Bloating is not fun. We've all been through it, looking 9 months pregnant can make us feel unpleasant, uncomfortable and unattractive. Bloating can come with other symptoms like constipation, gas, stomach or lower abdominal pain, feeling swollen and more. So what causes bloating? Here are 6 of the most common causes of bloating I see in practice.
1. Eating Habits - eating or drinking too quickly, eating too much food, not properly chewing our food can result in bloating. The reason for this is that our body is not able to secrete the proper amount of enzymes and stomach acid to effectively break down our food. Another reason is that eating too quickly increases the likelihood of swallowing air.
Take away: eat mindfully, do not have liquids with your meal, and watch your portions. I really like the 5-10-15 rule: take 5 deep belly breaths before a meal, put down your utensils for 10 seconds after every bite, and make sure your meal takes no less than 15 minutes.
2. Stress - Stress causes your body to go into what is called the "fight-or-flight" mode where all the blood in your body is shunted from your abdomen (away from your digestion organs) to your legs and arms to "flee" the stress. Even if it isn't a physical stressor which you need to "flee" from, your body will still interpret it the same and react in this way. Stress also inhibits a receptor called GLUT2, which prevents proper absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine.
Take away: Do not eat when you are upset or stressed. Try meditation, massage, talk therapy, or other self-care strategies to try and lower stress levels.
3. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) - SIBO is a condition of bacterial imbalance, in which there exists an overgrowth of bacteria in an otherwise sterile small intestine. This overgrowth is reported as the cause of 80% of cases of IBS and symptoms can include: bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, excess gas, feeling of fullness after meals, abdominal pain and more. SIBO is often caused by an initial food poisoning incident. Read more about SIBO here.
Take away: If you suffer from some of the symptoms above, and you are often worse after probiotics and fibre, consider getting tested for SIBO.
4. Gastrointestinal Infections (e.g. Parasites, H. Pylori) - Infections of the GI tract can result in bloating, gas, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, burning in the chest area, belching, constipation, diarrhea and more. Parasites include protozoa and tapeworms and can be picked up from contaminated water/food (more common with travel) or undercooked meats. H. Pylori is a bacteria that attacks the stomach lining and is responsible for the majority of ulcers in the GI tract.
Take away: If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, and especially if you have travelled to an underdeveloped country or if you've felt never well since a specific meal or incident, visit your naturopath or doctor to get tested for parasites. If you experience any of the following symptoms: abdominal pain (especially upper abdominal), bloating, a burning sensation, belching, nausea, loss of appetite, ask your naturopath or MD for the H. Pylori breath test.
5. Food Intolerances - e..g Gluten, Dairy (lactose), Soy products, Fructose - A major cause of uncomfortable bloating can be due to a food intolerance. Gluten is one of the most common food intolerances, and more than 55 diseases have been linked to this protein, often found in wheat products (i.e. breads, pastas, baked goods, etc). Dairy sensitivity and lactose intolerance are also very common, as we are the only species that still consumes dairy products once we are weaned from our mothers. Soy, fructose, nightshades are also common food intolerances.
Take away: Consider an elimination diet, where you eliminate potentially symptom-provoking food groups (i.e. dairy, gluten) for 3 weeks. After these 3 weeks, add each of them individually back in to your diet (i.e. gluten for 3 days, then dairy for 3 days,etc) to see how you feel with each of them back in your diet. Also consider a food sensitivity test to see which foods you react to.
6. Imbalanced Gut Bacteria - We have over 100 trillion bacteria in our digestive tract, and of these 100 trillion, we have beneficial and also some not so beneficial bacteria. The beneficial bacteria are in charge of digestion, absorption of nutrients, our immune system, inflammation, our appetite, our hormones, making vitamins and so much more. An imbalance of the "good" and "bad" bacteria (called dysbiosis), resulting in an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria, can result in digestive symptoms. The main causes of dysbiosis include: antibiotic use, stress, poor diet and low stomach acid.
Take away: If you have any digestive issues, especially if you have been on antibiotics, consider taking a human strain probiotic to increase the amount of good bacteria in your digestive tract. Increase foods high in probiotics (my favourites are kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha) but also prebiotics, which feed the probiotics.
Note: a lot of causes of digestive issues can co-exist and even cause each other (e.g. low stomach acid leading to SIBO), which is why it's helpful to work with a health-care practitioner to make sure you are receiving an individualized treatment approach aimed at the root cause.
Please feel free to post any questions below! Here's to a bloat-free and happy digestive tract :)
Dr. Lara is a Naturopathic Doctor who is passionate about helping and empowering her patients in their journey towards lifelong health and wellness