look after your gut bugs by reducing the processed food and increasing plant foods
- Temporarily (one month) remove any foods you suspect may be a trigger and if your symptoms improve.
- Implement techniques to eliminate, reduce or manage stress.
Although generally not curative, when you’re trying to figure out what’s behind your bloating it, a little relief can be welcome!
Herbs with antispasmodic and carminative properties can help with bloating. They act on the nervous system and also help expel excess gas. These include fennel, chamomile, lemon balm and caraway.
Probiotics might also be beneficial. Look for IBS formulations if purchasing a retail brand.
Get your bloating investigated by a health professional
There’s nothing like having an unbiased, expert assessment of what’s driving your bloating. This allows a targeted approach to addressing the underlying cause and getting a lasting resolution.
Bloating is a common symptom, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you should have to accept as your lot. Get to the bottom of what’s causing your bloating so you can wave it goodbye forever.
Need help with your digestive health?
Norelle Hentschel is an experienced naturopath with a clinic in Crows Nest, Sydney who enjoys supporting her clients to reach their health goals.
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