Bloating – you know, that uncomfortable sensation when your belly feels overly full and swollen? Most people have experienced it, whether after a heavy meal or during indulgent periods such as Christmas, unfortunately for people with digestive problems it can be a more regular occurrence.
So what is it and why do we get it?
Bloating is the sensation associated with discomfort in our gut, It makes us feel full, uncomfortable and can sometimes be painful.
In a healthy individual, our gastrointestinal tract is made up of gases. As we eat, our stomachs and the rest of our guts fill up with food and water, during this process the volume of gas in our gastrointestinal tract can increase by 65%, this alone can cause the sensation of bloating.
The food we eat can also affect bloating; Rich, fatty foods delay the movement of food from the stomach into the small intestine, meaning that digestion is slowed. For some people eating foods high in fibre, such as pulses, may lead to bloating due to an increase in gas production, however, for others fibre can reduce bloating by improving digestion – we are all different!
How we eat can also cause bloating; Air enters our stomach when we swallow and can lead to abdominal distention. Eating too quickly, drinking a lot of liquids whilst eating and consuming overly hot food can all enhance this.
Additional reasons for bloating:
Some individuals have food intolerances, eating such foods can lead to bloating. An example of this would be, those who are lactose intolerant do not have the enzyme lactase to digest lactose in cows’ milk, so this is broken down by gut bacteria in the large bowel, and consequently produces gases and bloating. Another example is in patients with IBS, where eating foods containing Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (FODMAPs) increases gas production due to poor digestion.
Removing or adding specific foods is not necessarily a treatment for bloating. If you think you have a food intolerance, keeping a food diary is a great way to record your symptoms and help identify any food-related triggers.
Stress can also lead to bloating by affecting the communication mechanisms within the brain, disturbing our ability to digest foods well.
Women typically report feeling bloated more commonly than men. This is most likely due to differences and fluctuations in hormone levels.
Gastrointestinal diseases associated with bloating:
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Gut sensitivity
- Coeliac disease
If you are experiencing any of the above please consult your GP.
Dealing with Bloating
When it comes to bloating there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment plan. The best place to start is by assessing your lifestyle and looking for areas to improve your overall health:
- Eat a well balanced and varied diet.
- Exercise regularly – this can be as simple as walking.
- Manage your stress levels – start by identifying and addressing triggers, practise stress-relievers such as meditation and exercise.
- Be mindful when eating – eating slowly and calmly may reduce gas inhalation and improve digestion, consequently preventing bloating.
To summarise, bloating is a very common gastrointestinal symptom and can be triggered by a wide range of factors.
Many of us experience bloating intermittently and this is fairly normal. If you are experiencing persistent bloating then we would advise speaking to your GP to rule out any gastrointestinal disorders such as IBD.
If you are seeking registered nutritional help to deal with gut-related issues such as bloating then please book a free consultation call.