What is bloating?
Bloating is one of the most common gut symptoms and can be alarming, uncomfortable and even painful. Generally speaking, bloating is a build-up of pressure in your gut. This pressure causes your intestines to stretch, making you feel bloated.
Why does it happen?
There are a number of potential reasons behind your bloat. At its root, bloating is usually due to an increased volume of food, fluid or gas in your gut.
Food and fluid can cause bloating when a large, heavy meal is consumed. This is why sometimes after we devour a delicious meal we can be left with a ‘food baby’.
Alternatively, gas is produced by our gut bacteria when we feed them indigestible carbohydrates such as fibre. When this gas is produced in excess or gets stuck in the gut, it can cause uncomfortable bloating.
It is important to recognise that a small amount of bloating after a meal is normal and healthy. It means you have fuelled your body appropriately and your gut bacteria are hard at work.
People with IBS often experience more severe bloating due to a phenomenon known as visceral hypersensitivity. This means that they are more sensitive to bloating at smaller volumes of food, fluid or gas in their gut.
Bloating can also be caused by non-food related factors, such as stress, via something we call the gut-brain axis. It is well known that stress and other mental factors have a significant effect on the gut, and bloating is just one of the symptoms that can result from this connection.
Sometimes bloating can be an indicator of something more serious like irritable bowel syndrome, an allergy/intolerance or endometriosis. If your bloating is chronic, painful or occurs with other uncomfortable symptoms see your GP to rule out any more serious underlying causes.
Bloating myths busted:
Myth 1 : Bloating can be fixed by cutting out dairy, or fruit, or any other healthy foods.
Truth: Although bloating can be caused by dairy (lactose intolerance/dairy allergy) or fruit (overconsumption in people with a sensitive gut) it is a huge leap to claim that these foods need to be cut from the diet to cure bloating. Bloating is extremely individualised, so before you go cutting out any important, nourishing foods, it is best to work with a health professional to get to the bottom of your (very personalised) bloating issue.
Myth 2: Bloating is only caused by food
Truth: Generally, unless a specific health condition such as allergies or intolerances is involved, it is unlikely that bloating is caused by a single food alone. Our eating patterns have a huge influence on bloating, such as portion sizes and fibre intake. Additional, factors completely unrelated from food like sedentary lifestyles, wearing tight clothing all day, breathing habits and stress can also cause bloating.
Myth 3: Eating a certain food can “cure” bloating
Truth: There is no single food that can magically “cure” bloating. People with chronic bloating can manage their symptoms with a combination of diet and lifestyle factors specific to their condition and situation.
Tips to reduce bloating:
Avoid large meals. Reduce your portions sizes and eat smaller meals more often.
Chew your food! Chewing is an important form of digestion that helps ensure food particles are small enough to be absorbed by our gut.
Limit your fruit intake to one serve per sitting to avoid huge intakes of fibre all at once
Try to limit added polyols such as those in chewing gum and sugar free foods, as these have been shown to cause bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms in sensitive people
Light exercise or some gentle stretch can help to diffuse gas trapped in your intestines
For stubborn bloating, a heat pack helps to relax gut muscles and release trapped gas
Peppermint oil capsules have been shown to relax gut muscles and release trapped gas in people with IBS.
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