Bloating is a common concern for those with digestive issues, especially those with irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS). It is one of the more uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms
and can distort how one feels in, and looks at, their body. It may even cause clothes not to
fit properly, reducing self-confidence. Bloating is a symptom we notice most often but it’s a
bit misunderstood compared to other GI symptoms.
Bloating is defined as subjective discomfort by a person’s sensation of intestinal gas. This
means it isn’t always something that is measured but can be based on how one feels in their
body. Because of this, it can be hard to fully understand what is going on for the individual.
Bloating can also be referred to as the build-up of gas, liquid or solids in the gastrointestinal
(GI) tract. Sometimes bloating will be paired with abdominal distension.
Bloating is typically a symptom, as opposed to a condition in and of itself. It can be a sign
that something normal or abnormal is going on within the body.
The most common causes of bloating are overeating, eating large portions of food in one
sitting or slow motility (movement) through the GI tract. The undigested food can cause
extra pressure, excess fermentation (gas) and the feeling of fullness that is typically
associated with bloat. Slower motility can be due to conditions such as gastroparesis,
infections, delayed gastric emptying and functional constipation, among others, and is
something you would want to talk to your doctor about.
The build-up of gas is typically due to increased fermentation by large meals, cruciferous
vegetables, large amounts of fibre, resistant starches and FODMAPs. The rate of
fermentation is unique to each person’s microbiome but, as gut bacteria digest the fibres
from food, they produce gas. This gas can build up and lead to bloat. Note: fermentation is a
very good thing because bacteria also produce other by-products that are necessary for
overall health including short chain fatty acids. This process happens in the large intestine. A
little bloat and gas after a meal is very normal and a sign that your microbes are working.
Being uncomfortable, in pain or distended is not as normal.
The build-up of gas can also come from swallowing air through straws, eating too quickly,
drinking carbonated beverages and chewing gum. These are typical signs to look for in a
food and symptom journal and can be easy changes to make to reduce overall bloat.
The build-up of liquid typically comes from FODMAPs. FODMAPs are short-chain
carbohydrates that move through the GI tract and pull water into the gut. For those with
IBS, this may happen more rapidly, most likely due to an increased intestinal permeability.
This water can lead to abdominal distention and the feeling of fullness, characterised as
bloating. For those with IBS, this can also be marked by pain due to hypersensitivity.
A build-up of liquid can also be due to fluid retention which can be caused by increased
intake of salt, hormone changes as well as conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease. If
bloating doesn’t subside and you feel like you are swollen throughout other areas of your
body, you should talk to your doctor about this.
The above are the more direct causes of bloating but there are also some causes that aren’t
as direct. We know that bloating is more common for those with PCOS and endometriosis,
as well as other GI conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and functional
dyspepsia. Further, hormonal fluctuations during menstruation and menopause can lead to
bloating, without a direct reason. For those with IBS and other GI conditions, visceral
hypersensitivity could even cause the sensation of bloating without the actual distention or
production of gas. As regards the GI condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
(SIBO), bacteria move into the small intestine where they ferment food and lead to bloating.
This is usually paired with severe distention, where one looks like they are pregnant, as well
as causing pain. Experiencing this type of bloating with most meals is a red flag for SIBO.
Read more about SIBO, how to get tested and treatment here.
When it comes to treating the symptom, there are some natural remedies you can try.
Increased water, peppermint tea, heating pads, movement and ginger are all shown to help.
These won’t target the root cause of the bloating but can help alleviate the feeling and
decrease the distention.
To prevent bloating and treat it for good, you want to identify the root cause of it. If food
seems to be a trigger or if IBS is present, bloating can be reduced through simple dietary
changes or an elimination diet such as the low FODMAP diet. Bloating can also be reduced
with lifestyle changes including added movement, not wearing high-waisted and tight pants
and slowing down when eating meals. Some people benefit from supplements that may
help with the breakdown of foods and the motility of the gut. These would include
probiotics, digestive enzymes and prebiotics.
Five simple things you can do to start reducing bloating
To prevent bloating and say goodbye to it properly, you really want to identify the root
cause of your bloating and digestive issues. I highly recommend you consider focusing on
the underlying causes rather than triggers! This is best done through an individualised
approach and with the support of a health professional. They will help you navigate the
options around testing and interventions. One of the best professionals to work with is a
naturopath. If you are looking for someone who specialises in digestive disorders such as IBS
and SIBO, you may be a good fit for my services! Book a Gut Health Discovery Call now.
This is generalised health information and is not to be used to treat or diagnose your
condition. If you have digestive issues, in particular blood, pain, ongoing severe bloating or
changes in bowel motions, please seek individualised medical advice. A naturopath (like
myself) would be a great place to start!