One of the most annoying digestive symptoms of modern times is bloating.
Bloating can have many different causes, and is often due to a combination of different factors.
Ladies tend to suffer from bloating more than men, as hormone fluctuations – particularly before menstruation or during menopause - can lead to these symptoms. It’s also thought that women suffer more because their intestines are longer than their male counterparts, and this slows down the time that it takes for food to pass through their intestines. Women are more prone to constipation for this reason, another cause of bloating, as the build-up of waste matter and gas leads to distension.
So ladies are generally very familiar with the misery of ‘The Bloat’, but of course men do suffer, too, and there are some common causes which can affect both sexes.
So let’s take a look at five major causes of bloating, and what you can do about them:
Keep a food diary to try and identify problem foods or food intolerances.
Food, of course, is a major factor in bloating symptoms! Those with a sensitive digestive system may have issues with certain types of foods, leading to food intolerances. Dairy and foods containing gluten can be prime candidates for this type of reaction, and bloating is a common symptom. It’s therefore useful to keep a brief food diary and note what you have eaten on the days you find you’re most bloated.
Certain types of foods are well-known for causing flatulence and bloating in the majority of people, however, especially beans and pulses.
Unless you’re very allergic to them, it’s not always helpful just to avoid these foods, as they’re very nutritious and can help to encourage the growth of the right sort of helpful bacteria in our gut. But reduce your portions if you find that they are a real problem for you, and consider ways to help relieve the effects of these things, for example, by sprouting, soaking and thorough cooking. These methods all help to break down the substance in them, phytic acid, which contributes to bloating symptoms. It’s also helpful to eat these foods in meals containing spices that can help with digestion, such as ginger or cumin, and some people like to add the seaweed kombu to their cooking as this contains enzymes which can help to break down the phytic acid.
Use a good, well-researched probiotic, containing strains that have been identified to help with bloating symptoms. Top tip: OptiBac Probiotics’ ‘One week flat’
Another way of supporting and improving digestion and relieving bloating symptoms is by using a good quality probiotic supplement. We all have a resident gut flora, and evidence suggests that these bacteria are heavily involved in the digestive process, as well as a whole host of other physiological functions. But not all bacteria are beneficial, so if your populations of on-board micro-organisms are dominated by less favourable types of bacteria, then this may be a factor in digestive and other health problems. Poor diet and some medications, such as antibiotics, can harm the gut bacteria and seriously disrupt the natural balance.
So it’s important to ensure that you include ‘probiotic’ bacteria in your diet, and you can do this in the form of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yoghurt, kimchi and kombucha. But if you have more significant digestive symptoms, or have had lots of antibiotics in the past, and are suffering from persistent bloating symptoms, then I’d definitely recommend using a probiotic supplement. This way you can choose the strains of bacteria that you use, and also ensure that you’re taking them in sufficiently powerful doses.
I’d always recommend using a good-quality, well-researched probiotic, and for bloating symptoms, one of my favourites is OptiBac Probiotics ‘One week flat’. The live cultures act to reduce bloating in the following ways – by producing enzymes that help to break down and digest troublesome foods such as starch and lactose. They also help to metabolise excess hormones, and help to displace the undesirable, methane-producing bacteria that can cause excess gas.
Do remember, however, that it may take more than one lifestyle or dietary change, or helpful supplement, to finally alleviate this troublesome symptom. For more information about other types of natural supplements that may help to alleviate abdominal bloating, do check out this great article from one of my favourite websites, ‘Bloating Tips’: Natural remedies for bloating
Reduce sugar in the diet
To further help to support your good bacteria, it’s helpful to cut down on the sugar in your diet, but did you also know that sugar is also a prime culprit for causing bloating? It feeds undesirable bacteria and yeasts, and these can produce lots of gas which causes bloating and flatulence. Another reason is that those eating a very high-sugar diet often don’t absorb sugars well, and these poorly digested carbohydrates hang around in the digestive system, fermenting and producing yet more gas.
Because of its relationship with insulin, one of the most powerful hormones in the body, sugar can also contribute to bloating in a different way. Insulin affects all of the other hormones in your body, including oestrogen and progesterone, and fluctuations in levels of these hormones can adversely affect digestive function.
Even the sugars found in nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables can be a common cause of bloating symptoms, so it’s worth thinking about the amount of hidden sugar you have in your diet. It’s often disguised in canned and processed foods, as well as choccies and cakes, and don’t be misled into thinking that fruit juices are always a healthier option – these can often be high in sugar, and don’t contain the helpful fibre that helps to prevent blood sugar spikes and feed your good bacteria. So take your fruit whole or in smoothies.
Instead of sugary snacks, try oatcakes or savoury nuts instead, or lovely raw veggies with hummus or mashed avocado.
The ‘Gut-Brain’ thing - reduce stress!
Blood sugar fluctuations can make you feel tired and stressed, and lead to an unhealthier lifestyle. Many people don’t even consider lifestyle when looking for anti-bloating strategies. But stress can be major factor in bloating symptoms.
You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ stage of our anxiety response, but you may not know that one of the first body systems to be shut down during this process is the digestive system. So it’s worth thinking about stress management if you suffer from digestive symptoms such as bloating – try yoga, meditation, reading, gentle exercise, getting out into nature, or just generally taking time out each day to do what you love and escape from the stresses and strains of life.
Practice good eating habits
If you have a stressful lifestyle, then the chances are that you have evolved to have some poor eating habits too. If you’re used to eating ‘on-the-go’, then this usually means that you bolt your food down as quickly as possible and don’t chew it properly. Chewing is the first stage of the digestive process, when the food first begins to be broken down into smaller particles and starches begin to be partially digested by enzymes in the saliva. So missing out on this vital stage can place a burden on the digestive system, and means that the rest of the digestive process cannot take place as efficiently as it should. I’d suggest eating in a relaxed state where possible and chewing your food at least 30 times before swallowing.
So when it comes to relieving bloating symptoms, you can see that it’s not a ‘one-stop shop’. Though beating the bloat will usually require attention to a few different areas of your life, the good news is that sometimes just making a few simple changes can have a hugely positive effect on your bloating symptoms.
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