Suffering From Bloating? Possible Causes & Naturopathic Tips To Help
Bloating = “a sense of gassiness, or being distended, an uncomfortable build up of gassy or fluidy pressure in the abdomen”.
Fermentation & a reasonable amount of gas production are totally normal features of healthy human digestion - we all fart (yes, even your new girlfriend, you’ll see)!
But gas production can go through the roof at times & become uncomfortable / embarrassing / excessive. I’ll discuss here a few of the most common causes of bloating, & give some natural tips to help you avoid / keep it under control!
I’ve spent the past 20 yrs chatting about bowel motions, gas & different diets with people at markets & health stores, & bloating is such a common complaint, often confusing / difficult to figure out what causes bloating.
From my experience, bloating is usually due to one (or a combo) of the below factors - see if any of these seem relevant to you!
**First though - if you are experiencing any of the below ‘red flags’ along with your bloating, get to you Dr / trusted practitioner asap.
- unexplained weightloss
- major changes in bowel movements (for no known reason)
- if you’re older (let’s say 50+) & are not normally a ‘bloater’
COMMON CAUSES OF BLOATING:
Grazing / Eating Too Frequently:
This is one of the major causes of bloating (& other gut issues, ie SIBO / IBS). When you are grazing all day, this leaves no rest time for your stomach & small intestine to ‘cleanse & reset’ (1.5-2hrs is a min to wait after loading up your GIT, & longer intervals between meals, snacks & beverages other than water is better). The ‘Migrating Motor Complex’ (a series of cleansing contractions or waves) needs time without ANY food coming through in order to operate, cleaning & resetting our gut, ready for effective digestion of the next feed & maintaining healthy microbial balance.
Intermittent fasting, 3 good meals with no snacking (eat more filling meals / change your environment so food is not always readily available, add more protein & good fats to your meals so they sustain you longer). Even just prolonging the overnight fasting period is awesome (ie earlier dinner, (no late night treats) & then later breakfast).
Gut Bug Issues:
- SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth - is in my experience, a very common cause / driver of ‘IBS’).
- eating too frequently = no time to cleanse & reset
- low stomach acid production (or meds)
- post antibiotic use
- post gastro infection or food poisoning
- contaminated tank water
- parasites / nasty microbes dominating gut
- diet not supporting a functional, diverse microbial ecosystem
See an experienced practitioner, many things may help, but get a clear idea on what is going on before spending random dollars.
Low Stomach Acid:
Without enough acid, food (esp protein) is not well digested in the stomach, & passes into the intestines without being properly broken down, leading to microbial imbalances & fermentation / gas production happening where it shouldn’t be. This is one of the common causes of bloating. Note: stomach acid generally decreases as we age, & zinc is required to make it so check for other signs of deficiency.
Apple cider vinegar (20-40mL in a little water before high protein meals), Hcl capsules, digestive enzymes, zinc supplementation, waiting until you’re really hungry before food, smelling it / being fully present when eating, more exercise if sedentary, don’t drink large quantities of fluid with meals (drink before meals or wait until well after - unless you’re super thirsty). Small drinks with meals are ok. And don’t gulp your food & drinks (air can be swallowed).
Movement Issues (structural changes / physical obstruction / anything causing impaired movement of food through the GIT):
- pelvic floor issues
- diverticular pockets
- gut shifts or adhesions post surgery
- new sedentary / sit down or driving job
- bed rest / immobility
- spinal or nerve issues
- tension / not feeling safe or relaxed ‘holding it in’
Rule out anything serious by seeing a GP / get a gastroenterologist referral, & if nothing comes up then see an osteopath to help with any possible nerve issues / structural alignment, get moving more (yoga, pilates, walking, swimming, trampolining etc). If it’s feeling more uptight / tension related, try magnesium, a massage or 3, herbal relaxants - or better still, get to the root with some emotional support, therapy or counselling.
Belly Fat / Insulin resistance:
Is it really bloating? Sometimes a sudden ‘bloated belly’ can be (at least partly) a new layer of abdominal fat due to insulin resistance. Especially likely if you’re a sweet tooth or carb-oholic, a smoker, have diabetes or PCOS in the family, are not exercising in a way to maintain / build your muscle tissue, have passed 40 yrs, or had a hormonal shift recently.
Low carb / low sugar diet with high protein, fibre & good fats. Intermittent fasting. Exercise with the aim to build muscle (thus improving insulin sensitivity). Decrease stress, get enough quality sleep. Many supps are available, but get tests done & see a practitioner. See more on this here: improve-insulin-sensitivity-lose-belly-fat
If this has not been tested for, get it done ASAP as it’s necessary to stay strictly & completely gluten free when your body reacts to it like this. Many people are reactive to gluten in a different way - ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’, but coeliac disease needs permanent avoidance to allow the gut (& rest of the body) to heal & stay healthy.
Inflammation / Fluid:
Low grade food intolerances can make you look & feel swollen & bloated - the most common culprits are listed below:
- gluten & dairy (numerous other possibilities ie nuts, soy etc)
A 3 month break from the main suspects, then reintroduce 1 at a time (In small doses, notice the impact on how your body feels). Work with a practitioner if feeling lost / for best results.
High FODMAP Foods:
This list is long & tricky to remember, so many seemingly unrelated foods, & you can probably handle them all fine in small doses (it’s just if you eat too many FODMAP’s over a period that you’ll get symptoms).
Get the Monash Uni App, get familiar with it, keep a food diary to get an idea of your triggers, or work with a practitioner.
Other Bloat Triggering Foods:
- fizzy beverages
- chewing gum
- coffee (can be milk & / or caffeine)
- fermented foods & drinks
- lollies etc with weird sweeteners ie maltitol, xylitol (if it ends in ‘ol’ watch for digestive symptoms)
- protein powders (esp dairy & soy, but can be any)
- high histamine foods (google a list)
A food diary to see if you can spot some patterns / find your triggers.
Female Hormones (throughout the cycle & at life changes):
Progesterone tends to slow the bowel / decrease movement & oestrogen tends to mean more movement. A drop in both hormones can mean constipation & is one of the common causes of bloating prior to menses, & this is also common during perimenopause.
Gut support supplements during the last 10 days of the cycle (ie probiotics, bitter herbals, fibre etc). Supplements to support hormonal balance (see a practitioner for these).
Change of Diet:
Introduce new foods gradually (ie switching suddenly from a meat heavy diet to a plant heavy diet will generally cause loads of bloating & gas, esp if legumes are a new feature)!
Make changes slowly, not overnight! Expect some adjustment period when you make changes. See a nutrition professional for a smooth & healthy transition into any new diet.
Too Much Fibre / Not Enough Fibre / Wrong Type of Fibre / Sudden Intro of New Fibre:
Plant cell walls (fibre) are carbs that are indigestible to humans, they pass into our bowel intact & become food for our bacteria to ferment. We call these ‘Microbe accessible carbohydrates, or MAC’s’. Fibre supplements like Bran (the outer layer from wheat grain), psyllium (the husks from psyllium seeds) & inulin (from chicory root) are all just indigestible plant cell walls, processed into ‘easier to take’ forms. I’m not a huge fan of relying on these types of supplements entirely as they don’t offer the diversity found in a natural plant rich diet (loads of food for certain microbes, but many others miss out). Great to use / include them / get through tough periods but not as the main fibre fuel for the gut - we want some diversity (plus all the other nutrients found in plant food!)
Finding the fibre balance for sensitive tummies can be tricky. Low FODMAP plant foods are safest for less bloat potential, & remember that both inulin & bran can be very bloaty. Keeping a food diary is a great way to get to know what fibres your particular gut responds best to (just jot down everything you put in your mouth on one side of a sheet of paper, on the other jot down how you feel / any symptoms / if you feel great etc). After a while you’ll likely notice some patterns to help you figure out what’s best to ditch / keep using.
Stress / Nervous System:
We have 2 major ‘arms’ of the nervous system that we flip between throughout the day (fight or flight, & rest & digest). We’re likely to suffer from bloating if we eat while stressed - high cortisol levels inhibit gastric acid production & general digestive health. (Hint - many of us are spending too much of the day in fight or flight!) Also - damage to the vagus nerve (controls many involuntary functions like digestion, heart rate, breathing etc) can be one of the causes of bloating & digestive issues.
- work stress
- relationship stress
- family stress
- new relationship
- new living situation
- holiday / living / away from home
- new job
- etc etc (depends on your susceptibility, & your stress management strategies!)
Regular meditation, breath work, yoga, massage, holidays, laughter, time off, etc etc & don’t eat if you’re feeling stressed, wait until you’re more calm.
There are MANY medications (& natural supplements) that impact your gut & can cause bloating (for different reasons). Here are just a few of the main offenders!
- acid blockers
- the OCP (‘The Pill’)
Natural Meds / Supps:
- any vitamin gummies, bars, powders etc that are sweetened with an ‘ol’ word. Like xylitol, maltitol etc.
- inulin (a high FODMAP prebiotic)
- poor quality vitamins / minerals (often contain more reactive fillers & binders)
- zinc (more commonly nausea, but bloating can happen)
- iron (known to cause constipation / bloating)
- magnesium (more likely diarrhoea in larger doses)
Type the name of whatever drug or supplement (or any filler / binder ingredients in it) you’re taking into google with bloating & see what comes up, if it’s known to bloat people, ask your pharmacist / GP / naturopath if there’s any better alternatives, or a better way to take it for you. There are often alternatives, lower or split doses, or changing the brand or even the time it’s taken. Worth asking!
Naturopathic ‘de-bloat’ first aid cabinet:
- charcoal capsules
- peppermint (tea, oil, capsules, tummy massage oil)
- ginger (tea, oil, capsules, tummy massage oil)
- well tolerated fibre supplements ie Blend11
- well tolerated probiotics ie Terra Flora
- digestive enzymes
- apple cider vinegar
- digestive bitters
Please feel free to reach out with any specific Q’s & I’ll do my best to help / share tips / refer you to someone appropriate!