Bloating is something most of us have experienced at one point or another – the abdominal discomfort caused by a build-up of intestinal gas. The symptoms of bloating will vary from person to person, however the most common are feelings of the stomach ballooning out and stretching, or clothes feeling too tight and snug against the body. What's more, bloating can cause lack of appetite thanks to a feeling of uneasiness and tightness when gas builds up in the stomach.
In some, it occurs occasionally causing some mild discomfort, but there are many people who suffer from recurring bloating which causes severe discomfort and pain and affects the quality of their daily life. Often, many suffer in silence as they are too embarrassed to discuss their symptoms of flatulence and may not seek medical advice.
Causes of bloating
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There are many possible causes of bloating and it's important to note that it can occur either on its own or alongside symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Interestingly, there are not enough randomised but controlled trials of bloating as a symptom on its own. In 2013 though, there was a comprehensive review of many different research studies – one, in particular, explained that one of the possible causes of bloating could be abnormal gut microbiota (1).
The research showed that the gut flora found in those with symptoms of IBS was altered, in terms of diversity and dominance, and was related to symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits. The disruption of the delicate balance between the host and intestinal microbiota produces changes in the mucosal immune system resulting in inflammation. This also results in changes in gut sensory-motor function and immune activity.
A study done to check abnormal colonic fermentation demonstrated that patients with IBS produced more hydrogen gas and that after following an exclusion diet, their symptoms were reduced and there was a fall in maximum gas excretion (2).
• Food intolerances
Another possible cause of bloating is food intolerances. These are often identified when after eating a specific food, one suffers from symptoms such as a build-up of gas, tummy swelling or mild pain. If the offending food is reduced or avoided the symptoms are not experienced again. A common food intolerance is to dairy for those who are lactose intolerant and do not produce the enzyme lactase to break down the disaccharides into monosaccharides in the small intestine. The disaccharide reaches the colon, where they are split by bacterial enzymes into short-chain carbonic acids and gases. This malabsorption of lactose may produce the symptom of bloating in patients with IBS or functional bloating.
In addition, researchers at Monash University in Australia have identified that some carbohydrates are poorly digested in the small intestine and are highly fermented by bacteria in the colon. These rapidly fermentable short-chain carbohydrates are termed FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di- and mono-saccharides and polyols). These FODMAP foods attract water into the small intestine and as these are not digested there, they travel into the large intestine where they are fermented by the bacteria, producing gas. This excess gas and water retention cause the intestine to expand giving that feeling of discomfort experienced by those who suffer from IBS. Some common example trigger foods are onion, garlic, beans, wheat and apples. Monash University has developed an app to identify high and low FODMAP foods which can be referred to, and bear in mind that the effect of the food will be different from person to person (3), (4).
On another note, some women experience bloating during menstruation or when pregnant and this may be caused by changing hormones. Also, swallowing excess air can cause bloating and so can constipation, because the slower transit time causes distension. Do note that bloating may be a symptom of something more severe like celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis so if you suffer from it regularly, please consult your medical practitioner.
Home remedies for bloating
There are some foods you can add or take out of your diet and changes you can make to your lifestyle to reduce bloating. Pay attention to your food. Before you begin to make changes, it is always important to know what you are eating, your portion sizes and meal times, which can be done by maintaining a food diary. This can be as simple as taking photos of your meals and drinks or making a note in a notebook or on an app.
Here are a few simple suggestions for you to begin at home:
1. Try to chew your food well and eat slowly. Make time for meal times so you aren’t eating on the go.
2. Cut down your processed foods that are high in sugar and fat and have real whole foods.
3. Make sure to introduce fiber-rich food gradually – fiber is great, but if you are not used to a fiber-rich diet and suddenly eat a lot of fiber-rich food, your digestion will act up.
4. Add gas-relieving herbs into your diet like ginger, fennel and mint. You can either start making more herbal tea or use them in your cooking.
5. Make sure to cook beans properly – soak beans for at least 4 hours, and use spices or herbs to improve digestibility.
6. Look for potential food intolerance (dairy or wheat) by keeping a food diary or journal. If your body cannot digest these properly and does not like them, it will tell you!
7. Notice how your body reacts to certain fruits and vegetables such as cauliflower, mango or apricots. You can also try downloading the FODMAP app or get the book to learn more and keep track of your gut health.
8. Avoid chewing gum as not only do you swallow air when chewing, but many sugarless sweets and gums contain sorbitol and xylitol which can cause gas.
9. Avoid fizzy drinks and carbonated water.
10. Include foods that are good sources of probiotics. If you can have dairy include organic yogurt and kefir as they have beneficial bacteria. Fermented vegetables are also a good source like kimchi, sauerkraut or pickles. You can try to add some miso in a salad dressing or drink some kombucha too.
Now you know some helpful home remedies to try to beat the bloat. We hope you feel better soon!
Read next: Is Your Period Messing Your Digestion Up?
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1. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3816178/
2. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9777836
3. Wiley Online Library: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2010.04237.x/full
4. Monash Edu: https://www.monashfodmap.com/