Bloating can be caused for a range of reasons and leads to some uncomfortable symptoms. Here, our experts offer some natural solutions.
It’s a common problem that will affect most of us from time to time, whether through indulging too much or eating the wrong foods your body can’t tolerate.
For whatever the reason (more on that later), bloating can be uncomfortable, and so finding some natural solutions that work for you is important.
Elouise Bauskis, Naturopath and Nutritional Therapist from Nutri Advanced, advised: “The most common causes of bloating are linked to problems with our digestive system. The main culprits are the most common allergenic foods – wheat, gluten and dairy. Bloating may also be caused by a lack of hydrochloric acid and digestive ‘juices’, which means the food sits in the stomach or the intestines for too long, and then starts to ferment, producing gases, which causes the bloated, swollen feeling.
“SIBO, which stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, can cause major bloating of the abdomen. The person may start the day off with a flat abdomen, and as the day progresses, and meals are consumed, the bloat can get bigger and bigger, even giving the impression there is a pregnancy, or a big beer belly! Candida/fungal overgrowth, and/or dysbiosis can also cause bloating, again due to fermenting gases. For others, they may simply be rushing eating their food, gulping in air as they eat, swallowing food in bigger chunks, without being mindful and eating a slower pace and chewing properly before swallowing.”
Rose Holmes, Registered Nutritionist and Education & Training Manager at Rio Health, went on: “The reasons for bloating and indigestion can be many and varied and often involve the amount or method of food/drink consumption. In a nutshell, watching what is consumed (avoid fizzy drinks, stodgy and fatty foods, and anything that is difficult to digest), the quantity consumed, and method of consumption is important.
“This last one is important and often overlooked. Trapped air or gas commonly causes a feeling of bloatedness. Swallowing air, such as during drinking through a straw, or by eating too fast, may result in a bloated feeling. Air is also often swallowed when smoking or chewing gum.”
Associated health issues
Bloating in itself can be uncomfortable, but are there other conditions it’s linked to?
“Other causes of bloating may be hormonally linked, with fluid retention, and also constipation causing a bloated, swollen feeling. Many women may suffer these symptoms are part of PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome),” Elouise explained. “There may be more insidious causes of bloating that must always be investigated, especially if comprehensive stool analysis doesn’t result in obvious causes. Worst-case scenario, there may be a growth or tumour somewhere in the abdomen/visceral cavity, or the kidneys, bladder or reproductive organs, such as the ovaries or uterus. Bloating of unknown cause could be a potential red flag and warrants delving deeper into that person’s organ systems and symptoms. If bloating is accompanied by a change in bowel movement, loss of appetite, nausea, unexplained weight loss or blood in the stool, these are red flags and it’s wise to see a doctor for some further investigations to rule out anything more serious.”
Rose went on: “Bloating might also be caused by gut infection, inflammation or associate with irritable bowel syndrome. Constipation may also cause a bloated feeling. Sometimes menstruation associates with feeling bloated.”
Foods to watch
Trigger foods are likely to be different person to person, but there are some frequently seen culprits.
“It is essentially important to avoid over-consumption. Additionally, it is important to eat slowly and include sufficient water and fibre. Easy changes to make are the avoidance of carbonated drinks and use of straws. Some artificial sweeteners may also associate with bloating,” Rose recommended.
Elouise added: “Wheat and gluten-based foods often cause bloating, and they can be quite cement-like in the gut, slowing transit time and exacerbating constipation. For those with or who are suspected to have SIBO, high FODMAP foods will almost definitely cause bloating, the worst culprits are often garlic and onions, and high lactose dairy products. For others with low digestive juices and a lack of digestive ‘fire’, eating meat may be challenging. They may feel it sits in their stomach like a brick, not moving for many hours.”
So, what would the best dietary advice be to manage bloating?
“Bringing it back to naturopathic basics, digestion starts in the mouth,” Elouise explained. “Well even before that – you want to see the food, smell it, prime your digestive system for food coming. Bitter digestive foods stimulate the bitter tastebuds on the tongue, which then communicate with the stomach via the brain with the message that food is coming so start to produce digestive juices.”
And Rose went on: “Including turmeric in foods may help by reducing inflammation, stimulating bile and aiding enzyme production. Ensuring support for detoxification systems may also help; a shot of barley grass juice in a glass of water 20 minutes before food may help. And a cup of espinheira santa tea after meals may aid optimum digestion. 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.”
Think about how you eat too, with Elouise suggesting: “Be calm and mindful whilst eating; sit down, away from the computer, TV or phone, and focus on slowly and mindfully eating. Chew your food well, so that saliva is released and mixes well with the food before swallowing. These recommendations are so important, especially if there’s signs of hypochlorhydria, or low stomach acid.
“It’s always wise to keep a food diary in order to help ascertain what may be causing their bloating. Once there have been some connections made, this makes it much easier to avoid problem-causing foods. A comprehensive stool analysis test provides so much valuable information about the health and function of the gut. If there is SIBO a low FODMAP diet should be followed under the guidance of an experienced practitioner.
Supplements to add
So, are there any supplements that can help?
Elouise suggested: “Digestive enzyme formulas can be one of the best ways to kickstart the digestive process, whilst working on all the other dietary and lifestyle factors. Depending on the symptoms and what’s needed, it may be a simple broad-spectrum plant enzyme formula, or a stronger hydrochloric acid formula, or it may address gall bladder/bile insufficiency, and/or pancreatic enzyme function.
“A prokinetic formula can be indicated to encourage the MMC, the ‘migrating motor complex’, the digestive ‘wave’ that is meant to happen regularly, to move the food and waste through the digestive tract. The MMC can get damaged or slow down, which may encourage or cause bloating and or constipation.”
She added: “If a comprehensive stool analysis has shown there are parasites and/or dysbiosis, or the potential of SIBO, a course of anti-microbial herbs is probably what’s needed for a number of months, as part of a comprehensive 5R gut healing programme. A healthy and robust gut microbiome is key to optimum digestive function. As such probiotics are super important!”
And Rose recommended: “To aid digestion, 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.
“Another useful ingredient to have on hand is Marsdenia condurango bark, a botanical native to the Andes Mountains in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, which has historically been used to maintain a healthy digestive system. Cinchona bark is thought to stimulate saliva and gastric juice secretion and has been used to support stomach problems such as bloating.”
And she added: “Turmeric increases the production of enzymes that digest fats and sugars and has been shown to benefit re indigestion; the anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and bile-stimulating properties of turmeric may also help.”