Sitting there, stomach feeling like it’s a balloon filling up with air about to burst, and tomorrow you’ll go through it all again. Bloating means different things to different people and is a common symptom in many people who suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There are a few different definitions of bloating, but they all allude to the subjective sensation and to the objective abdominal distention (basically the ballooning of the stomach). This is due to the body producing much more gas than it normally can contain whilst still remaining comfortable. It can happen after eating, however some experience bloating for no specific reason, and the severity can vary from mild discomfort to severe pain, which can affect the person’s quality of life. What’s more, research shows that women experience feelings of bloating and abdominal distension significantly more than men, so just another thing that us ladies need to worry about! But what causes this unnecessary inconvenience to disrupt our lives. Just... Why??
What causes bloating?
Although bloating is a common symptom, there are many reasons for why someone might experience the feeling of their stomach inflating like Donald Trump’s ego (that’s a lot of inflating!). Although there are many reasons for bloating and different ways in which the gas builds up, we will go through some of the more common reasons as to why bloating occurs and how you can better manage or avoid them.
Food intolerance and carbohydrate malabsorption
Food intolerance is probably one of the most recognised pathways to bloating. In lactose intolerance, the sugars in lactose are usually broken down and absorbed in the small intestine. However, in patients with IBS or low small intestine mobility, they can’t be broken down, so they end up being split apart by enzymes in the colon, leading to excess gas being produced. Similarly, this mechanism can also be found in certain types of foods high in molecules known as FODMAPs. These can be found in short-chain carbohydrates such as beans, cashews, artificial sweeteners and apples to name a few. These molecules are active and very rapidly fermentable, which contribute more gas being produced and lead to that abdominal bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort.
As we mentioned earlier, women seem to report feelings of bloating more than men. One explanation for this can be due to the production of hormones during their periods. Unlike the bloating we spoke about earlier, this hormonal bloating deals more with water retention. Research suggests that changes in progesterone and oestrogen levels cause the body to retain more water and salt. The body's cells become swollen with water, causing the feeling of bloating.
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth
We know this picture is a little weird, but believe us when we say, there's a lot worse on the internet when you type in "small intestine bacteria" on Google image search. Those with IBS who specifically complain of bloating have been reported to have increased gas production from bacterial fermentation caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Not much else is known as to why there is bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, but it is thought to be how IBS developed in the first place.
So those are just some of the reasons why we might experience abdominal bloating, so what can we do about it?
How do we treat bloating?
Avoid the foods that cause bloating
This may sound obvious, but for those with lactose intolerance, the important is to stick to foods with none of it there, or try to only have foods that have little-to-no lactose. Stick to non-dairy or lactose free alternatives. For those who feel that the carbohydrate malabsorption sounds more like them, stick to a low FODMAP diet, and when cooking/eating, stick to long chain carbohydrates which can be better absorbed by the small intestine before it gets to the colon.
Reduce salty foods and increase potassium!
With our monthly visitor, this is going to be a common occurrence for women, there are things that you can do to make sure you’re not adding to the discomfort. Try to avoid foods high in sodium as this causes the body to retain even more water and try and consume more potassium as this increases urine production and reduces water retention. Look for foods rich in potassium include spinach, sweet potato, avocados and our energy boosting shakes. Like we mentioned earlier, eating more long-chain carbohydrates will help to ensure you are not producing any unwanted gas. Exercise has consistently been shown to reduce feelings of PMS, so even if it is light, be sure to get some activity in!
Pres and Pros (biotics that is)
If severe, some research has shown that antibiotics can help to reduce this bacterial overgrowth and reduce the gas production. Our bodies can also benefit from increased intake of pre & probiotics. Probiotics are living strains of bacteria that add to the population of good bacteria in your digestive system, whereas prebiotics are specialized plant fibre that acts as food for the good bacteria, stimulating growth among the pre-existing good bacteria. Prebiotic foods include fruit & veg such as chicory root, onions, leeks and bananas so things you can get with relative ease. Inulin powder is a quick and easy source of prebiotics. Probiotics are usually foods that have undergone a fermentation process to produce the live bacteria. These include kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi and even pickles. Activated charcoal has also been recommended as a safe option for those experiencing uncomfortable bloating.
The long and short of it, if you are experiencing bloating, there isn’t a one size fits all approach. But there are several ways in which you can approach it, and we hope that one of these works for you. If you do have severe discomfort, always remember to consult your GP.
At jrny, we are made up of a team of Sports Scientists, Registered Nutritionists. We want to make sure that we’re not just putting up the pseudo-science you’d see on other sites. If any of our staff put anything on our blog that relates to your health, you can bet that it is backed by evidence-based science! It always will be. That’s our commitment to you.