Bloating. It's a concern patients report almost daily in clinical practice, and a symptom we're all familiar with. Whether it shows up after an overindulgent meal, with our monthly menstrual cycles, or has become a daily struggle, the discomfort is real and the cause is difficult to pinpoint. Most of us can relate to the symptom, but it's important to recognize that bloating is just that... a symptom. And while I'll give you some great tips to manage the bloating, the trick to banish it for good is to determine where it's really coming from.
What causes it?
While excluding the more emergent or complicated causes of bloating, the uncomfortable abdominal distention is most commonly attributed to two overarching concerns: digestive dysfunction and/or hormonal dysregulation. Digestive Dysfunction: if your bloating happens following meals, or if you wake with a flat stomach in the morning, but carry a 3-month food baby by bedtime, it could be related to your digestion.
low stomach acid: an acidic state is required to digest foods and absorb micronutrients. When the stomach lacks acidity, these foods do not get broken down and absorbed, but rather fermented by bacteria in the gut, leading to symptoms of gassiness, bloating, and sometimes even stool changes.
food intolerances: much like any other inflammatory reaction, food intolerances create an inflammatory state in the gut, leading to fluid retention and ultimately, bloating. Learn more about food allergies here >>
dysbiosis: an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast in the stomach can also be a cause of foods being fermented instead of digested. There may also be an association with bacterial overgrowth in otherwise sterile environments, such as the small intestine, referred to as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). It is suggested that roughly 75% of IBS cases are actually misdiagnosed SIBO. Talk to me about SIBO here >>
Hormonal Dysregulation: if your bloating is present even upon waking, has no correlation to food, or has a cyclical pattern with menstrual flow, it could be your hormones.
excess estrogen: breast tenderness, water retention, and swelling/bloating before menses with heavy bleeding are often attributed to too much estrogen in the body
low progesterone: another cause of bloating before menses, that typically lasts anywhere from ~2 weeks before flow, with short cycles and long bleeding times (>6 days). Since progesterone produces a lovely calming effect on the body (the pregnancy glow), low levels cause be a source of premenstrual irritability. Learn how to investigate your personal hormone profile here
What can I do about it?
1. Castor oil packs - saturate an old face cloth with castor oil and apply directly to the lower abdomen with a heating pack for ~30 mins for temporary relief of bloating. Be careful not to do this during menses, as castor oil has a very stimulating effect, and will make flow heavier. 2. Lemon water - lemons are a natural diuretic and gentle laxative, and hydration is essential to stop bloating (since dehydration causes your body to hold onto water). Have some lemon water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach to spark digestion, and detoxification, and reduce salt retention in the body. 3. Watch WHAT you eat - dairy, wheat, carbonated beverages, beans, and sugars/sweeteners have all been associated with increased bloating. Dairy and wheat can be pro-inflammatory to the gut, carbonated beverages increase gas buildup, beans contain undigestable sugar which gut bacteria love to ferment, and sugar feeds those unwanted gut bacteria. Things like bitters before meals and peppermint tea following meals work well for bloating surrounding eating. 3. Watch HOW you eat - chew your food thoroughly and don't eat on the run, Ditch the chewing gum, and skip the drinking straws. All these habits cause you to swallow air into the digestive tract and is a common source of temporary bloating. 5. A good probiotic - rebalancing the gut bacteria can be essential to eliminating bloating for good. High amounts of the probiotic strains L. acidophilus & L. caseii have been shown to help relieve bloating symptoms. However, the wrong probiotics can actually make symptoms worse, and should be introduced following antimicrobial treatment for those suffering from SIBO. Talk to your Naturopath to see if probiotics are right for you.