Do you look a few months pregnant after you eat a meal? Does it get worse throughout the day? Is it difficult to zip up your jeans by the afternoon? Are stomach aches or gas and bloating something you’ve just learned to live with?
Gas and bloating are about as common as breathing nowadays. But just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s optimal. Bloating happens from time to time, but if it’s become a frequent and “normal” occurrence for you, it’s time to establish a new normal. Dr. Jamie can assist with the treatment of bloating.
So what exactly is abdominal bloating? In the most basic terms, abdominal bloating is distention of the abdomen. Your abdomen protrudes out, usually after a meal or during times of stress (more on that in a bit), which can cause bloating. This distention is not caused by fat or weight gain. Rather, gas and bloating are caused by these 4 main issues: fluid accumulation, wrong foods, microbes, and stress.
When your bloating is caused by fluid accumulation, it feels “sloshy” in your stomach, like a water balloon. The most common causes are:
- Eating too many carbohydrates
- Consuming too much salt
- Hormonal imbalance
The first two issues are fairly simple to correct. Reduce the number of refined carbohydrates on your plate and instead add clean proteins and good fats. Reduce your salt intake. Add green tea to your regimen – in addition to giving you calm alertness from its combination of l-theanine and caffeine, it’s also a gentle diuretic. If you have hormonal fluid accumulation and you tend to bloat up during ovulation or right before or during your period, it’s time to seek Functional Medicine to test your levels of hormones and their metabolites (break down products) so that you can establish hormonal peace within yourself.
THE WRONG FOODS
There is a medley of foods that can trigger gas and bloating, either because of digestive enzyme deficiencies, immune-mediated inflammatory pathways or microbial fermentation processes (digestive microbes eating and fermenting your foods). The most problematic foods that can cause bloating are:
Dairy products contain sugar, lactose, which can be difficult to digest, especially if your body lacks the enzyme, lactase, which breaks down lactose. Dairy* also contains the protein, casein, which is one of the most problematic proteins to digest leading to inflammation, immune reactions, and can cause bloating.
Gluten* is a protein found primarily in wheat products, but also in barley, rye, oats, and a few other grains. Over the past several decades of industrial wheat production and genetic modification, gluten has become increasingly more abundant in wheat products, not to mention increasingly more difficult to digest. Gluten notoriously triggers the release of zonulin** in your GI tract. Zonulin will damage your intestinal lining and cause bloating or “leaky gut,” greatly increasing your chances of developing autoimmune disease, not to mention inflammation, allergies, and of course, abdominal bloating.
*If you’re concerned about your body’s response to dairy or gluten, I recommend taking a food sensitivity test called the IgG Food MAP test which will measure your reactivity to gluten, wheat, cheese, milk, yogurt, and about 190 other foods and yeasts.
**If you want to test for your levels of zonulin and find out if you have a leaky gut syndrome, I recommend the GI-MAP Microbial test and/or the Intestinal Permeability Test. These tests may help diagnose your digestive issues.
Beans and Cruciferous Vegetables
While I am the biggest advocate of beans and crucifers such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and kale, and advise virtually all of my patients to consume more of them for their detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, microbiome-nourishing, and hormone-balancing properties, these foods can cause gas and consequent bloating. This is because beans and cruciferous vegetables contain the oligosaccharides, raffinose, and stachyose, which are types of sugar molecules that are difficult to completely digest, resulting in fermentation and gas, which can cause bloating.
*Digestive Enzymes Ultra w/ HCl is a proven and effective combination of enzymes to help you digest a wide variety of foods like simple sugars, carbs, fats, and proteins. In regards to beans and cruciferous vegetables, this formulation contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase which helps break down those hard-to-digest sugars raffinose and stachyose and prevent bloating.
DIGESTIVE MICROBES & GAS
There are about 100 trillion microbes living inside your gut. They literally co-exist with(in) us and play an enormous role in our health. Some of these microbes benefit us, others don’t. The good bacteria eat up the fiber we consume and then produce beneficial substances like SCFAs (short-chain fatty acids) that maintain and heal our insides. The bad bacteria (and yeasts) eat up the sugars and carbs we eat and then, through the process of fermentation, produce gases such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and methane. They also produce toxins called lipopolysaccharides that can damage and inflame your GI tract, causing abdominal bloating and altered immune reactions.
It’s entirely natural to produce gas through bowel movements – in fact, up to 4 pints a day is normal. But if you experience frequent belching, flatulence, and/or bloating, this is a sign that your normal digestive processes and GI tract may be compromised. What would cause excessive gas production to the point of bloating? There are a few answers. You may have gut bacteria or yeast overgrowth, such as an h. Pylori infection or candida infection. Yeast can be the underlying reason for several symptoms including allergies. You may have SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). This is a small intestine condition in which the bacteria in your GI tract (lower intestine) migrate back up into your otherwise sterile small intestine. One of the hallmark signs of SIBO is significant painful bloating, affectionately called “baby belly,” that can occur after eating just about anything but particularly after eating carbs, even the carbs found in vegetables. Another possible cause of excessive gas production is simply eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugary foods, giving your unsavory bacteria more fuel by which to produce gases. Impaired digestion is yet another common cause of gas production – your digestion may be compromised by a hidden gut infection, insufficient stomach acid, insufficient enzymes, medications, toxins, or stress.
Aaaahh, stress… my favorite thing to address. It’s ubiquitous, pernicious, and part and parcel of life. A little bit is good – it sharpens and motivates us. But too much stress is bad. It blunts our bodily systems and disrupts our hormones and brain chemicals.
Stress has an arousing or excitatory effect on our neuroendocrine system, which puts us in the proverbial “fight or flight” mode. In this hyper-reactionary mode, survival is all that matters. So the brain and body work together to optimize functions necessary for survival like increasing blood sugar and blood pressure to quickly fuel the brain and muscles for fight or flight. Simultaneously, functions that are not immediately necessary for survival will be shut down, like growth, repair, reproduction, immune defense, and digestion. In fact, impaired digestion is one of the most common signs of stress, with bloating or irritable bowel syndrome issues as a telltale symptom.
While we can’t take a pill to make all our stressors disappear, we can modify the excitatory impact of our stress response so that we can stay calmer and less reactive. One of the core ways to achieve this is deep breathing. Mindfully deep breathing is a precursor to meditation, which helps calm your stress response and relieve bloating. Not ready for meditation? No problem. You can achieve deep breathing and a meditative state just by getting a massage. You’ll deepen your breath, quiet your mind, release your body, and debloat your belly. Schedule Your Massage Now
5 WAYS TO REDUCE BLOATING
1. Slow Down and Breathe When You Eat
There are some ways to reduce bloating and begin treating your gut. Start by taking a few deep breaths through your nose before you eat. This will activate your vagus nerve, which will do 2 main things. First, it will calm your stress response. Second, your vagus nerve will send signals to your stomach and other digestive organs to secrete stomach acid and enzymes to digest your food well. The better you digest your foods, the less bloating you’ll have. This can also assist with irritable bowel syndrome issues. Chew each bite until liquid before swallowing, all the while breathing slowly through your nose. Eat undistracted – shut down your phone and computer so you can enjoy your meal without any external stimulation or stress response activation. This always optimizes digestion and can often be one of the most profound ways to reduce bloating and calm the GI tract. This also may help with weight loss, and we tend to eat less of certain foods when we slow down and intentionally chew each bite.
2. Remove Problematic Foods
Bloating occurs for many reasons, but food can be a reason. Dairy products and gluten top the list. Cheese and bread are beloved foods but are often major causes of bloating. Remember, to uncover other food sensitivities that could lead to bloating you can take an IgG Food MAP test. Sugary foods and refined carbohydrates are often culprits of bloating, too, because they provide fuel for your bad bacteria to produce gases, so cut back on the sweets and carbs. Lastly, watch your fiber intake. Plant fibers are excellent for health and nourishing our good bacteria, but sometimes too much fiber can trigger bloating and bowel movements.
3. Eradicate Hidden Digestive Infections
Bloating occurs as well if your gut is infected. Gut infections or irritable bowel syndrome are extremely common but often go undiagnosed. To accurately and effectively pinpoint what infections you might have (such as h. Pylori, clostridia, candida/yeast, or a medley of other bacterial or parasitic infections) the diagnostic test of choice is the GI-MAP microbial test. Once we uncover any infections that may be contributing to your bloating, we can eradicate them and repair the damage done by them to restore GI tract health.
4. Take Digestive Enzymes
This is perhaps one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to help reduce your bloating. Supplementing with high-quality digestive enzymes, preferably with hydrochloric acid, will help you break down your proteins, carbs, and fats to optimize digestion and absorption so that you don’t bloat up.
5. Eat Foods that Reduce Bloating
Ginger, lemon (and lemon peel), sauerkraut, kimchee, berries, pineapple, papaya, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers can all assist in the treatment of bloating. Whether by providing fiber, supporting your microbiome, increasing digestive acids and enzymes, or regulating fluid retention, these foods all offer digestive help.
Would you like expert medical advice to resolve your bloating and other GI issues? Dr. Jamie is available for Functional Medicine consultations in-person or via webcam. Call us at 562-789-1588 or click here to book your initial session.