Say Goodbye to Bloating!
Bloating is a common complaint that many people suffer from and depending on the severity can be either inconvenient or quite distressing. Abdominal bloating can be due to a range of different conditions and from a holistic perspective, we always assess the patient from a much larger picture than just a cursory look at digestive function.
Let’s look at the causes and some natural bloating remedies.
Probably the most common cause of bloating however, is simple digestive dysfunction caused by eating too much, eating the wrong foods or eating while on the run. One of the major causes of poor digestion and bloating can be a lack of digestive enzymes, including hydrochloric acid, that the stomach and pancreas produce. These enzymes help to break food down and when insufficient, can lead to bloating and fermentation as the food takes much longer to be digested than what is ideal. Digestive enzymes tend to decline with age, but stress is also another major reason for low enzyme levels and poor digestive function. When we are stressed, the nervous system switches over to “flight or fight” mode and in turn the stimulation to our digestive system is put on hold. When we eat while stressed or on the run, we often don’t allow our body to digest our food and symptoms of bloating, wind, reflux and sluggish digestion can prevail. So managing your stress, taking time out and slowing down to practice mindful eating is a good simple way to ensure optimal digestion.
The European habit of having an aperitif before meals is a traditional way of stimulating digestion. Often aperitifs are quite bitter in taste. The bitter taste creates a strong nerve reflex and stimulates release of digestive juices. Naturopaths often prescribe bitter herbs or foods before meals to promote optimal digestion. Gentian is my favourite bitter digestive herb that has been shown to increase gastric secretions.
It is amazing how much just slowing down and preparing properly to eat a meal with awareness will enhance digestion. Chewing our food well and eating slowly also helps to predigest our foods and prevents overeating. Following the Okinawan habit, known as “hara hachi bu” of eating to 80% full is a good idea.
Bloating may be connected to a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This disorder is very common and presents with one or more of the following symptoms – bloating, wind, cramping, diarrhoea or constipation. IBS is a diagnosis often given to patients, when a range investigations fail to find any underlying pathology or reason for the symptoms. Many patients I have seen over the years had all the tests and were told by doctors that there was nothing wrong with their gut, and yet they still had symptoms that were quite debilitating. IBS is a very common condition and thought to affect up to one in eight people. There is no standard medical treatment for IBS, but I always find herbs and dietary change can make a big difference to the symptoms of IBS. Food intolerance to foods such as wheat and dairy products is quite a common cause of IBS and bloating. Not surprisingly IBS is often associated with stress and people suffering from anxiety have a high incidence of IBS.
Gut bacteria is an important component of digestive health. Whether we have a good array of beneficial bacteria or a collection of unhealthy bacteria will to a large extent determine our digestive function. Ongoing research into the human microbiome (gut flora) continues to display important links to many, often seemingly unrelated conditions, such as immune issues and mental health disorders. A relatively recently discovered condition called SIBO can also be a major cause of intestinal bloating and wind. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and occurs when bacteria that are normally only present in the large intestine, migrate to the small intestine thereby causing havoc. These bacteria feed on carbohydrates in the diet and produce a range of gases such as hydrogen and methane, which in turn can cause bloating, discomfort and wind. Patients with SIBO will often feel worse after having fruits and other fermentable carbohydrates, often grouped as FODMAP foods. FODMAP is an acronym for specific fermentable sugars and carbohydrates – oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These foods include many fruits, certain vegetables, legumes, wheat and dairy foods. The low FODMAP diet is often used to help treat SIBO and IBS sometimes along with conventional antibiotic treatments or herbal therapies when necessary.
So there are many possible causes of the dreaded abdominal bloating! Starting with a good look at your diet, eating practices and stress levels is the best place to start. If that doesn’t help then consider a full health assessment and we can do comprehensive functional testing for food intolerance and bowel issues as well as look at prescribing some herbal digestive remedies, enzyme supplements and more.
Remember while you are what you eat…you really are what you digest!