What is Bloating?
We’ve all suffered from bloating at one point or another. The symptoms are easy to recognize, from a tight pain in the stomach to gas and abdominal gurgling.
According to the University of North Carolina, 10-30 percent of people suffer from frequent bloating. This results in more than just general discomfort: it can cause frequent sick days and an overall loss in productivity (x).
So what causes bloating? And how can you prevent it?
Causes of Bloating
There are many different reasons why you may be feeling bloated. It can range from something simple like indigestion or be a sign of an underlying health condition. The most common causes of bloating include:
Gas and Indigestion
Gas is the most common culprit for bloating. When you eat and drink, you also swallow air. During your digestive process, gas builds from broken down foods and swallowed air.
When this air is not passed through the system, it causes bloating. Other factors can lead to gas, as well, including eating and drinking too rapidly or chewing gum and smoking.
Medical Causes of Bloating
Bloating is also a symptom of many different conditions including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Eating disorders
- Food allergies
- Hormonal changes
- Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress
- Weight gain
- Giardiasis (an infection caused by drinking contaminated water)
Other factors that may lead to bloating:
- Changes in bacteria levels in the GI tract
- Digestive motility problems
- Gas accumulation
- Poor absorption of carbohydrates
- Digestive hypersensitivity
Serious Causes of Bloating
These are all fairly mild to moderate symptoms and are possible to treat via diet and lifestyle changes. However, more serious causes of bloating include:
- Celiac disease
- Fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity resulting from liver disease, kidney failure or cancer
- Pancreatitis and other pancreatic conditions
- Reduced digestive enzyme production GI tract perforation, which causes gut bacteria to escape into the abdominal cavity and lead to bloating
Food Allergies and Bloating
Food allergies or food sensitivities frequently cause bloating. The following foods commonly lead to bloating:
- Lactose: Found in dairy products like milk and cheese, lactose can cause indigestion and bloating, especially in those with lactose intolerance–a condition in which the stomach doesn’t produce enough enzymes to digest lactose.
- Wheat/Gluten: Gluten is found in a wide range of grains including wheat, barley, and spelt. Some people are allergic to gluten, a condition called Celiac disease. Others do not have Celiac disease, but are still sensitive to gluten. When they eat gluten, it causes severe stomach upset and bloating.
- Eggs: Like lactose and gluten, eggs can sometimes cause bloating and gas in those who are sensitive to them.
- Fructose: A common sugar substitute found in everything from sodas to candies and yogurt, fructose can cause indigestion and bloating.
How to Treat and Prevent Bloating
Diet and Lifestyle
In most cases, diet and lifestyle changes can reduce and even prevent bloating. Take the following precautions to stop bloating:
- Reduce your intake of carbonated beverages like soda
- Don’t chew gum, which causes you to swallow extra air, leading to bloating.
- Avoid excessive consumption of foods that cause gas, like dried beans, lentils, and certain vegetables in the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower and kale)
- Eat and drink slowly, and avoid using straws while drinking.
You can also add a probiotic yogurt to your diet; in one study seventy percent of participants reported relief from bloating after eating probiotic foods like Greek yogurt and kefir (x).
Massage to Relieve Bloating
Research into this area is new, but studies suggest that those who received 15-minute abdominal massages twice daily reported decreased bloating (x). These massages also led to other positive effects, including reduced anxiety and depression.
Medications for Bloating
If dietary and lifestyle changes do not relieve your bloating symptoms, then talk to your doctor. The bloating could be a sign of another disorder that may require specific treatment. Depending on the condition, your treatment may require antispasmodics, antibiotics or other types of medication to improve your gastrointestinal health.
When Should You See a Doctor?
If you experience the following symptoms along with bloating, seek medical care immediately; they could indicate a more serious underlying medical condition:
- Frequent Bloating
- Severe, prolonged abdominal pain
- High fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Intense heartburn
- Severe allergic reaction
Supplements to Prevent Bloating
Several different supplements will not only prevent and reduce the symptoms of bloating, but also improve your overall digestive health. They include:
- Alfalfa: This plant is packed with vitamins that promote digestive health including vitamins A, C, E, and K, folate and manganese. You can add a handful of sprouts to nearly any dish or stir one tablespoon of alfalfa extract powder into fruit juice or smoothies.
- Lactase Enzyme: For people suffering from bloating due to lactose intolerance, you can take this enzyme before meals so it’s easier for your body to digest lactose. The typical dosage is one 6000-9000 IU tablet with no adverse side effects.
- Butterbur: Studies suggest butterbur offers a wide range of health benefits. This herb promotes digestive, respiratory and circulatory function (x). Butterbur is an antispasmodic, meaning it alleviates not just bloating, but also other problems such as indigestion and ulcers. Butterbur comes in tea, tincture and tablet form. You can also mix butterbur extract powder into the beverage of your choice for daily relief.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon does more than spice up your cookies; it can help ease your digestion and reduce bloating. You can add cinnamon to your meals, or take cinnamon bark extract powder or cinnamon bark extract capsules for relief.
- Fenugreek: This herb gives your recipes savory seasoning and also promotes healthy weight loss and digestion. Additionally, it reduces inflammation and prevents disease by fighting free radicals (x). Add fenugreek powder to your supplement routine for bloating relief.
- Boswellia Serrata: Also known as Indian Frankincense, this ancient plant has been used medicinally for centuries. A natural anti-inflammatory, boswellia also supports healthy digestion. And because it boosts production of digestive enzymes, it may relieve symptoms of IBS. As a dietary supplement, take 450 mg of boswellia serrata extract powder once or twice daily, or as directed by your doctor.
The Bottom Line
Bloating is generally caused by problems in your digestive system, and while it’s unpleasant, you can prevent it by making healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle. If you have food allergies or intolerances, avoid foods that can trigger bloating. Supplements and medications can also ease discomfort and create the balance your body needs to facilitate healthy digestion.