One of the most common complaints I hear from young women is that they are constantly feeling bloated. Whether it’s the physical discomfort of the bloat or the unappealing appearance of being bloated, bloating is something no one wants to deal with. Although there are many over the counter treatment options available to help manage bloating, understanding why you are experiencing this symptom is important if you are ready to get rid of the bloat for good!
There are many different causes of bloating, but I want to touch on some of the most common reasons I see bloating occur in practice. From food to hormones to stress, here are a few.
Food sensitivities are very common, especially since many of our foods are now modified or altered from their natural state. Remember, a sensitivity could be due to a food, beverage, additive, or ingredient. Although bloating is a very common symptom of food sensitivities, trigger foods can also cause gas, abdominal pain, and other non-digestive symptoms, like fatigue, headaches, skin rashes, acne, or brain fog.
To identify if you have food sensitivities, an elimination diet is the gold standard. This is where you eliminate all potential trigger foods for a time period of 3 weeks to 6 months, depending on the person. When ready, each food is re-introduced one at a time to identify which foods cause a reaction. It is important to note that if your bloating does not resolve during the elimination phase, there is likely another reason behind the bloat, or you may still be consuming a food that is causing you to react.
Another way to identify food triggers is through a food sensitivity test that can be done with your naturopathic doctor. This is a blood test that identifies which foods you may be having an immune type response to. Either way, I highly recommend you identify if you have any trigger foods because this could be an easy fix to your discomfort.
Foods That Cause BloatingThere are also many foods that naturally cause gas formation and thus, bloating or distention to occur. These are not food sensitivities, but you may need some extra digestive support when consuming these foods to reduce the amount of bloating. Some of these foods include:
- Raw broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, onions
- Some fruits like apricots, apples, peaches, pears, and prunes
- Beans and lentils
- Whole grains
- Greasy, fatty foods
- Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol, which are often found in sugar-free gum and candy
- Carbonated drinks
- Dairy products, especially if you are lactose intolerant
If your bloating causes discomfort, eliminate these foods to see how you feel. You can also try adding in a broad spectrum digestive enzyme before consuming these specific foods to assist in the digestive process and reduce the experience of bloating.
Does your bloating seem to come and go around the same time each month? If so, it likely has something to do with your hormones. Bloating is a very common symptom associated with PMS. The change in the levels of estrogen and progesterone that occur before a period is triggered can cause the body to retain more water and salt, causing the feeling of bloating. If you are unsure whether your hormones are to blame, start tracking your bloating like you track your monthly periods. And if there is a cyclical nature to your bloating, your hormones are probably playing a role.
Should that be the case, it is likely that you experience other symptoms of PMS. If so, be sure to check out our article on how to manage PMS – this will help with so much more than just the bloat.
Have you ever noticed that your bloating gets worse when you are stressed or feeling anxious? When our brain perceives a stressor – a never-ending to-do list, high demands at work, lack of sleep, etc. – it releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are responsible for our “fight or flight” response. As a survival mechanism, when our body is in fight or flight mode, it diverts blood away from our digestive system to fuel our muscles and brain. This means that the function of the digestive system is momentarily impaired.
The problem is, many of us are living under chronically elevated stress levels, meaning our digestive system becomes impaired for more than just a moment. This causes less stomach acid production and a reduction of digestive enzymes, meaning the inadequate breakdown of foods, and thus, bloating.
This is further compounded by our behaviours that are typical when stress is high, like eating more prepared or processed foods, eating on the go, and eating quickly (aka. not chewing).
If this sounds like you, managing your stress levels will definitely help you beat the bloat, but will also improve many other aspects of your life. Some simple strategies to start improving your bloating include:
- Starting each meal by taking 3 slow, deep breaths before eating any food. This will calm the nervous system and help put you into a parasympathetic mode (“rest and digest” mode).
- Chewing your food thoroughly before you swallow; this is the first stage of digestion.
- No more eating on the go. Ensure you are sitting down and not distracted during your meals.
- Using a digestive enzyme to help promote better breakdown of food, until you can master some new stress reduction strategies.
Dysbiosis of the gut occurs when there is an imbalance between the good and bad gut bacteria. When there is an overgrowth of the bad guys, this can cause bloating to occur. You often see this after antibiotic use or in individuals with frequent antibiotic use in general. Dysbiosis can also be identified in those who were born via c-section or who were not breastfed as infants. This imbalance can also happen after a gut infection, for example, contracting a parasite after traveling abroad.
Symptoms of dysbiosis may include:
- bad breath
- skin conditions
- brain fog
- as well as many other non-specific symptoms
It is important to note that dysbiosis is associated with many digestive disorders like IBS and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and can be the cause or the consequence of many digestive concerns.
We can identify dysbiosis through advanced stool testing or after a detailed medical history is taken. Depending on the degree of dysbiosis, different protocols can be used clinically. The goal of treatment would be to get rid of the bad bugs and repopulate with the good. In some, it may be as simple as using a high quality probiotic, whereas with others it may mean weeks of antimicrobial treatment before reinoculating with good bacteria.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a form of dysbiosis. This is when we see the imbalance between the good and bad bacteria, but in the small intestine specifically.
Signs and symptoms of SIBO often include:
- Bloating – that gets worse as the day goes on
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- An uncomfortable feeling of fullness after eating
- Unintentional weight loss
- Nutrient deficiencies like vitamin A, D, E, K, and B12
Testing and treating SIBO can be challenging and so if these symptoms resonate with you, I encourage you to work with a healthcare provider.
Bloating can be very uncomfortable, and determining the root cause is important for complete resolution. There are many other potential reasons you may be experiencing bloating, but I encourage you to start addressing your bloating by determining if you have any food sensitivities or if your hormones are to blame. I also highly recommend building healthier habits around eating to improve normal digestive function. If bloating is still present and quite uncomfortable, I highly recommend you work with a practitioner that can help you get to the bottom of it.