After the Christmas festivities and overindulgence, we are often left feeling too full with an uncomfortable bloated tummy. Your stomach may feel swollen, sore, uncomfortable or stretched, and may be accompanied by other digestive issues such as wind, diarrhoea or constipation.
A bloated tummy is often viewed as an inconvenience, but it could indicate something more serious and shouldn’t be shunned. In fact, bloating usually indicates a sluggish digestive system which can have numerous causes.
“Gas is a normal by-product of digestion, and the average person passes up to 1,500 ml of gases each day,” explains nutritional therapist Kerry Beeson, nutrition team leader at Optibac Probiotics. “Bloating occurs when these gases build up in the digestive system, resulting in distensions and discomfort in the abdominal area.”
There are many possible causes of uncomfortable bloating, such as constipation, diarrhoea, digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerances and allergies.
“There are many causes for bloating,” confirms Beeson. “Including indigestion; intolerance to certain foods, such as starchy carbohydrates; slow digestion and constipation; or an overgrowth of harmful bacteria or yeasts in the intestines (which produce toxins and smelly gases). Stress can also affect digestion and cause bloating, as can poor eating habits, and hormonal fluctuations.”
Nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb, technical advisor at ADM Protexin, manufacturers of Lepicol and Bio-Kult, highlights that a bloated stomach often indicates a bacterial imbalance in the gut: “Bloating is often due to an imbalance of gut microflora, meaning an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria or yeasts, a condition known as dysbiosis.
“Bacteria and yeasts ferment undigested food in the large intestine, producing gases which can lead to excessive bloating and flatulence. Beneficial bacteria, bifidobacteria in particular, do not produce much gas when fermenting. Poor food digestion could also lead to bloating.”
Bloating can also be caused by low stomach acid and/or digestive enzymes. Ella Allred, senior nutritionist at Quest Vitamins, explains: “One of the main causes is a low level of stomach acid or a lack of digestive enzymes, leading to food not being broken down effectively. A lack of enzymes and acid may be attributed to stress, overeating and nutritional deficiencies.
“Another cause of bloating is a bacterium called helicobacter pylori. This buries into the lining of the stomach and they produce a substance which decreases the acid concentration in the stomach. Constipation can also trigger bloating and discomfort as food is not able to pass quickly enough along the digestive tract, allowing older food to ferment and cause gas.”
If you do suffer from a post-Christmas bloat, there are a number of things you can do to try to help ease symptoms. First of all, when eating ensure you are chewing your food well and eat in a quiet, relaxed environment – this can help to support efficient food digestion.
Isabelle Nunn, technical and commercial nutritionist at Kinetic, advises: “Sometimes more gentle food is necessary to give time to the gut to break down food into its right components and digestion to occur. So, cooking at home, and knowing what ingredients are being put in your meal can help.”
When it comes to food preparation, Lamb recommends making your own meals and choosing fresh foods: “Try to prepare food from fresh. The thought and smell of food can illicit the secretion of 30 percent more stomach acid and 25 percent of digestive enzymes.”
She also suggests using apple cider vinegar: “Some people find it useful to take some apple cider vinegar before each meal or add it to salad dressings to help trigger the start of the digestive process in the stomach. If you choose to consume legumes, ensure you soak them well overnight in water and a little apple cider vinegar to start the breakdown of the hard-outer wall and therefore ease digestion if they cause you bloating.”
“Add black pepper, cumin or ginger to recipes too,” adds Nunn. “These will help to stimulate digestion. Avoid eating fruit straight after a meal and intakes of sugar where you can – sugars feed the unhealthy bacteria. Also, fermented foods can help promote healthy bacteria growth, such as miso soup, sauerkraut or kimchi.”
Nutritionist Rose Holmes, education and training manager at Rio Health, stresses the importance of staying hydrated and ensuring fibre intake: “To ease a bloated tummy, ensure the body is well hydrated and has sufficient fibre. Frequent bowel movements should be the aim and avoiding over-consumption, air-swallowing and fast-eating.
“Reducing the stress of eating, by making it a more leisurely and mindful activity, may lessen the tendency to suffer that bloated feeling,” she adds.
Beeson recommends regular exercise and herbal teas: “Try gentle exercise such as walking or yoga, which can help to release trapped gas. You can also try drinking a herbal tea, such as fennel, peppermint and camomile – these herbs have a carminative action which means they promote the release of digestive enzymes, aiding digestion, and reduce the formation of gases within the gut.”
Allred suggests abdominal massage and sipping hot water: “Hot water can help to move any gas along and ease discomfort. Abdominal massage is also another technique to try to aid in the release of gas.”
To assist digestion, Holmes says: “Choose herbal teas like the Brazilian botanical Espinheira santa (Maytenus ilicifolia) which has been traditionally used as a digestive aid and is commonly consumed after meals to maintain optimal digestion, or the Brazilian Pata de Vaca (Bauhinia forficata) which is often consumed after meals to aid blood sugar balance.”
If the bloating persists, there are some other natural remedies that can help.
To help increase your good gut bacteria, Lamb recommends taking a daily probiotic: “Probiotics, live bacterial supplements, have been shown to rebalance the gut microflora, produce digestive enzymes to aid in food digestion and help keep waste products moving through the bowels effectively.”
You could also supplement with digestive enzymes and try peppermint oil. Allred explains: “Digestive enzymes and peppermint oil are the main go-to products to ease and prevent bloating. Peppermint relaxes the gut and allows the movement of wind out of the body. Digestive enzymes aid with the breakdown of food for more comfort. Dill tea is also a good beverage with a therapeutic effect for bloating and colic.”
“Digestive enzymes can help relieve bloating when poor digestion is a contributory factor,” agrees Holmes. “Low magnesium status can associate with bloating and this mineral may aid relaxation, improving constipation. Turmeric increases the production of enzymes that digest fats and sugars and has been shown to benefit indigestion; the anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and bile-stimulating properties of turmeric may also help.”
If you suffer from regular bloating, and your doctor has ruled out medical causes, then you might want to consider taking natural supplements as part of your digestive support programme.
“Many people turn to natural supplements to aid bloating symptoms,” comments Beeson. “Popular choices are digestive enzymes, activated charcoal, and probiotics. Probiotics can act to reduce bloating in quite several ways so are a great choice. They produce natural digestive enzymes which facilitate the breakdown of excess hormones and troublesome foods such as starch and lactose. Probiotics also produce lactic acid, which creates an inhospitable environment for undesirable, methane-producing bacteria that can cause excess gas.
“When choosing a probiotic supplement, it is very important to choose strains which have been researched for bloating symptoms, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52, or Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM®.”