B is for bloating

Bloating is a common problem.

Many of us joke that our bloated stomachs are caused by ‘food babies’ when we’ve sat down to a meal and eaten too much. However, a bloated stomach can be caused by a range of things from constipation to food intolerance and serious digestive disorders. Today I thought I would discuss some of the more common reasons you may have a bloated appearance and what you can do to reduce it.

What are the causes?

Digestive disorders

Probably the most severe of the possibilities, there are a range of digestive disorders which can cause bloating. Examples include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Ulcerative Colitis and Coeliac disease.

The wrong gut flora

I’m sure I’ve written it many times but the bacteria in your digestive system (your gut flora) have a big role to play in how food is broken down and what your body is able to and happy to digest. If the gut flora are not right, it could be that either the wrong bacteria or yeast are taking over. Yeast especially can often result in bloating and gas.

SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

Even though it technically falls into the category above, SIBO in my opinion needs to be discussed on its own. Caused by bacterial overgrowth and usually most common after somebody has taken a large dose of antibiotics or had long term digestive problems, SIBO is often linked to specific food intolerances and generally the recommendation is to change your diet to be FODMAPS friendly.

Fluid retention/dehydration

Fluid retention is actually one of the most common causes of bloating and it is often linked to dehydration. If dehydrated, not only does your body go into survival mode, storing all the water it possibly can, it also creates an electrolyte imbalance which halts digestion and actually causes bloating. As such, instead of opting for soft drinks at meal time, try and swap to water. Not only is it a healthier option but it will help keep you better hydrated and even eliminate toxins and waste products that have been building up in your body!

Constipation

Probably the first thing we blame (after a food baby from eating too much of course), constipation is commonly caused by a diet that has too little fibre, dehydration and even stress. Changing your diet to include lots of green vegetables and water will help to loosen stool, reducing the severity of constipation and the tender bloated feeling associated with it.

Food allergies/sensitivity

Often caused by having the wrong gut flora, food intolerances such as gluten sensitivity discussed above make the body think that it is under attack, leading it to mount an immune response that leads you to feel bloated and unwell. Some of the most common food intolerances to do this are dairy, certain fruits and nuts and one of the most prominent- gluten.

Gluten intolerance or sensitivity is caused by certain fragments in the grains which the body is programmed to recognize as harmful in some people resulting in a problem called leaky gut. This results in an immune response which includes inflammation, bloating, constipation and gas.  For more information on the effects of gluten sensitivity, click here.

Mixing the wrong foods together

Believe it or not, the combinations in which we eat food can have just as much of an effect on bloating and an upset stomach as what foods you eat. For example, mixing dairy and meat products requires different enzymes that work at different rates and make it harder for the body to break down the foods.

Infection

If you have been unwell, your body will naturally mount an immune response to help fight whatever the problem is. This response has a number of stages from a general, non-specific attack on the enemy all the way to a targeted, highly tailored attack. At the most general level, one of the things your body does is create inflammation as this rushes white blood cells (think of them as your soldiers) to wherever the body thinks they are needed. More often than not, inflammation occurs in the pelvic, urinary and gastrointestinal organs.

Hormonal changes

Any woman will tell you that at some point in her life, she’s felt quite bloated when she has her period. Whilst the exact point in a cycle that this can happen will depend on the woman, it’s quite common for a change in hormones to encourage the body to retain fluids which as discussed above, often results in a bloated feeling and appearance.

What can you do about it?

Whilst some of the causes mentioned above can’t really be helped, a number of them can be addressed with changes in diet and balancing of your gut flora as discussed below.

Boost your Bs

B vitamins can be a great way to treat bloating caused by a range of problems. B6 (found in fish, poultry and whole grains) is known to help counter bloating caused by mild fluid retention, B1 helps to break down carbohydrates and help with their digestion whilst also neutralizing symptoms such as bloating and gas and B12 (think high protein foods) helps to reduce inflammation in the stomach and to restore the balance of good bacteria in the digestive system.

Balance bacteria

One of the easiest ways to help reduce digestive problems is by balancing your gut flora. The introduction of a good probiotic such as ultraflora can be of great assistance in introducing the right bacteria back into your digestive system and helping to get rid of any bad bacteria or yeast that may be causing havoc. Another natural way to help balance your gut flora is by eating fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha which also act as natural probiotics which I discussed in more detail here.