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Here’s why you’re bloated — and how to fix it

Bloating is much more than not being able to fit into your jeans. It can affect your confidence, make you feel uncomfortable and at times can be extremely painful. In simple terms, bloating is the feeling of pressure from inside your stomach. It may be just the sensation, although it’s often accompanied by the stomach protruding and feeling hard or tender to the touch.

It’s estimated that up to 30% of us experience bloating, although everyone experiences it differently. Some people are bloated at certain times, for example after meals or during times of stress, while other people feel constantly bloated. If you are one of the latter, your first step should be to schedule an appointment with your GP.

Just as each of us experiences bloating differently, the cause of bloating can also vary between individuals. Let’s discuss some of the most common causes of bloating, and how to go about finding some relief:

Food intolerances

Before we get into food intolerances, it’s important to distinguish between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Food allergies are an immune response to an allergen. They tend to be less common than a food intolerance, and with symptoms that are typically more severe.

Coeliac disease is often associated with food intolerances, but it’s important to note that it’s an autoimmune condition, which is again different from food intolerance that occurs in the gut.

A food intolerance isn’t life-threatening, but it can certainly cause discomfort and impact your quality of life. Symptoms aren’t only limited to the gut — a food intolerance can result in rashes on hives on the skin, recurrent mouth ulcers and even headaches. Bloating, however, is a common symptom.

Commonly reported food intolerances include:

● Lactose (a type of sugar found in milk products)

● Wheat and gluten

● Fructose (a naturally-occurring sugar found in fruit and honey)

● Caffeine

● Sulphites (often used as a preservative in foods and naturally found in dried fruit and fermented products like wine)

Food intolerance shouldn’t be self-diagnosed, as doing so may unnecessarily remove nutrients from your diet. Instead, speak to your GP or a qualified dietician who can help you figure out whether you have an intolerance and how to manage it effectively.

Functional Bowel Disorders (FBDs)

FBDs are conditions that affect the way that your stomach and bowels work. They include Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, diarrhoea, and dyspepsia (or indigestion).

Research seems to indicate that people with FBDs are more likely to experience bloating. One study found that visible abdominal distension occurred in 52% of patients with IBS that reported bloating.

People who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome often experience either diarrhoea or constipation. Research suggests that people who have constipation are more likely to experience bloating than those with diarrhoea. A study that examined the bowel habits of people suffering from IBS found that women were more likely to experience constipation. Another found that approximately 50% of IBS patients with bloating also experienced an increase in abdominal girth.

If you think you might have an FBD, you should book an appointment with your GP to discuss your symptoms and decide whether you need to undergo testing. There is a special diet which is often recommended to help manage symptoms, which they may recommend. Your doctor may also recommend taking a probiotic — speak to your local Capital Chemist pharmacist about which one may be right for you.

High volume food and drink

One really simple explanation for bloating is that you’ve simply eaten and/or drank a lot! This can create two issues: one is the bloating from the food itself taking up space, but the second is the gas that’s created by the bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

If you’re someone who tends to eat large meals, it’s reasonable to expect a degree of bloating. After all, the food has to go somewhere! If you’re finding the bloating to be uncomfortable, you may wish to consider eating smaller, more regular meals over the course of the day.

Gas

When we eat large amounts of fermentable carbohydrates, the bacteria in our GI tract produces gas which can stretch the intestines, creating a bloating sensation. These types of foods include particular vegetables, fruit, some protein sources, grains, and sweeteners. Some of these are foods that you would expect (for example, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and baked beans) while others are less obvious (like garlic, barley, and dates). Not everyone experiences bloating when they eat these foods — its dependant on how sensitive your gut is. If you’re experiencing ongoing bloating and suspect it might be something in your diet, a dietician may recommend an elimination diet to help you pinpoint which food is causing your symptoms.

There are a number of things you could do when you experience bloating caused by gas. Some gentle exercise and stretching is a good start. There are even yoga poses designed to help relieve gas — a simple Google search is a good way to find them. At Capital Chemist, we also stock products designed to help relieve gas. Speak to your local pharmacist about which one may be right for you.

Indigestion

Gas can also be a symptom of indigestion. This happens when the stomach produces excess acid, often in response to stress, pregnancy, caffeine, alcohol or particular foods. Capital Chemist stocks a range of antacids which help to relieve symptoms by neutralising the stomach acid.

If you’re experiencing regular indigestion or are concerned about your symptoms, speak to your GP.

Hormones

It’s common for women to experience bloating during menopause or around their menstrual cycle, especially right before their period. According to Dr Megan Rossi, a leading expert in gut health, the changing levels of hormones can have an effect on our gut, impacting the way that we digest food.

In addition to hormones shifting around the menstrual cycle, research has indicated that there may be an association between endometriosis and bloating. One study looked at 51 women, 26 of whom had been diagnosed with endometriosis via laparoscopy and 25 women without endometriosis. In addition to questionnaires and ratings of perceived bloating, abdominal girth was measured three times daily for one whole menstrual cycle. The study found that 96% of women with endometriosis experienced abdominal bloating, compared to 65% of control subjects.

If your bloating and GI symptoms are causing you concern, or aren’t going away after your period has passed, speak to your GP.

How to tackle the bloat

Here are a few ways that you can deal with bloating:

● Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight around the stomach

● Keep your stress levels under control, as stress can exacerbate digestive issues

● Avoid large meals

● Eat small, regular meals over the course of the day

● Chew your food well before swallowing

● Get checked for food intolerances or digestive issues

● Avoid chewing gum and fizzy drinks, both of which can cause you to swallow excess air

One of the best tips to coping with bloating is to speak to a health professional, such as your GP and/or Capital Chemist pharmacist. A study in the UK found that 59% of people have previously or are currently experiencing a gut health condition or symptom, yet 46% delay seeing a doctor for persistent gut problems out of embarrassment. Talking about digestion can feel uncomfortable, but it’s a lot less painful than dealing with ongoing pain and discomfort!


You may also be interested in the following:

Gut health and probiotics
Probiotics: What do they actually do?


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