Bloating is a very common complaint among both women and men. Studies have found that as many as 30% of people experience it at least intermittently. In this article, we look at bloating – what it is, what causes it, and how you can reduce or eliminate it. For such a common problem, there really is a lot to it.
What Is Bloating?
Bloating is a feeling of excessive fullness, sometimes accompanied by an enlarged, protruding stomach. It is experienced after a meal but not always immediately – sometimes bloating takes an hour or so after the meal to develop.
Bloating is not water retention, a different condition entirely. Water retention sees inflammation in the tissues due to water being retained. So you might have swelling in your legs, arms, neck, or face. Conversely, bloating is always a function of the stomach and intestine and its symptoms show up there as well.
How to Reduce Bloating?
Reducing bloating can be done with a variety of tactics and treatments. There are changes you can make to your lifestyle, your diet, and other treatments your doctor may prescribe.
1. Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Bloating
Eating smaller meals may reduce bloating by giving your stomach more time to digest less food. Some healthy nutrition regimens call for four or five smaller meals throughout the day and these diets often reduce bloating.
You can also reduce bloating simply by reducing the amount of air you swallow with your food. Talking while swallowing ingests more air (as does chewing gum!) You can also give up fizzy soft drinks to reduce bloating – they release CO2 in your gut in addition to the excess sugar which can cause bloating on its own.
An abundance of dietary supplements exists to help you reduce bloating as well. Digestive enzyme supplements help your body process food by replacing certain enzymes that may be in short supply in your system. These options include products like simethicone (brand name Gas-X), lactase (brand name Lactaid), and alpha-d-galactosidase (brand name Beano).
In addition, a probiotic supplement may aid digestion and reduce bloating. Probiotics are good bacteria to supplement your existing gut microbiome. Good bacteria are an integral part of the digestion process and if your levels are off, temporary use of a supplement may remedy it permanently.
Finally, if you have trouble eating your daily allowance of green vegetables, consider using a fiber supplement to keep things moving. Fiber supplements are taken orally with water and help to prevent bloating by ensuring that digestion moves at a proper pace.
2. Foods that Reduce Bloating
Foods can contribute to bloating either because the food’s natural properties cause gas or because your particular metabolism is partly intolerant of that food. Lactose, fructose, eggs, and gluten are some of the most common foods that people may not digest well. These food allergies and intolerances are primary causes of bloating. Work with your doctor to identify food allergies and treatment options.
Further, some food cause gas in almost everyone regardless of any personal allergy or intolerance. Legumes like beans and lentils are notorious as are most cabbages. You might also discuss FODMAPs with your doctor. FODMAPs are a group of foods that tend to ferment in the small intestine, causing constipation, gas, and other symptoms. But many of these foods (artichokes, green beans, asparagus, cauliflower) are quite healthy in general, so consult a doctor before eliminating them from your diet.
Also beware of sugar-free foods as many contain sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are sugar substitutes and can cause bloating.
3. Medical Treatments for Bloating
Because bloating may be a sign of more serious conditions, always speak with a doctor about persistent issues with bloating. Your doctor can screen you for IBS and other conditions that require medical treatment.
Your doctor might also determine that your bloating is caused by malfunctioning of the muscles around your intestine. This condition can be treated with antispasmodic drugs that relax the cramping muscles around the intestine.
Conditions That Can Lead To Bloating Sensation
You may have simply eaten too much!
We forget that we are animals with instincts and part of our behavior is driven by them. As hunter-gatherers, our DNA is accustomed to not knowing where our next meal might come from, so eating while food is available is a deep instinct.
This creates the likelihood that humans will often eat meals that are just too large for the stomach. To make it worse, the feeling of satiety – or fullness – takes about half an hour to emerge. So if you continue eating until you feel full (instead of measuring portions and stopping when the plate is empty), then you will inevitably overfill your stomach consistently.
The problem is that now, after thousands of years of evolution, food is now almost never scarce – almost always ubiquitous. But if your subconscious mind has not noticed or adapted, you will stuff yourself often.
This can be a primary cause of bloating in both women and men.
Sometimes the bloating sensation is caused by gas accumulated in the stomach. Gas in the stomach comes from bacteria in the gut that produce gas as well as from foods and beverages you are ingesting.
Some gas is a normal byproduct of digestion. But that normal amount of gas does not cause discomfort or noticeable bloating. So if you’re having trouble, that is proof of excess gas that requires treatment of some kind. Below, we discuss some ways to reduce bloating.
A third way in which people experience bloating is through a sensitivity in the lining of their stomach or intestine (or both). Some sufferers of bloating actually have no problem with either overeating or gas, but with hyper-sensitivity of the stomach lining that makes you feel the discomfort of being overfull or inflated even when you’re not.
If you are uncertain what condition you’re experiencing, talk with a doctor because certain potentially serious medical conditions do need to be ruled out. Your doctor will want to eliminate IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) as a more serious cause of your symptoms. IBS is treatable but can be very serious if untreated.
There is a lot to think about – we understand. If you have questions about bloating or any of the conditions discussed here, connecting with a doctor in a discrete setting has never been easier.
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