What Causes Bloating?

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Our bodies are amazing. While we sleep, talk or browse social media, our cells and bodily organs work. The formation of gasses in the digestive tract is a natural process, and all adults free themselves of excess gasses 13 to 21 times per day on average. The gasses come out of both the lower end of the gastrointestinal tract and the upper one (in burps). However, if the process is disrupted for some reason, such a condition may result in discomfort or even pain.

According to several studies, for example, “Prevalence and risk factors for abdominal bloating and visible distention: a population-based study,” 16-30% of people are regularly suffering from bloating and flatulence. So why does it happen, and what can we do about it?

When there is too much gas in the digestive tract or something prevents it from passing out, such a state can lead to bloating accompanied by discomfort, pain, stomach rumble, and pressure in the abdomen. There are many reasons for problems in your “gas station,” and most of them are comparatively harmless.

1. Overeating

Sometimes we feel like a stuffed turkey just because we ate too much. In this case, gasses are not to blame. According to the research, “Bloating and distention in irritable bowel syndrome: the role of visceral sensation,” some people tend to sense flatulence, and this problem is more of a sensory issue than a physical one.

2. Food intolerances and allergies

Quite a few people are living with food intolerances which they don’t even know about. In such cases, bloating accompanied by excess gasses can be a sign of them. Here are the usual suspects:

If you suspect having an allergy or food intolerance, it is recommended to consult with a physician.

3. Gas producing foods 

Food fiber is very useful for your body, but some foodstuffs which are rich in fiber can make your body produce more gas. These include legumes and whole-grain products such as beans, chickpeas and lentils. On the other hand, high-fat products can slow down digestion and emptying of the stomach, making you feel heavy.

Here are the foods you should bear in mind:

  • Fried and spicy food.
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, etc.).
  • Prunes or prune juice.
  • Beer.

4. Swallowing air and gasses (when smoking, etc.)

There are two sources of gastrointestinal gasses, external and internal. Gut bacteria are responsible for the latter, while the former source is formed when we eat, drink or smoke. Obviously, most gasses come into our body with carbonated beverages. The gaseous carbon dioxide dissolved in them is released in the stomach and, in the best case, leaves our body when we burp.

We get a lot of gas when we drink through a straw, eat too quickly (or while we talk), chew gum or suck on sweets. Loose false teeth can be another reason for swallowing excess air.

5. FODMAP-rich diet

FODMAP stands for fermented oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols found in many foodstuffs. These can be hard to digest, especially with some somatic gastrointestinal disorders.  In numerous studies (one of the examples is “Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach”) the scientists have found that low-FODMAP diets allow decreasing uncomfortable digestive symptoms. At least, this is true for people who have irritable bowel syndrome. If you are worried about bloating, changing your diet might help.

High-FODMAP products:

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Broccoli
  • Wheat
  • White cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Artichokes
  • Beans
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Watermelons

6. Sweeteners

Chewing gums and “healthy” foodstuffs are often sweetened with sugar alcohol. It is considered a safe sugar alternative (which is especially important for people with diabetes). Meanwhile, the consumption of those gives the bacteria in our large intestine a chance to have a “gas party” (see the report “Sorbitol intolerance: an unappreciated cause of functional gastrointestinal complaints.”

Strictly speaking, the sugar alcohol is in FODMAP foods. For this reason, it should be consumed in moderation. Those prone to bloating should avoid xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol. Erythritol might be a better alternative, but it can also cause problems, in large doses.

7. Premenstrual cycle and pregnancy

The menstrual cycle is regulated by hormones, which include estrogen and progesterone. The fluctuations in the level of these hormones affect the whole body, including the digestive system. Before the beginning of the menstrual cycle, estrogen can lead to constipation, flatulence, and gas retention in the gut. The prostaglandins, which cause the womb to contract, add to the effect: the excess of them gets into the blood flow and affects the smooth muscles, making the gastrointestinal tract to contract. 

Hormone-induced changes in food preferences also become a part of the problem. According to the report “Differential associations between ovarian hormones and disordered eating symptoms across the menstrual cycle in women,” progesterone leads to dietary problems and dissatisfaction with our bodies, which, in it turn,  makes us pick dairy products, starchy carbs and sweets which affect digestion.

Gas formation during pregnancy can be one of its symptoms. The already-known progesterone helps bearing children and relaxes muscles in the body, including the intestine muscle. In turn, this slows down digestion and leads to accumulating gasses, abdominal distention, burps and flatulence. Finally, vitamin supplements for pregnant women add to the effect since some of their components contribute to constipation.

8. Stress

Anxiety and stress can increase the amount of air we swallow, which leads to abdominal bloating and flatulence. Even if this doesn’t happen, emotions can lead to muscle spasms which interfere with the natural course of events.

What is the cure for excessive gas formation

1. Change your diet

For a start, eat in a sitting position in small portions, chew food thoroughly and avoid distractions. This alone can help solve a part of the problem. Keeping a food diary can assist in identifying the cause of an adverse reaction of the gastrointestinal tract.

2. Quit smoking

This will help to avoid abdominal bloating. As a bonus, quitting smoking will decrease the risks of many life-threatening diseases.

3. Intake of ferment supplements under medical supervision

Additional ferments can help break down indigestible carbs. The most popular ones contain lactase (for people with lactose intolerance) or alpha-galactosidase.

The excessive gas formation can be prevented with the help of medicines containing simethicone (silicon-based compound) or through the intake of Fermented charcoal. But you should always consult your physician before intake as those affect drug absorption.

4. Avoid constipation

Constipation is a very common digestive issue that can have a number of causes. Often, it exacerbates the symptoms of abdominal bloating since it blocks gasses inside the intestine (“Bloating and distension in irritable bowel syndrome: the role of gastrointestinal transit.” Wrong measures can also exacerbate the situation. Often, it is recommended to consume large quantities of soluble fiber as a preventive against constipation. Meanwhile, this can make the bloating worse. If you experience both of these problems, try to drink more water and be more active. According to the research “Effects of regular physical activity on defecation pattern in middle-aged patients complaining of chronic constipation,” such an approach may work.

5. Increase the level of your activity

If you don’t have a chance to visit the gym, try to walk every day for at least half an hour. Walking, especially after a meal, helps tone the muscles, prevents constipation and speeds up digestion.

6. Try peppermint oil

Abdominal bloating can be caused by changes in the functioning of the gastrointestinal muscles, which may make the intake of the antispasmodics quite effective. Peppermint oil has exactly this antispasmodic effect and therefore, is used to cure abdominal bloating. This is confirmed by numerous research “Peppermint oil for irritable bowel syndrome: a critical review and metaanalysis.”

Also, negative symptoms can be alleviated by chamomile tea and water with several drops of clove oil (see “Eugenol (Clove Oil)”).

7. Avoid anxiety and stress

Reducing stress has a positive effect on symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract and improves the quality of life as a whole.

8. Consult with a physician to diagnose and cure an underlying condition

Fighting the symptoms can be useless if their causes are much deeper. When consulting with a doctor, it is worth writing down the questions and observations on how and when you have abdominal bloating and flatulence (the food diary mentioned above can also be helpful).

How to get rid of rumbling and bloating fast

You have an important meeting soon, but you have got a pod of whales in your stomach discussing books of Douglas Adams? Here is what may help:

  • Drink some water.
  • Eat if you feel hungry.
  • Get some exercise (go cycling, jogging or skipping).
  • Try some yoga poses which involve your abdominal muscles (Cat-Cow, Sphinx Pose, Torso Twist, Extended Puppy Pose, Extended Triangle Pose).
  • Massage your stomach with circular motions for 15 minutes.

Most often, abdominal bloating is not something to worry about, as its causes are easily identified and corrected. However, if the uncomfortable symptoms negatively affect your quality of life, you should consult with a doctor.

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