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What causes bloating and how can you treat it?

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:

  • Pain
  • Cramping
  • Belching
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Flatulence 

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 ay be upsetting your digestive system. 

Causes of persistent bloating

Gastroparesis
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.

Lumbar lordosis
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
Celiac 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. 

Hormones
High levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone levels 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.

Certain medications
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. 


Stress 

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 affect 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!

The Other Causes of Constipation

If you’ve ever been constipated, you’ll know how uncomfortable (and embarrassing) it can be. 

Like most people, you’ve probably googled how to treat your symptoms. But the most important part of treating constipation is understanding the cause.  

Most often, being unable to “do number twos” is related to your diet and lifestyle. First, let’s look at some of the most common causes of constipation. 

Lack of fibre

Fibre plays a big part in bowel regularity. Also known as ‘roughage’, fibre is a type of plant matter that can’t be broken down by your body. 

There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre acts like a sponge, absorbing fluid and making your stools softer. This allows your body to move waste out of your digestive tract more easily. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your stool, which stimulates peristalsis (the wave-like movements of your intestines). 

Lack of fluids

Dehydration is a major factor in constipation. Your large intestine requires a lot of water to move waste along, and if you aren’t drinking enough, it will soak that water up from food waste instead. The less water in your gut, the drier your stools will be – and the harder to move. 

Lack of exercise

Insufficient physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can slow down bowel movements. Exercise promotes the flow of blood to the intestines, which stimulates smooth muscle contraction. This is why sitting down all day in an office or long periods of travel can also affect your regularity.

So, what if you’re eating a healthy diet with plenty of fibre, drinking enough water, and exercising daily – but still getting constipated?

It could be that you’re suffering from one of the lesser-known causes of constipation: the ones that are more difficult to diagnose. 

The Other Causes of Constipation 

Hypothyroidism 

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) means that your body isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone. This can slow down many of your body’s systems, including digestive function and elimination pathways. If your colon function is too slow or weak, it won’t be able to eliminate stools properly. 

Lead toxicity

Ingesting, inhaling, or touching lead can lead to lead toxicity, an environmental cause of constipation. This is more common in children who may be exposed to lead through paints or by ingesting contaminated food or water. Fortunately, the use of lead-free gasoline has dramatically reduced lead poisoning in recent years, but other environmental sources include fishing weights, vinyl miniblinds, curtain weights, and electric cables. 

As well as constipation, symptoms of lead toxicity include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

SIBO occurs when certain types of ‘bad’ bacteria grow out of control in the small intestine. They ferment and produce hydrogen, causing bloating and gas. This gas, in turn, can slow down stool transit time, leading to constipation. Research has also shown that the higher the methane gas elevation, the more severe constipation becomes.

Worse still, chronic constipation allows more bacteria to grow in the small intestine, which then causes more methane and more constipation. 

Gluten or dairy intolerance

Gluten and dairy products are key contributors to bowel issues. Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance are often associated with diarrhoea, but both can also cause constipation. One study showed that 13% of people with coeliac disease had constipation while 15% had both constipation and diarrhoea. Another 27% had ‘standard’ diarrhea.

Wheat allergy, celiac disease, and gluten sensitivity are three separate conditions that can all be triggered by eating gliadin, the protein in wheat. Gluten causes an inflammatory reaction in the small intestine which can damage the gut lining, impairing your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Along with constipation, these conditions can also cause abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea. 

Dairy intolerance is usually caused by an inability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk. When lactose is fermented by bacteria in your intestines, it can produce methane gas. This methane gas slows down the time it takes food to travel through the gut, leading to constipation.

Other foods that are implicated in constipation include processed grains, red meat, fried foods, and fruits such as persimmons or plums.

How to Treat Constipation Naturally

Most short-term incidents of constipation can be traced back to a certain food or a change to your routine, such as travel. However, chronic constipation suggests that something else may be to blame. 

Because chronic constipation can have so many different causes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment. That’s why a comprehensive consultation with a naturopath like me is so important. I’ll investigate your entire health history, along with your current diet and lifestyle. Where necessary, I’ll recommend that you undergo testing to rule out possible health conditions that may be contributing to your constipation. 

Once we’ve identified a cause (and there could be more than one!), I’ll put together a holistic treatment plan to manage your symptoms and get you ‘regular’ again! Book in for a 20 minute chat today!

Is it IBS or SIBO?

Bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhoea. Sounds like classic IBS. 

…or could it be something more?

Nearly one in three people put up with the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) every day. IBS is one of the most common digestive disorders in the world and accounts for nearly half of all visits to gastroenterologists. 

But recent research suggests that what many people think of as “just IBS” may, in fact, be SIBO: small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Recent research has shown that SIBO is much more common than previously thought. 

Here’s why identifying SIBO can make all the difference to your recovery. 

SIBO vs IBS: What’s the difference?

First things first: Irritable bowel syndrome isn’t actually a condition in itself. It’s an umbrella term for a range of gastrointestinal symptoms, such as: 

  • Abdominal pain, cramps, and spasms
  • Bowel motility issues (diarrhoea, constipation, or both)
  • Bloating, gas
  • General digestive discomfort

While symptoms may be a result of many different factors, it’s now known that the main cause is often SIBO. Studies suggest that up to 78% of patients with IBS have SIBO

What is SIBO?

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is exactly as it sounds: an excess of bacteria in your small intestine. 

Now, your whole gastrointestinal tract is home to varying amounts of bacteria, but your small bowel is meant to contain much less: only around 10,000 bacteria per millilitre of fluid. Your large bowel, on the other hand, contains at least 1,000,000,000 bacteria per millilitre of fluid. Patients with SIBO are shown to have an increase in bacteria equal to or greater than 100,000 per mL of fluid. These bacteria are also often the types that would normally be in the colon.

The symptoms of SIBO are generally the same as IBS, which is partly why it is so often missed. Other symptoms can include bloating and abdominal distension after eating, food intolerances and sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies (usually vitamin B12 and iron), weight loss, fatigue, brain fog, and even fibromyalgia.

Why is SIBO a problem?

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth can damage the cells lining your small bowel. Over time, this damage can lead to increased intestinal permeability (known as Leaky Gut Syndrome) which then allows large protein molecules to pass through the gut lining into your bloodstream. This is a major causative factor in immune reactions linked to food allergies or sensitivities, autoimmune diseases, and chronic inflammation. It also impairs your body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients.

Identifying and treating SIBO should be a priority. If untreated, it can lead to chronic malabsorption, diarrhoea, unintentional weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and osteoporosis. 

How is SIBO treated?

Unfortunately, most doctors usually still prescribe antibiotics to treat SIBO – even though there’s plenty of evidence to show that antibiotics kill off both healthy AND unhealthy bacteria. This can severely hinder your body’s ability to recover. In fact, recurrence rates of SIBO are around 43.7% in the nine months after antibiotics!

The key in treating SIBO is to address the cause of the excess bacteria in your small intestines, not just the symptoms you are experiencing. Treatment involves a comprehensive consultation in which I examine every aspect of your health history, diet, and lifestyle.

There can be many reasons your intestinal bacteria have grown out of control. Certain foods, medications, alcohol intake, environmental influences, lifestyle factors (stress, lack of exercise) can all contribute to poor gut microbiome. Everyone is different, and it’s only through identifying the unique factors that have caused your SIBO that we can begin to make healthy changes. 

What is the SIBO diet?

Dietary protocols for treating SIBO generally involve avoiding foods that ‘feed’ the bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine. Instead, the aim is to eat foods that are easier for your body to digest and absorb. 

Depending on your needs, your SIBO treatment plan may include the Low-FODMAP diet, the Specific Carbohydrate diet (SCD), the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, and Low Starch diet. 

What about SIBO probiotics?

Given that SIBO antibiotics have been shown to do more harm than good, treatment for SIBO is now more focused on restoring the microbial balance of the small intestine. Recent studies have shown that certain strains of probiotics can help to do this. 

Of course, not just any old probiotic off the shelf will do! I use only practitioner-grade probiotic brands that contain the strains most effective in treating gut dysbiosis. 

Where necessary, my treatment protocol may also include a specific SIBO herbal treatment to help eliminate pathogenic bacteria and yeast overgrowth in the gut. 

How to test for SIBO

Diagnosis is best done with a SIBO breath test, which I organise through my clinic. This simple breath sample determines the presence of methanogenic or hydrogenic bacteria, which then allows me to design your personalised treatment plan. If you think SIBO may be the cause of your IBS or other digestive issues, don’t put up with it! Contact me here