What causes bloating
Do you ever feel like you want to switch into stretchy pants after a meal because you bloat after eating? Digestive bloating may be caused by the build up of gases in your middle or lower gut, by overeating or due to food intolerance. This kind of bloating has you feeling like there is a pressure from the inside pushing your abdomen out, and is usually worse within one or two hours of eating. Some people describe feeling and looking like they are pregnant due to the distension of their stomach. The discomfort of bloating is most commonly a result of nerves in the gut wall being triggered by over stretching. The good news is that this kind of bloating can often be taken care of naturally.
How to prevent bloating
- Eat less. The empty stomach is typically the size of one of your closed fists. Overeating and eating foods that are slow or difficult to digest, can mean your gut becomes stretched beyond its natural preference. The slowest and more difficult foods to digest, generally speaking, are those highest in protein and fat. If bloating is a problem for you, consider eating your proteins and fats in smaller portions, rather than as a large meal late in the day.
- Avoid drinking too much liquid with meals. In order to digest food adequately, we need a low pH or very acidic environment in the stomach. This high acid is needed to break down foods efficiently so they can make their way through the digestive tract. If you are drinking large amounts of water or liquids just before or during your meal this can slow things down. Not only will the liquids cause the gut to stretch, but they may also overly dilute your digestive acids, rendering them ineffective. Aim to fill your daily water quota between meals or on an empty stomach, and only sip small amounts for water during meals.
- Encourage the digestion to switch on when its time for a meal. Hurry and worry are the enemies of digestion. If you are in flight or fight mode – aka, hurrying around completing chores while you eat, this is asking for trouble. The brain needs to signal the digestive tract to produce the enzymes, digestive juices and muscle actions required to break down your food and move it efficiently through the gut. If your brain is distracted by chores, your work to do list, phone calls or traffic, chances are it is distracted away from the food that is about to enter your mouth and stomach. Try to prepare your meal mindfully, sit down away from your work desk and concentrate on chewing your food well and slowing down while you eat.
- Avoid foods you are intolerant to eg. lactose or fructose. Some people have difficulty digesting and absorbing simple sugars due to inflammation, infection, or damage to the small intestine. Excess sugars remaining in the gut may be fermented by bacteria into gases which can cause symptoms of bloating and other issues contributing to diarrhoea or constipation. If you suspect food intolerance it is not always helpful or wise to eliminate entire food groups for extended periods of time. However in the case of a true allergy such as coeliac disease life long avoidance of gluten is necessary.
Home remedies that will help reduce bloating
Do you find it awkward when you have to loosen your belt buckle or escape the office after a meal to let out some gas? Sometimes, but not always, bloating comes with flatulence or belching. This can lead to a level of anxiety as you find yourself planning your day around avoiding embarrassment. There are those unique humans who pride themselves on the volume and impact of their eructations. They know who they are. It seems they fall into one of two categories – the silent and violent or loud and proud. Either way, it’s uncomfortable for someone. To avoid categorisation into either of these somewhat unpleasant situations, there are a few effective solutions herbalists and naturopaths have been employing for centuries with great success.
- Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare is a vegetable underestimated for it’s medicinal properties. The bulb and its leafy top are useful in preventing constipation and the bloating that comes with it. The seeds made into a tea or taken as a tincture, can help relieve the abdominal discomfort, cramping and flatulence associated with bloating. Use the whole fennel bulb and leaf raw in salads or roasted. Sprinkle the seeds into salads, or in casseroles and stews.
- Cinnamon – Cinnamon verum or true cinnamon is known to soothe spasms in the gut and assist digestion among many other medicinal uses. Cinnamon can help reduce nausea and diarrhoea, making it useful when lactose has been accidentally consumed by someone who is lactose intolerant. Making a tea with cinnamon, or incorporating it into smoothies, yoghurt or curries, can help soothe digestion and help your body tolerate sugars better.
- Peppermint – Mentha piperita is often underestimated for its digestive properites. Helping to relieve colic, flatulence and stomach discomfort, peppermint is easy to apply. Take as a strong tea after meals, or massage the diluted essential oil onto the abdomen to relieve irritable bowel symptoms and bloating.
- Ginger – Zingiberis officinalis not only relieves nausea, but also aids digestion and has anti-inflammatory properties. Combine freshly grated ginger in with your peppermint tea, or incorporate into stir fry, curries, and marinades.
- Chen Pi – Citrus reticulata is known more commonly as tangerine. The dried aged peel is traditionally used in Chinese cooking and in medicine. It is valuable as a soothing digestive and useful for intestinal colic, bloating and flatulence. Without a doubt, this is one of my favourite herbs to use in customized formulas where the patient has a weak digestion and suffers with abdominal discomfort from bloating. You can sun dry tangerine peel during the fruiting season, and store in air tight containers to be used in stews, soups, broths or as a tea to boost digestion. Chen Pi is also traditionally used for lingering cough after cold or flu.
Get to the bottom of the bloat
Discussing your dietary intake, symptoms and health history can help your practitioner determine if testing or referral is necessary to determine the underlying cause for your bloating or intolerance. If the above remedies are giving you some relief, but the symptoms keep coming back after meals, this means there is a persistent issue or imbalance that needs to be identified and addressed. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to know what to eat without worrying that your stomach was going to grow or ache every single time?
Get some professional advice and investigate the causes, so you can work to clear the issue which could be also causing nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, anxiety and other health issues.
If bloating is an ongoing problem and you are waking up bloated most days, this could be a sign of more serious health issues. Abdominal discomfort and distention that is constant or painful should be investigated without delay.