Modern life, lifestyle changes, certain foods and various conditions can lead to bloating, especially in women, which can cause discomfort. Bloating can occur in both children and adults and may interfere with one’s daily life and ability to participate in social and recreational activities.
Some symptoms that can accompany bloating are flatulence, pain, frequent burping, belching, abdominal rumbling, or gurgles. Read on to understand what exactly is bloating, what causes it, and what steps you can take to mitigate it.
Abdominal bloating can occur when the gastrointestinal tract is filled with air or gas. Your abdomen can feel full, tight or swollen, hard and painful as well,
Some easy ways to reduce bloating are exercise, yoga, eating smaller portions at regular intervals, adding certain foods like pineapples, ginger, papaya, refined oats, magnesium, dietary fibre to your diet, foods which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, sipping on mint and chamomile tea, abdominal massage and eating an early dinner,
There are several factors that can lead to bloating, such as hormonal changes, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, gassy foods, limited exercise, excess sodium in the diet, lack of dietary fibre and potassium and eating too much of carbs and raw, cruciferous vegetables.
What is bloating?
Abdominal bloating can occur when the gastrointestinal (GI) tract gets filled with air or gas. It is also a fairly common condition that occurs in 16-31% of the general population. When bloated, your abdomen can feel full, tight or swollen, and even hard or painful. Sometimes, it can also be the result of a perception of abdominal fullness or distention, with or without actual change in abdominal girth (the measurement around your middle or stomach).
Bloating can be accompanied by a visibly stretched-out or swollen abdomen, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to quite painful. One of the most common causes is constipation, although digestive issues or hormonal fluctuations can also play a role in it. How quickly can the feeling of being bloated can resolve itself depends on what’s causing it.
In some cases, it can disappear overnight. Abdominal distention naturally occurs during the day in response to drinking and eating and typically subsides after a bowel movement. Your stomach expanding again after eating is normal. The food and all associated GI secretions created by the GI tract take up space in the abdomen, causing the expansion.
What causes bloating?
Various factors can cause bloating. Some of them are:
1. Gassy foods:
Beans are a great source of fibre and protein, but they also contain a substance called raffinose that gut bacteria need to break down. This produces gas and leads to bloating. Raffinose is not necessarily bad for you, and how gassy you get varies from person to person and depends on the type of bean. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage also have raffinose. Over-the-counter meds may help you digest this food better, but it’s good to be cognizant of your food triggers.
2. Medical conditions:
Medical conditions related to the digestive system can cause bloating. These include ulcerative colitis (a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract), irritable bowel syndrome (an intestinal disorder causing pain in the stomach, wind, diarrhoea and constipation) and Crohn’s disease (inflammation in the digestive tract).
3. Presence of FODMAPs:
FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly) are a group of carbs that are hard to digest for some people. They can cause bloating due to fluid build-up and gas. FODMAPs can be found in lactose, i.e., dairy, fructose, i.e. honey and fruits, and in many other places. If you experience bloating every time/frequently after consuming FODMAPS, try to avoid them or reduce their intake.
4. Eating fast and mindlessly :
You swallow more air when you eat faster, and your stomach can swell from the trapped air, which can sometimes pass into your intestines, causing bloating. You also end up eating more food when you eat quickly. That’s mainly because it takes as much as 30 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you’re full. You might overeat before your brain gets the message that you’re full, which may also make you feel bloated.
5. Fizzy drinks:
Fizzy drinks—like soda, beer, champagne, seltzer, etc.—have gas that you swallow and can fill up your digestive system, making you bloated. You can burp some of it away, but some stays behind and moves through the digestive system until it “passes” out of the other end. That’s why it’s referred to as “passing gas.”
6. Excess carb intake :
Your body uses up carbs more quickly than fat or protein, which take longer to digest. After the body uses the carbs it needs for energy, it ends up storing the rest, first as glycogen—which makes the body retain water—and then in fat cells. Stored carbs in either form can make you feel bloated. It might help to avoid “simple” carbs, like white bread and pastries, in favour of “complex” carbs, like whole grains and vegetables that take longer to digest.
7. Eating more than necessary:
The stomach is just about the size of a fist. Food compacts somewhat as it passes through the digestive system, but if you eat too much, it starts to stretch out your stomach, which can make you feel more bloated. Too much food makes you more likely to overeat carbs, fat, salt and calories, all of which can also make you feel bloated.
8. Excess salt :
The body needs salt for it to work. But it enables the body to retain water, which can make you feel bloated. It can also lead to kidney problems and high blood pressure. There may be more salt in your diet than you realise because of fast and processed foods. Check food labels for sodium levels to ensure that your salt intake doesn’t cross the line, and remember: just because you can’t taste it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
You can feel bloated when you’re constipated and unable to pass stool. It can happen due to a lack of exercise, water or fibre. Diet changes, stress and illness, can also cause constipation, leading to bloating. Along with constipation, if you lose weight and don’t know why, have belly pain, spot blood in your stool or feel dizzy, see a doctor. It might be a sign of a more serious condition.
10. Weight gain :
Gaining ten or more pounds within a year can be a cause for concern. Bloating is common among people who gain weight in a short period of time. That’s often because the new weight goes around the belly, which leaves less room for your stomach to stretch. Consulting with a doctor or nutritionist to build a well-balanced diet and exercise programme that helps you lose weight and feel less bloated might help.
11. Fat in the diet :
The body takes quite a while to digest fat, which means that it can stick around in the stomach for a while and leave you feeling bloated. It’s the most calorie-dense food you can eat. These calories can add up quickly and cause you to gain weight, which can also make you feel bloated. It might help to limit fat calories by eating vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
While smoking, you inhale and swallow a lot of air. That, along with toxins in cigarette smoke, causes inflammation in the lining of the stomach and intestines, which makes you feel bloated and uncomfortable. Smoking also kills off beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, leading to the overgrowth of bloat-causing bad bacteria.
Ways to reduce bloating
Here are some effective ways to reduce bloating so you can be more comfortable:
- Get walking
Walks is a great stress buster and mood elevator and can get the bowels moving more regularly. This helps release excess stool and gas, especially if you’re feeling constipated. Walking around the block can provide quick relief from gas pressure and the bloating it may cause.
Certain yoga poses, like the child’s pose, happy baby pose and squats, can help relieve excess gas from the abdomen by positioning the intestinal muscles in a certain way. This helps reduce bloating.
- Abdominal massage
Massaging the abdomen usually gets the bowels moving, especially a massage that follows the path of the large intestine. You can place your hands right above the hip bone, rub in a circular motion with light pressure up towards the right side of the rib cage, rub straight across the upper belly area towards the left rib cage, and move slowly down towards the left hip bone and repeat as necessary.
- Take a warm bath
The heat from a bath can relieve a sore abdomen, and that relaxation can reduce stress levels, allowing the GI tract to function better and reduce bloating.
- Increasing fibre gradually
Adding more fibre to your diet can help prevent bloating and constipation. Dietary fibre increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it. However, eating too much fibre or increasing the intake too quickly can cause even more gas and bloating. When increasing fibre intake, it’s best to start slowly and increase it over several weeks, allowing the body to adjust to this dietary change.
- Limiting fizzy drinks
All carbonated, fizzy drinks contain gas that can build up in the stomach due to the carbon dioxide present in them. Limit your fizzy drinks and stay hydrated, which also solves these issues and helps treat constipation.
- Eating at regular intervals
Eating too quickly can also lead to bloating after a big meal. This can be avoided by eating several smaller meals throughout the day, which keeps the digestive system moving. Swallowing food too quickly or drinking from a straw can also introduce gas into the digestive system.
Probiotics are good bacteria that live in the intestines Taking probiotics can help maintain balance in gut flora that helps prevent gas and bloating.
- Cutting down on sodium
An excess of sodium in the body can cause it to retain water. This can make somebody feel bloated or swollen in the belly and other parts of the body like hands and feet. Checking labels for their sodium content before purchasing packaged foods is recommended to cut down on sodium.
- Low FODMAPs diet
FODMAPs are a kind of carbohydrate that’s present in several foods. A low-FODMAP diet may improve some of the typical symptoms of IBS, such as bloating, abdominal pain and flatulence.
- Keeping a food diary
Food intolerance and allergies can also lead to bloating by causing excessive gas in the digestive tract. You can find common cases of bloating in people who have lactose intolerance and are unable to digest the lactose sugar in dairy products. There are other autoimmune intolerances as well, such as those triggered by consuming gluten, known as celiac disease. For people who bloat after meals, keeping track of their drink and food intake for several weeks can help determine what foods are responsible.
- Staying active
Routine exercise helps the body move stool and gas out of the colon and can make bowel movements more regular. Exercise also helps release excess sodium from the body through sweating, which can help relieve water retention. Drinking enough water before and after exercising is important to stay hydrated, as dehydration can cause constipation.
- Add more potassium to your diet
Adequate potassium in your diet can help relieve bloating since it helps the kidneys get rid of salt without water retention. Bananas, oranges, and strawberries are all good sources of potassium.
- Swapping white rice with brown rice
Brown rice is generally healthier than white since it contains way more fibre and acts as a food source for colonic bacteria. When these bacteria have a lot to consume, as happens with white rice, they produce gas, which can cause bloating. To reap the health benefits of the bacteria without the side effects, you can mix equal parts white and brown rice.
- Lemon water in the morning
Lemons are nature’s best waste removers since they work as a subtle laxative to move stool out of the colon and as a diuretic to flush out your kidneys. So, a lemon wedge with lukewarm water in the morning helps prevent constipation and water retention.
- Drink coffee in moderate amounts
Black coffee can help keep bowel movements regular. Sugar-laden milk or creamers can have some negative intestinal effects. Herbal teas are also a good way to give hydration to your colon, keep things moving, and avoid bloating.
- Ditching artificial sweeteners and going easy on processed foods
Any product with erythritol, sorbitol and xylitol is an artificial sweetener which makes you bloated. These chemicals are considered sugar alcohols, found in a lot of sugar-free snacks like gums and candies, as well as in condiments, beverages and dressings. They’re hard for your stomach to properly digest, so they create GI problems like bloating and gas.
Stick to smaller servings of real sugar if you don’t want to totally cut off the sweet stuff. Processed foods are okay when you’re pressed for time, but they don’t help with bloating because processed foods are usually high in sodium, which can cause water retention. If you’re feeling snacky, you can snack on healthy, non-bloating snacks like carrots or unsalted almonds.
- Adding fennel seeds to your food
Fennel seeds relax the GI tract, allowing gas to pass, which can be calming for the stomach. You can sprinkle the seeds over any dish or try fennel tea.
- Increasing ginger intake
Ginger helps with motility in the GI system since it helps food pass through much quicker. Because it decreases the time food stays in the gut, it’s less likely to undergo fermentation, leading to gas and bloating. Ginger tea or ginger in your food works well.
- Cooking your vegetables
Raw vegetables can lead to bloating, especially if you already have bloating issues. Cruciferous vegetables like arugula, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and collard greens are especially culpable in causing bloating. Cooking vegetables helps break down and soften the fibres, so they’re easier to digest.
- Eating an early dinner
After a meal, the GI tract works hard to break the food down so the body can use the energy from the food. Digestion slows down when you go to sleep, and eating late can increase the chances that you’ll feel bloated. Eating earlier so you have enough time to be up and about before bed can really help with bloating.
- Have foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Foods like salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation and, in turn, help relieve bloating.
- Some foods that help
Bloating, such as pineapples, help with reducing bloating since they have enzymes called bromelain and papain, both of which help break down protein and facilitate easy digestion. Pineapples can be eaten as a snack or added to dishes for extra flavour. Papayas also contain bromelain and papain, which helps your digestion. Slice up the papaya and add it to salads or meat for a hint of freshness.
This fruit is also packed with magnesium, a vital ingredient that works against bloating and contributes to looser stools. It works magic for constipated people because constipation causes gas and bloating, and magnesium can avoid a gas build-up. Another superfood is asparagus, which contains prebiotics that feeds good bacteria, leading to better digestion and help reduce bloating.
Asparagus as a dinner or lunchtime side dish helps keep the bloat at bay. Quinoa is a grain that’s easier to digest than other grains, making it less likely to lead to bloating. Choose fresh meat over preserved meats since the former will have less sodium. When choosing oats, choose the more refined kinds, which will cause less gas and bloating. You can also soak your oats for a while before eating. Limit fried meat and opt for broiled, baked or boiled meat over it. Fried food is harder to digest and can cause digestive stress.
- Stock up on tea
Both mint and chamomile teas are known for relaxing your GI tract. Sipping it in the morning before you start your day helps ease bloating.
Feeling bloated due to digestive disruption is a normal part of life. Some unpleasant symptoms include flatulence, abdominal pain, burping/belching and so on. There are several factors that can lead to bloating, such as hormonal changes, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, gassy foods, limited exercise, excess sodium in the diet, lack of dietary fibre and potassium and eating too many carbs and raw, cruciferous vegetables.
Some easy ways to reduce bloating are exercise, yoga, eating smaller portions at regular intervals, adding certain foods like pineapples, ginger, papaya and refined oats to your diet, eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and dietary fibre, probiotics, sipping on mint and chamomile tea, abdominal massages and eating an early dinner.
The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.