Now I know it’s not a very classy subject of conversation, but earlier this week one of my health coaching clients asked me for advice on abdominal bloating. I explained that it is very common (10 – 30% of people) and while it is unpleasant, it is rarely serious. I gave her some basic advice, but promised a more thorough research based approach and here it is…
What is bloating?
Abdominal bloating is a group of symptoms ranging from the sensation of abdominal distension, feeling full, flatulence, burping and abdominal rumbling (the medical term for which is borborygmi; the most delightfully onomatopoeic word in medicine!)
Bloating while often not due to serious illness, can interfere with everyday life and is a common cause of sick days. It can also lead people to avoid social situations and cause swimwear phobia.
Is it serious?
If accompanied by other symptoms such as weight loss, pain, nausea, change in bowel habit, fatigue or blood in your poop, or if it increasing, or chronic (there for a long time), seek medical advice, to rule out a more serious causes. But if you are otherwise fit and well, there are several minor causes:
functional bowel diseases: air swallowing, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation,
food intolerances: most notably lactose and wheat,
bowel infections such as giardia and intestinal worms (consider if you have visited a tropical country),
overgrowth of bowel bacteria,
menstruation (sorry ladies, we have all the fun),
eating too fast,
sugar substitutes including fructose and sorbitol,
A common sense approach
In medicine common things are common, duh I know! So if you want to decrease bloating start by addressing the more common causes, and the most simple to address.
1. Cut out carbonated drinks: replace with hot water with lemon or herbal or fruit teas, served hot or cold, and drink plenty of plain old water. Personal favorite teas for the tummy are mint, chia, nettle and jasmine.
2. Don’t chew gum: this causes you to take excess air into your gut.
3. Reduce the sweet stuff: you are sweet enough already! Those gas producing bacteria in your gut just love sugar, so deprive them and their population will decline. Also avoid sugar substitutes like fructose, sorbitol and stevia, which are known to cause bloating.
4. Take a probiotic like acidophilus. This may help replace the bad, gas producing bacteria, with healthy bacteria. Seriously, I think most people should be taking them.
5. Listen to your body after you eat. Some people find foods such as sprouts, beans and broccoli cause bloating, others find they reduce constipation and therefore reduce it. Your body sends subtle signals: listen to it. If you feel bloated after a meal, see if you can figure out what it was in that meal that bothered you, and try cutting it out (yes, it’s not rocket science). Gluten in wheat and lactose in dairy, are common food intolerances, so consider a trial period off each.
6. Get your bowels regular and loose. Sorry to go into detail on this, but regular, soft bowel movements approximately twice a day, will reduce fermentation and gas production in the gut. Consider a mild laxative, fibre supplement or aloe juice to establish and maintain a good bowel habit.
7. Reduce processed food in your diet. Sorry, I seem to say this almost every post but processed food it bad for you; containing high levels of sugar, bad fats, starch, salt and additives that are difficult for your body to digest and process.
8. Eat a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits and eat small meals, every four hours or so AND slow down!
9. Add gut friendly foods. In my research I came across several recommendations which I can’t swear by, but they might be worth try: celery, parsley, watermelon, rosemary, turmeric (the new wonder food) and lentils.
10. Physical exercise is great for getting your circulatory, digestive and lymphatic systems moving, and clearing that gas; so get off the couch and get moving!
11. Massage can help clear the gas, speed poop transit and reduce discomfort. I worked with a South African gynecologist who swore by abdominal massage for a multitude of problems. Massage from the right lower abdomen, up to the ribs, then across to the left and down. A hot water bottle can help ease discomfort too.
12. Ask your pharmacist for advice on a simple antacid or diuretic over the counter treatment.
Abdominal bloating is not something you should have to live with. Try some or all of the ideas above and next time you visit your doctor, mention that you have bloating, he or she may want to examine you and run some tests. Don’t forget if other symptoms develop, it’s time to take the bloating more seriously and see your doctor more urgently.
I’d love to hear some personal bloating cures from readers!
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