Bloating is a common complaint for many people. Studies show that 15-30% of the population experiences bloating symptoms.1 Bloating is the uncomfortable expansion of the abdomen with varying associated symptoms. Some individuals feel pain during bloating, while others might only notice distension. There are many root causes of bloating as well as many false opinions that bloating treatment is one-size-fits-all. There isn’t one food or supplement that will relieve bloating, because everybody’s bloat is unique. If you experience this uncomfortable chronic condition, here are 4 causes of bloating you may want to ask your doctor about.
You don’t produce enough stomach acid or digestive enzymes
Stomach acid, or gastric juice, is responsible for the breakdown of food. Stomach acid is comprised of digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and other substances. The body produces 3-4 liters of stomach acid every day.2 Stomach acid also helps to kill bacteria. In addition, digestive enzymes are produced by the pancreas and help to split proteins. Low stomach acid or enzymes can lead to undigested or improperly digested food and sluggish gut movement. While not a common disease, pancreatic insufficiency is a disease of the pancreas that leads to low enzyme production. Low stomach acid can also have many etiologies such as mineral deficiencies or ongoing stress. If you have digestive symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, loss of appetite, feelings of fullness, or diarrhea, talk to your doctor.3
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You have a mystery food intolerance
Food intolerances are common, especially as our food becomes more processed. Common trigger foods include lactose (milk, yogurt, and some cheeses) and gluten (breads, pastries, and pasta). It is important to note that food allergies and intolerances are two different conditions. According to the GI Society, “In contrast to food allergy, food intolerance does not involve the body’s immune system. Intolerance is an adverse reaction to a food, likely to originate in the gastrointestinal system, usually caused by a limited ability or an inability to digest or absorb certain foods or their components.”4 Food intolerances can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and bowel changes. Food intolerances, unlike food allergies, are difficult to test for. You can keep a food journal with symptoms to identify your trigger foods. You can then test with an elimination diet to find out which foods are causing your symptoms. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist for more information.
You haven’t been tested for SIBO
Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth occurs when the small intestine experiences an overgrowth of bacteria. While the bacteria may not necessarily be “bad”, the small intestine is not meant to house large amounts of bacteria, regardless of if they are beneficial or not. Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine can lead to inappropriate fermentation of foods that lead to chronic bloating that doesn’t resolve on its own. Symptoms of SIBO can be reduced by adhering to a low FODMAP diet, a diet low in fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols. High FODMAP foods include apples, blackberries, watermelon, garlic, beans, onions, broccoli, and many types of grains. While a low FODMAP diet is great to reduce symptoms before or during treatment, it can cause long-term vitamin, mineral, and fiber restriction. Treatment options should first include finding the root cause of SIBO (low gut motility or abdominal adhesions, for example) and then treating with antibiotics or antimicrobial herbs. Treatment should be closely monitored to ensure SIBO does not return. If you are interested in testing, ask your doctor for more information on breath tests.
You are chronically stressed
Stress doesn’t just impact the mind, it can also physically attack the body and nervous system. In fact, stress that directly causes digestive upset happens via the “brain-gut axis”. Yes, your brain is directly related to your intestines! Harvard Health describes how the brain-gut axis can lead to digestive upset; “In response to less severe stress, such as public speaking, the digestive process may slow or be temporarily disrupted, causing abdominal pain and other symptoms of functional gastrointestinal disorders. Of course, it can work the other way as well: persistent gastrointestinal problems can heighten anxiety and stress.”5 Slow and sluggish digestion can lead to symptoms such as bloating. If you experience both chronic bloating and chronic stress, try taking at least 5 deep breaths before and after every snack and meal. You can also implement daily stress reduction practices such as walking before eating or starting your day with a calming yoga class.
In addition to the solutions above, using digestive supplements can support your search for the root cause of your bloating. Using motility-activating supplements such as Ginger is a great way to improve your digestion if you have slow gut movement. If you are low in digestive enzymes, try a supplemental Digestive Enzyme. If you experience gas along with your bloating, try finishing your meals with Peppermint Oil. To find out exactly what your body needs, you can take Persona’s personalized questionnaire.
As George Herbert once said, “A good digestion turneth all to health”.
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