Bloating is one of the most common complaints I see in my practice. Abdominal bloating can cause discomfort, pains, soreness, distention and stomach cramping. I would estimate that as many as 80% of my patients complain of some degree of bloating as either their primary or secondary complaint. It is one of the most common symptoms that my patients want help with, and over the years it has become apparent that there are many causes of bloating. So many of my patient’s make comments such as ‘I’m bloating, but isn’t everybody?” No! It is a sign that there is disharmony in your digestive tract that needs to be addressed
For many it’s not just the discomfort but also the appearance- they hate the way that their stomach sticks out. I find a lot of my patients who suffer from bloating feel self-conscious and even wear clothes that will hide their bloated stomach.
While bloating might just be the result of over eating, large portion sizes or overindulgence, many other more serious causes do exist. Here are the most common causes of bloating that I find in my clinics:
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance between the good and bad strains of bacteria in the digestive tract. A healthy digestive system will contain between 2.5-5kg of bacteria and this should be made up of around 75% of the ‘good’ guys with 25% of the ‘bad’ strains. These bacteria have many important functions such as balancing our immune system, extracting nutrients and helping us to breakdown our food. Too many of the bad bugs can lead to bloating and discomfort.
2- Food intolerances
Food intolerances are incredibly common, largely due to our modern western diet. Immune imbalance, food manufacturing and processing and excessive consumption of foods that we are not designed to eat in large quantities (such as dairy and wheat) are the main reasons that food intolerances are so common. The most common intolerances include wheat, gluten, yeast, soy and dairy. Food intolerance testing is the best way to determine if there are foods affecting your health.
3- Poor stomach acid secretions
Our stomach acid secretions are vitally important to our whole digestive function. Food once swallowed is sent to our stomach and mixes with our acids and enzymes to break it into smaller particles and primarily digest proteins. Poor protein digestion can occur if stomach acids are not up to scratch. It is our stomach acids that are used to ‘kick start’ the whole digestive process further along the digestive tract therefore this can lead to a whole host of symptoms.
4- Poor bile flow
Our bodies secrete bile from the gall bladder during our meal to aid fat digestion. Bile is also used as a natural laxative to promote regular bowel movements. A sluggish bile flow can lead to feeling nauseas, bloated and sluggish after fatty foods or alcohol.
5- Irregular bowel movements or constipation
In an ideal world we would have a bowel movement every morning on waking. This is often not the case, and in part is due to our rushed lifestyle. We literally do not give ourselves time in the mornings to get the urge to go! Irregular bowel movements will lead to a lot of discomfort, gas and bloating.
6- High sugar intake
A high sugar diet causes acidity and an inflammatory reaction in the digestive tract. Sugar also feed bacteria and yeast, so dysbiosis can be made a lot worse in people with a high sugar diet. Our bodies are not designed to cope with the excessive levels of sugar found in the modern western diet and it will take its toll after a while. Bloating is a common effect.
7- High grain intake
Grains are another common cause of bloating, particularly wheat. Wheat is the primary grain eaten in the western world and we could quite easily consume wheat with every meal and snack of the day. The problem is that genetically we are not designed to eat such a high grain intake- we should be consuming about 5-10% of our food as grain. We simply do not have the enzymatic capacity to get through grains all day long and this can easily lead to bloating.
Simply eating too much can lead to bloating and discomfort. Our stomachs are only as big as a closed fist when empty but standard portion sizes are often much bigger than this. Overeating places a huge strain on our digestive system and is bound to lead to bloating, gas and sluggishness.
9- Inadequate movement/activity
Did you know that our digestive system needs physical activity and movement in order to work well? Moving our body literally helps digestive contents to move through the large and small intestines. With the sedentary lifestyle that so many people lead this could be playing a huge role. Exercises such as abdominal work, yoga and pilates are all a big help, but simply going for a walk for 20 minutes a day will do the trick.
10- Hormonal fluctuations
Hormonal fluctuations in women can lead to bloating, fluid retention and abdominal tenderness, particularly pre-menstrually. This is a huge factor and discomfort for many women. While some degree of bloating before the period is inevitable, if you are experiencing bloating for more than 3 days then this is a sign that your hormones need balancing.
Hayley Stockbridge is a Naturopath in Sydney. She works from two clinics- Manly and Stanmore. Please contact Hayley via email at [email protected] if you would like more information or to book an appointment