Common Causes of Bloating and How to Get Rid of ItApr 13, 2023
Is bloating normal?
Occasional abdominal bloating as it relates to your gut happens and is usually self limiting. We’ve all been there. It is usually your body’s way of telling you something is out of balance. If it happens infrequently, say after eating a larger than average meal, the body knows exactly how to handle it. You usually remember some of the uncomfortable effects, such as abdominal protrusion, discomfort and tight fitting pants, so as not to repeat it anytime soon. 😉
Issues arise when bloating is frequent and usually associated with other symptoms, such as diarrhea, constipation or both, fatigue - especially after eating - and brain fog.
This is common!
Although it may be common, it is NOT normal.
Up to 30% of Americans report frequent bloating. Bloating can happen for many reasons.
Here are some common causes of bloating:
- Poor eating hygiene
- Food intolerances or sensitivities
- Excessive gas production
Poor eating hygiene
Poor eating hygiene is what’s referred to when we eat too fast or don’t chew our food enough. We have deprioritized eating so much in our society that it’s almost viewed as a nuisance that we must do. We choose subpar foods and sometimes eat “on the run” or from our car. There is so much to unpack there but suffice it to say it is not creating health but may be contributing, significantly, to dis-ease. In the short term, eating like this causes us to swallow air and does not allow the proper digestion cascade to start; our bodies rely on physical and chemical signaling to digest properly. We also see bloating if too much liquid is consumed while eating or drinking carbonated beverages.
Slow down. If you find yourself treating mealtime like an afterthought, ask yourself why? Eating needs to be part of your daily routine and it needs to occupy time and space at a table. It also needs your mental energy and focus as well as your physical energy and focus. It should also be enjoyable; a time to see your food, smell your food and chew really, really well. You should actually be able to taste some sweetness as your food gets digested while chewing. View eating as time for some peace and enjoyment. Choose whole, nutrient dense foods - give cooking a try. Hydrate in between meals with clean, filtered water. Only small amounts of liquid should be consumed during eating so as to optimize digestion. You can consider some carminative herbs such as peppermint and ginger to help ease the discomfort. Give it a go and see how much better you feel.
Food intolerances and sensitivities
There are certain foods that are pro-inflammatory due to the effects they have on the gut. Gluten and dairy are two such foods but, theoretically, a food sensitivity can develop to any food, given the right setting. These foods create wear and tear on our gut lining which includes bloating, inching many further and further to dis-ease.
Some people are officially labeled with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which they have a sensitivity to gluten which causes damage to the finger like projections in the gut called villi which aid in digestion and absorption. Digestion is problematic as long as the body is being exposed to gluten and producing autoantibodies against these villi in the gut tissue. Serious nutrient deficiencies can occur and radically alter the trajectory of one’s health with continued ingestion of gluten.
But there are also many people who have non celiac gluten sensitivity and experience the same symptoms! Yup - no fancy label but same ill effects. This happens because gluten is a gut buster to all. But as we know there are some people who can recalibrate more easily after gluten exposure than others. This is because we are each unique and bring a different level of health, well being and tolerance to the table. Dairy is molecularly quite similar to gluten and it produces similar inflammation and downstream effects. Other food sensitivities can develop, usually in the setting of an overwrought immune system and leaky gut but gluten and dairy are the biggest culprits.
Food intolerances do not involve the immune system. An example is lactose intolerance. Here, the villi responsible for secreting the enzyme, lactase, to break down lactose gets damaged when our guts are compromised. This causes us to not tolerate dairy which can lead to bloating and diarrhea or at times constipation.
The biggest lever to begin to help improve bloating is by eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet. In actuality, this encompasses the elimination of most, if not all, processed foods as well as gluten. While the needle will most certainly move when elimination of these foods has a chance to take hold and decrease exposure and antibody production, it may take up to 3 months to experience full effects. Start cultivating self awareness and experiment with elimination. These foods have powerful holds on not only our everyday diets but they also are physiologically and psychologically addictive due to their calming effects. They put the “comfort” into comfort food. As with all change and healing, it’s a process. Start and don’t forget about all the health building foods that you can eat. They are plentiful! Plus, soon you won’t even miss those foods. Really! You can also consider taking a full spectrum digestive enzyme with meals as it may help with digestion and absorption.
Excessive gas production
We have lots and lots of bacteria teeming in our gut. We also have some yeast. Their purpose is to help us thrive and function optimally. These bacteria may make some gas as part of their assistance that we usually release by infrequent belching or flatulence. C’est la vie. As with most things in life, it’s about balance. If the bacteria or yeast in your gut becomes imbalanced or overgrown, their gas byproducts can cause bloating. Pathogenic bacteria can also cause this. Bacteria in the wrong place, such as the case with SIBO, can cause this. In this case, the bacteria migrate from your large intestine into your small intestine and produce gas when they feast on fermented food - types of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates provide the buffet and the end product is lots of gas and discomfort. It is a big stressor on the body that leaves a lot in its wake. This dynamic occurs in IBS with overgrowths in areas of the gut with expected bacteria and in SIBO/SIFO (types of IBS) where bacteria are in the wrong place. Both scenarios cause the dreaded food baby including major bloating, abdominal discomfort/pain, diarrhea and constipation or both. This dynamic also causes lots of other systemic symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, headaches, skin issues. It also can contribute to continued problems with gut motility causing constipation or diarrhea and nutrient absorption.
If you have been suffering with bloating more often than not, especially after eating, working with a gut health consultant who can help guide you to the root cause is invaluable. While there are many lifestyle changes that will help to improve this such as eating hygiene, stress management and self care practices, getting an accurate picture of what is going on in the gut with a comprehensive stool test could be worth its weight in gold; especially if you have incorporated some of these lifestyle and diet changes but are not seeing full improvement. Having access to this testing and working with a functionally trained practitioner can make the difference you are looking for.
While bloating is quite common and can be complex, it can be alleviated for good. You do not have to live with it for the rest of your life. A future without it, full of thriving health and well being can be yours!