Bloating is a common phenomenon experienced by both men and women with estimates suggesting that as much as 30% of the population deals with it from time to time.
Feeling overly stuffed, uncomfortable, and “puffy” are all hallmark signs of bloating, but why does it happen?
What Causes Bloating?
While you might think that bloating is just another way to describe water retention and/or stomach distention, they are all actually very different from one another.
First off, every person who feels bloated doesn’t necessarily exhibit a larger stomach, it can often look that as if you are not bloated at all.
Feeling bloated is just that — a feeling
The most common cause of bloating is excessive gas in the digestive tract, which can happen from swallowing too much air or drinking one too many carbonated beverages.
Carbonated beverages get their “fizz” from carbon dioxide. When you drink these bubbly beverages, the gas can get released from the liquid into your stomach, leading to extra gas in the GI tract.
Additionally, not completely chewing your food (i.e. scarfing your food down), drinking through a straw, and chewing gum may all contribute to excessive air entering your system…resulting in that quintessential bloated feeling.
The quick fix here is to make sure that you slow down when eating by chewing your food more thoroughly. If you are prone to feeling bloated, also consider eating smaller meals and/or not drinking your beverage through a straw
Other Common Causes of Bloating
Food Sensitivities & Intolerances
Food sensitivities and intolerances are fairly common these days.
Some of the most common food sensitivities and intolerances are:
- Vegetable oils
FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides And Polyols.
They are a family of short-chain carbohydrates readily found in a number of foods common to the diet, including:
In certain individuals, FODMAPs are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, meaning they will head to large intestine and are fermented by gut bacteria. And, gas is a by-product of the fermentation process.
Several different gastrointestinal disorders have bloating as a symptom, including:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- celiac disease, and
- ulcerative colitis (UC)
Research indicates that bloating may occur in between 23-96% of people with IBS
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (An Unhappy Gut)
Abbreviated as SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is a condition that happens when there is an abnormal or excessive level of bacteria in the small intestine.
This bad bacteria bounty can result from a number of things, including:
- Using antibiotics
- Poor digestion
SIBO can also damage the stomach lining, which may lead to further gut problems as well as the malabsorption of essential nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals).
Constipation and Bowel Obstruction
Bloating can also occur as a result of constipation or bowel obstruction.
Bowel obstructions may happen due to the build-up of scar tissue in the small intestine or colon.
As these bowel blockages mount, they press against your innards, leading to the accumulation of fluid and stool in the intestines, which can cause bloating and abdominal pain.
Other common (not to mention less severe) causes of constipation include:
- Inadequate fiber intake
- Insufficient fluid (water) consumption
- Lack of physical activity
Hormonal fluctuations accompanying a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle as well as endometriosis can both lead to bloating, cramping, and fluid retention.
How to Prevent Bloating
Bloating may be one of the easier GI-related symptoms to avoid if it’s due to eating too much or too quickly.
If your bloating is due to this (or something like swallowing too much air), the simple fix is to eat smaller meals as well as to take your time when eating (i.e. chew your food more slowly). You can also drink your fluids from the glass (or bottle) as opposed to using a straw.
If you start to realize that you feel bloated after eating certain foods (like those containing FODMAPs), simply remove them from your diet and substitute them with other healthy foods.
Also, remember that being sedentary is a contributing factor to bloating. As such, make sure you’re moving around enough during the day. If you have a desk job, get up and stretch or take a walk around the office once an hour to get the blood flowing and help eliminate any potential bloating, that may lay in wait.
Additionally, you can try using some all-natural remedies, like probiotics or peppermint oil.
Peppermint, in particular, has been highlighted as an all-natural alternative that functions similar to antispasmodic medications, which are commonly prescribed to treat IBS related symptoms.
NPL’s Cleanse and Detox and Digestive Enzymes (also containing pre & pro biotics) also assist in properly digesting food and promoting a healthy gut
Lastly, remember to chill out and relax.
Stress increases cortisol levels which impairs sleep, muscle recovery, glucose metabolism, and fat loss. Chronic stress can also exacerbate GI symptoms, contributing to abdominal bloating.
Learning to relax can help tame cortisol as well as help fight belly bloat.