If your belly seems to be full or stretched and rumbles all the time, you’re not alone. Up to 30% of people of all ages experience bloating, with symptoms such as flatulence, feeling of fullness and pressure.
This can be with or without distension (a visible increase in abdominal circumference).
So what could be behind your bloating?
The role of natural gas
In fact, bloating is a complex condition that can be caused by several direct and indirect factors. Gas often plays a role.
Gas production in the digestive system is part of the normal process of digestion and is released through the mouth (burping) or anus (farting).
On average, our gas output is about 600-700 milliliters per day, resulting in about 14 farts per day. That said, there is no set number for the normal amount of gas or evictions; every body is different.
Bloating can occur due to retained gas, excessive gas production, altered gas transit (changes in the speed and movement of gas), or hypersensitivity of the gut.
An unbalanced gut microbiome can lead to overproduction of gas.
More than 40 trillion microbes live in and on our bodies. They can be helpful or harmful. The balance between these beneficial and harmful microbes plays an important role in our immune response, metabolism and health.
These bacteria need food to survive. Their food comes from fermenting carbohydrates such as dietary fiber from the plants we eat.
One of the by-products of this fermentation process is hydrogen gas.
Most of these microbes live in the lower parts of our gut (colon). The upper parts of the gut (small intestine) have far fewer microbes.
But if too many microbes colonize the small intestine (a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), more gas is produced in the small intestine.
This can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea.
Could it be IBS, lactose problems or FODMAPs?
Some disorders of the gut and colon can affect the amount of gas and the severity of bloating symptoms.
For example, in constipation, stool movement is reduced, giving the bacteria more time to ferment the contents of the stool, increasing gas production.
Bloating is also common in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Changes in intestinal muscle tone and greater sensitivity to gas contribute to bloating in IBS patients.
Bloating can also occur due to poor digestion and malabsorption of some carbohydrates.
Lactose malabsorption (in people with lactose intolerance) is a common problem.
Symptoms can also occur with other digestive-resistant short-chain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols).
FODMAPs are found in a wide variety of foods, including certain fruits and vegetables, grains and grains, nuts, legumes, lentils, and dairy products.
While these are good foods for our gut bacteria, they can contribute to gas production and cause bloating symptoms, especially in people with digestive disorders (such as IBS). They can also cause water to be drawn into the intestines, causing distention. This can contribute to bloating.
Other factors: salt, hormones or swallowed air
There are, of course, other factors that can cause bloating.
For example, consuming too much sodium or salt in your diet causes water retention, which results in abdominal distension. But this can also alter the gut microbiome and affect gas production.
For many women, bloating can be linked to the phase of the menstrual cycle. This is most common at the onset of bleeding, when maximal fluid retention occurs, but is also related to underlying hormonal changes.
Swallowing too much air, especially while eating, can also increase the amount of gas entering the GI tract and lead to bloating.
Talking while eating, eating in a rush, and carbonated drinks can also increase the amount of air swallowed.
How can I reduce bloating?
Diet strategies can be effective ways to manage bloating. While foods that trigger symptoms can be different for everyone, you can try to:
- cut back on gas-producing FODMAP foods like onion, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, dried beans, and lentils
- eat less foods that contain lactose, such as milk, ice cream and some yogurts (there are lactose-free alternatives for people with an intolerance)
- replace carbonated drinks such as soda with water and drink less alcohol
- consuming more probiotics (such as yogurt or certain fermented foods)
- increase exercise, as mild physical activity improves intestinal gas clearance and may reduce symptoms of abdominal bloating
- eat and drink more slowly; taking your time means you can enjoy your food, but also swallow less air.
Consult a licensed practicing dietitian for personalized advice on managing symptoms using nutritional strategies.
When to visit a doctor
Usually the bloating goes away soon enough and is not a cause for concern. But consider seeing a doctor if:
- your gas is persistent and severe and is affecting your quality of life
- your gas is associated with other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, unintentional weight loss or blood in the stool.
Saman Khalesi, National Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Researcher & Senior Lecturer and Discipline Lead in Nutrition, School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, CQ University Australia and Chris Irwin, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health Sciences & Social Work, Griffith University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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