Bloating can be a distressing condition, and it is often quite frustrating and uncomfortable. For most people, bloating can happen after a big meal caused by overeating or the rich quality of food served. However, there are some people that struggle with bloating far more regularly.
What Causes Bloating?
Bloating can be caused by 1
– Swallowing air when eating quickly
– Celiac disease
– Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
– Food intolerances/Food allergies
Why Is Bloating a Problem?
Your digestive system controls the way that nutrients are absorbed from food, and it can also have an impact on the endocrine system, which relates to hormone production and your overall health.2 If you are not extracting enough nutrients from food, are constipated or not processing food as smoothly as you should be, or are intolerant to (or not getting enough of) certain nutrients, then that could cause ongoing health issues. Food intolerances can cause malabsorption of nutrients, for example.3 Identifying food allergies and intolerances early can minimize the issues that you are likely to face.4 Identifying lifestyle issues that cause bloating can give you an idea of lifestyle changes that would stop them and likely benefit your health in other ways.
Different Types of Bloating and How to Help Cure Them
Depending on what is causing your bloating, the cure could be as simple as cutting out a few different types of food from your diet. Some intolerances and food-related issues are more complex, however.
Excess or Trapped Wind
If your bloating is associated with excess wind, then it could be that you are eating a diet that is rich in foods that are known to cause wind, such as beans, broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and onions.
There are other fruits and vegetables that are a little more gentle on the stomach that are good alternatives for people who struggle with bloating and who want to still ensure they are getting enough nutrients.
Foods that cause flatulence are typically ones that contain FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols). These substances break down in the bowels, producing excessive gas.5
Bloating from Swallowing Air
If your bloating came from swallowing air, the good news is that the cure is comparatively simple. Try to slow down the speed at which you eat. Sit upright at a table to eat, and don’t talk while eating. Try to avoid drinking fizzy drinks, and stop chewing gum. These simple habit changes will help to reduce the amount of bloating you experience and could help you to enjoy your food more as well.
Constipation can cause persistent bloating, and it can also cause stomach pain and general gastric distress. You can prevent constipation by eating more fiber (whole grains, beans, green leafy vegetables, and nuts, for example).
Drinking lots of water can help with constipation, and regular exercise can be beneficial too. You don’t have to exercise hard. Even simply going for a brisk walk for half an hour a few times a week can be enough to keep your bowels functioning better.
It is important to manage constipation proactively. While most people experience merely an irritation, there can be complications. Constipation can cause piles, fecal impaction, and bowel incontinence if it is left untreated long term.6
Food intolerances can cause gas and constipation that do not get better when you make simple changes to your diet. If you are experiencing bloating and you find that the tips listed above do not help, you should try keeping a food diary and noting what causes problems for you.
If, after a couple of weeks you notice that one specific food is causing a problem, try cutting it out. If you think that the problem is being caused by an entire category of foods (such as dairy, wheat or gluten), then talk to your doctor. They will be able to give you advice on safe ways to cut out food groups. Before doing so, they will likely perform blood tests to help identify food intolerances.7
Do not go on a long-term food elimination diet without seeking advice from your doctor first because there are certain nutrients that tend to be found primarily in specific food groups, and it can be easy to accidentally develop nutrient deficiencies if you cut out the wrong foods.
Celiac disease is a condition which means that sufferers cannot absorb gluten at all. This means that when they eat wheat, rye or barley they end up suffering from diarrhea, bloating, fatigue and abdominal pain. It is a far worse and more serious condition than a simple food intolerance. There is no known cure for Celiac disease. Cutting out foods which contain gluten can make the condition more manageable. Unfortunately, gluten is found in a lot of processed foods and even in some unexpected things such as sauces.
Bloating is one of the more minor symptoms of celiac disease, with malabsorption being an example of one of the much more serious symptoms you may encounter if you suffer from celiac.8
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a complex condition which has bloating as one of many symptoms. Typically, people with IBS are more likely to experience bloating in the evening. The bloating is not caused by wind; rather, it is thought that it is linked to the erratic way that waste is propelled through the bowels. IBS is something that can run in families, but you are not guaranteed to suffer from it just because some relatives do. It can often be treated using probiotics and lifestyle changes, but some people do need to take medications to manage it.9
Tips to Prevent Bloating
As you can see, there are many potential causes for bloating. The good news is that most of the causes are things that can be changed simply by tweaking your diet and lifestyle.
Exercise can help to promote better blood flow throughout the whole body and is good for promoting a healthy and productive digestive system. However, you may want to take care to perform gentle exercises such as walking or swimming rather than performing intense exercise if you have heartburn or other digestive issues.10
Water is a vital nutrient. We can survive only a few days without water, and if we do not drink enough of it, we will soon start to see side-effects.11 The way that the body retains water is confusing, and it is something that weight class athletes like to exploit. Drink lots of water, and we will urinate a lot more often because the body is ‘confident’ that the water will be replaced. Drink less and then eat a lot of carbohydrates or salty food, and we will be more likely to retain water and become bloated.
If you’re struggling with bloating and you’re feeling stressed and run down, then essential oils could be the answer. Traditional Persian Medicine uses essential oils to help with a number of digestive issues. Ginger, for example, can help with gastric distress, including having a laxative effect and can also help with flatulence.12
Another oil which has been found to be helpful for bloating, including for issues that are related to IBS, is peppermint. This oil is a natural spasmolytic agent, and it can help to reduce bloating and distension of the abdomen.13
Diet Changes and Probiotics
Your gut microbiota is, in some ways, almost like its own endocrine organ, and promoting positive gut health and supporting the growth of good gut flora is important for ongoing wellbeing.14 Probiotics are controversial in some circles because it is hard to be sure exactly how bioavailable they are. When you take probiotics orally, they have to make it into the stomach and survive the stomach acid to make it into the intestine. While there is some evidence that they could be useful in a clinical context, commercially available probiotics may not be as effective as first thought for healthy adults.15
What could be useful, though, is simple changes to your diet. It is normal for your stomach to distend very slightly when you eat and drink since the foods that you take in do take up space inside your body. However, there is a difference between a slightly ‘full belly’ and one that balloons up after eating. If you can’t fit into your clothes after a meal on a regular basis, either you’re eating too much or you’re eating foods that you don’t respond well to.
Firstly, take a look at your portion sizes and consider eating more slowly so that your stomach’s satiety signals have a chance to take effect. If this doesn’t work, then take a look at what is on your plate. Certain cruciferous vegetables can cause bloating when eaten in large quantities because of the sugars that they contain.16 It is a good idea to eat those vegetables because they contain essential micronutrients, but you might want to eat smaller portion sizes.
Legumes can also cause bloating. Again, in addition to being full of healthy protein, they also contain fiber that we cannot digest as well as certain complex sugars; it’s the sugar that can produce gas which leads to bloating. If you eat these regularly, then you will find that your body gets used to them and that they stop causing bloating. So, try to make them a consistent part of your diet. Or, alternatively, watch the portion sizes if you only eat them occasionally.
Dairy products are something that can cause bloating for some people, but not for others. If you notice that cheese or milk makes you feel a bit bloated then it could be that you are lactose intolerant. You can swap out a lot of your favorite foods for dairy-free versions, or take lactase tablets to replace the enzyme that your body is not making enough of.
Not all bloating is down to gas. Some people experience bloating because of water retention. If you tend to eat high-sodium foods then you may find that you balloon up because of them. Sodium is found in a lot of processed foods, which means that it can be quite hard to avoid. You can reduce your sodium intake by tasting your food before adding more salt to it and trying to cook as much as possible from scratch. You can also offset some of the negative impacts of sodium by drinking lots of water with your meals. Indeed, drinking a glass of water before a meal can help you to feel full sooner, which will also help to reduce bloating.
Another good strategy for reducing sodium-related bloating is to eat foods that are rich in potassium. This helps to regulate the sodium levels in your body17and, therefore, stop some of the water retentions. Bananas are a good choice, because not only are they rich in potassium, they also contain soluble fiber, which can help to reduce or prevent constipation. Another high-fiber food that can help with gut health is asparagus. This versatile vegetable is also good for your gut because it contains prebiotics, which can support the growth of good bacteria, and therefore help to reduce gas, as well as promote better digestion.
If you experience persistent bloating and are not able to figure out the cause, or the bloating does not go away after trying a few changes to your diet and lifestyle, then you should seek professional medical advice. Bloating and a feeling of persistent fullness can be a sign of other underlying medical conditions, including ovarian cancer. Early screening and detection are important to ensure the best possible prognosis.
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