By Dr. Melissa Descoteaux ND
Summer is in full swing, and that means more barbecues, food festivals and eating out. It may also mean more digestive upset, and in particular, bloating. We’ve all experienced it at some point—when your stomach feels enlarged or swollen and may be accompanied by excessive gas. While bloating can be a symptom of a serious digestive issue, it is usually associated with diet and lifestyle habits or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (1,2). When was the last time you felt bloated? How did you manage it? Sometimes the best treatment is prevention. Here are a few tips to help prevent that uncomfortable symptom of bloating.
The first thing to look at is your diet. Certain foods can increase the production of gas in your digestive system, resulting in bloating. One food in particular is artificial zero calorie sweeteners (3). They are not absorbed in the small and large intestine (which is why they are zero calories), but can still be fermented by gut bacteria and produce gas. Other similar foods include beans, legumes and dairy, which are high in FODMAPs (fermentable oligo, di- / mono-saccharides and polyols), an acronym for short-chain carbohydrates that are also poorly absorbed and can cause bloating.
Apart from foods that may directly increase gas production, other foods may trigger an immune response, often delayed 2–3 days, and produce low-grade inflammation in the gut. These foods are termed food intolerances and can cause a number of symptoms, including bloating. Following a strict elimination diet may help identify food intolerances specific to each person. However, if not done properly, a general elimination diet may not identify all food intolerances. Another option is completing a Food Sensitivity Test, which measures IgG immune antibodies in your blood, which are specific to certain foods. Avoiding elevated IgG foods in addition to high FODMAP foods may help get bloating under control (4,5).
It has been shown that probiotics have immunomodulatory effects and may help reduce inflammation. As such, if the ratio of “good” bacteria, aka probiotics, to “bad” bacteria is imbalanced, it may lead to inflammation in the digestive system and symptoms such as bloating. Certain probiotic strains have been well studied, and it seems some work better than others in helping reduce distension and gas (6). When it comes to a probiotic supplement, the key is quality over quantity, and making sure it has the appropriate strains in the right ratios. Although, sometimes supplementing with probiotics isn’t enough to rebalance gut flora. In these cases a digestive restoration protocol, alternating anti-microbial herbs and probiotics, may help reset the digestive system and reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Our fast-paced lifestyles have us reaching for quick meals and eating on the run. The combination of processed food and high stress can take a toll on digestion. When your body is in “fight or flight” mode, aka stress response, it focuses its energy towards muscle and cognitive function instead of digestion. Altering the “gut–brain” axis, experiencing stress can lead to constipation, diarrhea, gas and/or bloating (7). Therefore, taking time out of your day to de-stress with yoga, a run, acupuncture, a 5 minute meditation or just putting your phone down during meals and focusing solely on eating may help support digestive function and prevent symptoms such as bloating.
Overall, the causes of abdominal bloating are multifactorial, but some factors may include what you eat, how you eat and your gut microbiota.
1. Agrawal, A. Whorwell PJ. (2008). Review article: abdominal bloating and distension in functional gastrointestinal disorders-epidemiology and exploration of possible mechanisms. Aliment Parmacol Ther, 27(1), pp. 2-10.
2. Iovino, P. Bucci, C. (2014). Bloating and functional gastro-intestinal disorders: where are we and where are we going?. World J Gastroenterol, 20(39), pp. 14407-19.
3. Johnson, D.A. (2010). Belching, bloating, and flatus: helping the patient who has intestinal gas. Medscape.
4. Halmos, E.P., Power, V.A. (2014). A diet low in FODMAPs reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology, 146(1), pp. 67-75
5. Drisko, J., Bischoff, B. (2006). Treating irritable bowel syndrome with a food elimination diet followed by food challenge and probiotics. J of Am College of Nutrition, 25(6), pp. 514-22.
6. Schmulson, M., Chang, L. (2011). Review article: the treatment of functional abdominal bloating and distension. Alimentary Pharm & Therapeutics, 33(10), pp. 1071-86.
7. Konturek, P.C., Bronzozowski, T., Konturek, S.J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J of Physiology and Pham, 62(6), pp. 591-599.