Bloating is one of the most common problems my clients come to me with.
They will say, “I look like I’m five months pregnant!” or, “Everything I eat makes my gut swell up!”
Bloating occurs when your abdomen feels too full or gassy.
This gas is actually produced in your stomach and intestines as part of the normal breakdown of food.
However, some of us tend to experience more gas than normal. Bloating can be painful, uncomfortable, or downright embarrassing.
It’s certainly not something to be ignored.
Other symptoms that occur alongside bloating include:
To treat and prevent bloating, we first have to understand what’s causing it, and that can be a whole range of factors….
Dietary causes of bloating
The most common cause of acute bloating is a particular food or drink.
Typical triggers include:
- Fruits such as apples, pears, peaches
- Legumes such as beans and chickpeas
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
- Dairy products
- Garlic and onions
- Fizzy drinks
- High-fibre foods such as wheat bran
- Certain alcohols, especially beer or champagne
- Artificial sweeteners or flavourings
- Fatty or fried foods
In most cases, the bloating will reduce when the offending food passes out of your body.
But if you’re constantly bloated and you can’t trace it back to a particular food, something else may be upsetting your digestive system.
Causes of persistent bloating
Gastroparesis occurs when the muscle contractions of your digestive tract are not strong enough to move food along, so your stomach empties too slowly. Undigested food spends too long sitting in the stomach, where it begins to ferment and release gas.
Gastroparesis can then lead to other digestive issues, such as an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the intestines.
SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
An overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine is very common in people with gastroparesis. The imbalance of microorganisms causes the environment of the gut to change, and can increase levels of microbial byproducts such as methane and hydrogen. This is often accompanied by abdominal pain and bloating. The overgrowth tends to get worse the longer it is left untreated, leading to other digestive issues.
Food intolerances or sensitivities
Food molecules that are not absorbed in the small intestine continue through the digestive tract, where they are fermented by bacteria. Fermentation causes gas to be released, which causes bloating, cramping and other symptoms. Those with IBS also commonly experience these symptoms.
A sensitive digestive tract
New research suggests that patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders tend to have visceral sensory dysfunction which can mean that physiological stimuli cause their symptoms. Increased sensitivity and an altered GI reflex activity can also mean that abdominal symptoms such as bloating have no obvious cause.
A forward curvature of the spine can produce a hollow in the back and weak abdominal muscle tone, causing the abdomen to protrude. This can reduce the abdomen’s capacity for gas and also result in a ‘bloated’ look.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is an umbrella term for a range of gastrointestinal symptoms that include bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and/or constipation. These symptoms can have any number of causes but are often linked to food intolerances, intestinal dysbiosis, stress, and sluggish digestion.
Coeliac disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the small intestine. Eating foods that contain gliadin (the protein in wheat) can set off an inflammatory reaction in the gut, which typically results in bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
High levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone can lead to water retention and bloating. Estrogen often causes fluid retention, while progesterone is a natural diuretic. This is why bloating can often occur during perimenopausal years and also before your period.
Medications can hinder normal digestive function, slowing down the movement of food through the intestinal tract. Typical examples include birth control pills, steroids, and painkillers such as codeine and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Antibiotics can deplete the gut microbiome of the healthy bacteria required for proper digestion and allow an overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria.
The gut is lined with billions of neurons that are in constant communication with the brain – hence the gut is often referred to as ‘the second brain’. Stress has an enormous influence on this brain-gut axis, and may trigger pain, bloating, and other symptoms.
Gut bacteria is also affected by what is going on in your head, which in turn affects what is going on in your gut.
Addressing the cause of your bloating
There is no single treatment or ‘cure’ for bloating, because everyone is affected by different causes.
The best way to get to the root cause of YOUR bloating is with a comprehensive naturopathic consultation. I can help to identify the factors involved in your symptoms, and how best to overcome them. Get in touch with me!