Bloating. That horribly uncomfortable heavy / stretched / puffy belly feeling we've all experienced from one time to another (some more so than others). But why does it happen? And how can we stop it?
Constipation, excess wind, swallowing air, food intolerance, Coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are common culprits. Often bloating comes down to one, or a combination of, these things:
1. C O N S T I P A T I O N. There's no beautiful way of saying this: if there's a backlog in your intestinal tract, normal intestinal gas will get trapped behind it causing bloating. If your belly is rock solid or sore, and it gets worse throughout the day but is relieved after going to the toilet, constipation is most likely the issue at hand here.
Once simple way around this is in a (gradual - don't overdo it!) increase in your dietary fibre. But don't reach for the white bread, cereals or snacks. Good, healthy sources of fibre include fruits (apples and pears), vegetables (spinach, carrots and broccoli), whole grains (quinoa and amaranth), legumes, beans and seeds (chia and flax).
2. C A R B O H Y D R A T E S. Sometimes our body has a tough time digesting certain types of carbohydrates. We may wake up feeling fine, but by midday to the early afternoon we're wanting to unbutton our skinny jeans - and this bloating usually lasts until we wake the next day.
Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, or, more simply, FODMAPs are a group of sugars (carbohydrates) found in foods.
Excess Fructose: honey, apples, pears, watermelon, corn syrup
Fructans: garlic, onion, spring onion, shallots, wheat, barley, rye.
Lactose: milk, cream, ice cream, yoghurt, soft cheeses.
Galacto-Oligosaccharides (GOS): legumes, lentils, chickpeas.
Polyols: apples, apricots, avocado, pears, plums, prunes, mushrooms, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, isomalt.
Any of the above foods could be giving your tummy a hard time - hence your bloating. It might be worth monitoring any changes and improvements to your tummy's behaviour both with and without FODMAPs in your diet. The very helpful Monash University FODMAP app provides information, recipes, and a comprehensive food guide. A qualified health practitioner will be able to help you too, of course.
3. C O E L I A C. Big time bloating after eating certain foods that can take a day or so to deflate? Coeliac disease involves an abnormal immune reaction to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. We're talking foods like pasta, bread, pastry, some sauces and dressings, lollies, and beer. Coeliac disease affects 1 in 70 Australians, but 80% of cases are undiagnosed...meaning around 330,000 Australians don't yet know they have it; could one of them be you?
Symptoms of the disease include bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation, weight loss, fatigue, and depression. If you think you may have Coeliac disease, you should see your doctor. A blood test will usually be able to confirm presence of the disease, which originates from a genetic predisposition.
4. D Y S P E P S I A. If you experience uncomfortable bloating in the upper tummy, or any nausea or burping, after eating a meal, dyspepsia (aka indigestion) may be your problem. Dyspepsia is a broad term that covers a wide range of symptoms - usually all related to eating - that may come and go, including bloating, pain or discomfort in the upper tummy (the abdomen), as well as burping, nausea, vomiting, and feeling very full soon after having eaten.
The most common causes of reoccurring or constant dyspepsia are usually:
Gastric or Peptic Ulcer - ulceration of the gut lining.
Duodenitis or Gastritis - inflammation of the duodenum and/or stomach.
Acid Reflux or GORD - the leaking of stomach acid into the oesophagus.
Medication - a side effect of some medications may be dyspepsia.
H. pylori Infection - bacterial infection in the duodenum and/or stomach.
Hiatus Hernia - intrusion of the upper stomach into the lower chest.
Treatment of constant dyspepsia obviously depends on the cause, and medical advice should be sought.
For general, occasional dyspepsia, lifestyle changes - such as eating regular, healthy meals, losing weight, giving up smoking, cutting down on alcohol, going to sleep on an empty stomach, and improving posture - may be enough to help relieve the symptoms. A cup of our Tummy Tea is full of medicinal herbs that have been shown to improve symptoms of dyspepsia too!
5. E X C E S S F A T. Excess deposits of fat around the tummy could be the cause of bloating in an otherwise thin person who does not experience any discomfort, constipation or excess gas. Fat deposition can be influenced by factors such as cigarette smoking and high alcohol intake - hence the term "beer gut" - due to the metabolism of alcohol into fat by enzymes in the stomach. A lifestyle change may be in order.
If you suffer from bloating, a journal can be a very helpful tool in assisting you - and your healthcare practitioner - to establish an understanding of the cause/s. For two weeks, write in detail (the more detail the better!) about the foods you have eaten (including that sneaky nibble of chocolate when no one was watching), your trips to the toilet, and any of the symptoms you experienced.
Qualified naturopaths have a very thorough and scientific understanding of digestion and the origin of digestive complaints, including bloating. As the digestive system is one of the most major body systems, naturopaths view digestion as a key aspect of any patient's holistic and personalised treatment. Their methods of approaching digestive health may include lifestyle and dietary advice, food allergy identification and management, nutritional supplementation, and thorough additional testing.
You can find a naturopath in your area using the Australian Natural Therapists Association search.