We all know the feeling of being bloated. Whether you’re on your way out for a night on the town or sitting around the house, having a distended stomach that feels like it’s a balloon about to pop is just about the most un-sexy thing that can happen.
Sometimes it comes on slow, while other times it can feel like an instant assault on your stomach, but where does bloating come from? And what can you do to treat uncomfortable bloat?
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The imbalances that cause you to feel bloated
- The essential role that liver health and bile play in managing bloat
- The microbiome-bloat connection
- The top 6 causes of abdominal bloat and how to manage them
What Is Abdominal Bloating?
The most common reason you may experience abdominal bloating is due to excess gas in your stomach, which creates pressure in the abdominal cavity.
Where does this gas come from? Predominantly, bloating is a symptom of poor digestion of nutrients or an imbalance in your gut bacteria.
For optimal digestion to occur, you need a healthy flow of digestive fluids and enzymes, along with a microbiome that supports the breakdown of nutrients. When there is a disturbance in the digestive dance, gas production can increase, and voila, you’ve got stomach bloat.
To dig a little deeper, let’s take a look at the most common causes of abdominal bloat.
Top 6 Causes of Abdominal Bloat And How To Manage Them
#1 Poor Bile Flow
Bile is a digestive fluid made in your liver, stored in your gallbladder, and secreted into your small intestine. It’s primarily composed of water, bilirubin, and bile acids. This digestive fluid is crucial for the breakdown of fats into fatty acids in your duodenum (small intestine), but it also plays a role in the balance of your gut bacteria.
Bile and your gut bacteria have a synergistic relationship, balancing each other as needed to maintain homeostasis. As such, one of the roles of bile acids is to kill off harmful bacteria in your gut — the type that causes digestive disturbances like bloating.
Furthermore, as bile moves through your digestive tract, it picks up toxic compounds along the way to assist with their excretion via bowel movements. Bile specifically targets heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and iron for excretion — clearing them from your system. Toxins like heavy metals can cause disruption to your gut bacteria and create symptoms like gas and bloating. This is one reason why healthy bowel elimination is so vital when you’re detoxing.
How To Manage Poor Bile Flow
The best way to support bile flow is by supporting your liver. Bile is produced in your liver, so keeping this organ happy and healthy will enhance your body’s ability to create bile and send it to your small intestine.
Some liver-supportive foods and herbs include milk thistle, dandelion, beets, burdock, broccoli sprouts, and turmeric. For most people, it can be a challenge to get these foods and herbs into their diet every day, which is why I created Daily Detox.
#2 Low Stomach Acid
Stomach acid, also known as hydrochloric acid (HCl), is vital for the proper breakdown of food, especially protein. However, another crucial role that stomach acid plays is killing off harmful bacteria.
Low stomach acid can result from stress, H.pylori infection, overuse of NSAIDs, antibiotics, and part of the natural aging process. When stomach acid is low, it allows harmful microbes to grow in your gut, which may produce gas and bloating.
How To Manage Low Stomach Acid
If you believe you may have low stomach acid, the best way to manage it is by taking hydrochloric acid supplements. The way to test if you need HCl (and how much) is by starting slowly with one pill or capsule and noticing how you feel.
From here, you can add one more capsule with each meal until you start to notice a burning sensation. The burning will feel like heartburn, or a warmness in your throat and stomach, due to excess HCl. This is your sign that you’ve taken too much, so cut back one capsule for each meal until you notice the burning sensation no longer occurs.
As an example:
Meal 1: Take one capsule (notice if you sense burning, if you do, then you probably don’t have low stomach acid, if you don’t, go-to meal 2)
Meal 2: Take two capsules (notice if you sense burning, if you do, then you likely only need one capsule, so cut back to one cup per meal)
Meal 3: Take three capsules (only if you didn’t notice burning with two)
And so on. Some people need up to 6 capsules per meal.
#3 Yeast Overgrowth
Yeast overgrowth is incredibly common and can create a range of unwanted side effects, including gas, bloating, headaches, weight gain, and more.
Candida, a type of yeast, is naturally found in your gut in small amounts, balanced by other bacteria. However, when candida becomes overgrown, it can exacerbate digestive issues and cause an influx of inflammation.
Yeast overgrowth can be due to a number of factors but most often results from weakened immunity or poor diet. Yeast love to feed off of sugar, so too much sugar in your diet can set the stage for candida overgrowth.
How To Manage Yeast Overgrowth
Trying to manage yeast overgrowth can be tricky, but it’s definitely doable. Some other tell-tale signs of candida overgrowth include sugar cravings, white coating on the tongue, inflamed or itchy skin, and vaginal itching.
If you think you may have candida overgrowth, your first step is to cut back on the sugar. Since candida feeds off sugar, you’ll be cutting off their fuel source, which helps to manage the overgrowth. From here, you may want to try antifungal medications or supplements like garlic, coconut oil, ginger, oregano oil, or turmeric.
#4 Food Sensitivities
One of the best ways to determine if you’re sensitive to a food is to notice how you feel after eating it. For many people, food sensitivities show up as gas, bloating, stomach cramps or upset, or diarrhea within a few hours of eating a specific food.
The most common food sensitivities include wheat (gluten), grains, dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, corn, and sugar. However, many people find that they are sensitive to more than one food, and as time goes on, the list grows.
How To Manage Food Sensitivities
The best way to manage food sensitivities is to eliminate them from your diet. However, this is often easier said than done for a couple of reasons. First, many people don’t know exactly which foods they’re sensitive to. And second, we often become “addicted” to the foods that are causing us trouble.
Although blood tests are available for food sensitivities, the gold standard is to perform an elimination diet. This would typically include avoiding all of the common sensitivities (wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, corn, and sugar) for a couple of weeks and then slowly adding them back in one by one. Notice any digestive symptoms that might occur as you add back in a potential sensitivity.
Once you find the culprit to your bloating, omit that food from your diet for a while and simultaneously work on improving gut health. It can be helpful to work with a nutritionist or functional medicine doctor to repair the health of your gut and heal the sensitivity.
One of the most common yet seemingly benign causes of bloating is simply overeating. When you consume more food than your gut can handle, all kinds of digestive haywire can occur. This is primarily due to the fact that you can’t produce the volume of digestive fluids needed fast enough to break down the food you’re shoveling into your mouth.
Although we all do it on occasion, when overeating becomes chronic, it can cause real health concerns and set the stage for inflammation and poor digestive function. Furthermore, for some people, overeating is more about an emotional drive than a physical one.
How To Manage Overeating
If you feel that your overeating is a result of emotional charge and beyond your ability to control, then working with a healthcare professional can be helpful in getting to the root of your impulses. This is especially true in binge-eating disorder, which is a common, yet underrepresented type of eating disorder.
If you overeat out of habit or lack of willpower, then trying out some mindful eating practices may be the key to your digestive issues. When you eat mindfully, it requires that you slow down, and it brings your body into parasympathetic mode — the ideal nervous system state for digestion.
Here is an example of a simple mindful eating practice:
- Using all of your senses, take in the essence of your food. Before you bite, notice what the food looks like and smells like. Is it presented nicely on your plate or bowl?
- Next, take a bite and notice the taste and texture of the food. Is it crunchy? Soft? What flavors can you gather? There is often a variety of flavors in each bite if you can pay attention.
- Chew your food completely and swallow before picking up the next bite.
This practice not only helps you to enjoy your meal, but it slows you down and allows your digestive juices to flow. It takes time for your brain to catch up with your body, so when you eat food slowly, your brain gets the message that it’s full before you end up overeating.
SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), is a digestive disorder caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestine. Typically, the overgrowth is bacteria that wouldn’t naturally be found in this part of your digestive tract.
Since your small intestine is a hotspot for nutrient breakdown, an overgrowth in unwanted bacteria here can cause issues with the breakdown and absorption of the food you eat. Specifically, bacteria can feed on the nutrients in your small intestine, inhibiting their absorption and producing gas as a result.
One of the primary symptoms of SIBO is bloating, in addition to abdominal pain, weight loss, diarrhea, nausea, and loss of appetite.
How To Manage SIBO
SIBO is one of the trickiest digestive disorders to manage due to the complexity of the issues. Some people find that following a diet like the low FODMAP diet does the trick, while others must seek out the help of a functional medicine doctor or nutritionist.
If you think you may have SIBO, try a low FODMAP diet which will help you avoid foods that feed the bacteria in your small intestine. There are extensive guidelines for the low FODMAP diet that you can find online as a starting point.
Takeaway: Manage Your Bloat By Supporting Digestion
No matter which way you look at it, the best way to manage abdominal bloat is to support your digestive process.
Start with nutrients like those found in Daily Detox to support your liver and the flow of bile. Bile is crucial not only to the breakdown of fat but for balancing your microbial ecosystem. By keeping the harmful bacteria in check, bile acts as a safeguard against imbalances that can lead to bloat.
You may also want to give hydrochloric acid supplementation a shot if you think low stomach acid may be playing a role. Stomach acid is a vital component of your digestive system, helping to break down nutrients and kill off harmful bacteria.
Eliminating food sensitivities is essential to any digestive health regimen, especially if you have SIBO or candida overgrowth. By removing the foods that are causing imbalances in your gut, you eliminate the factors that are leading to bloat in the first place.
And finally, many people find that slowing down at meals can make a big difference in how well they digest their food. Using mindfulness practices like mindful eating is a great place to start. Mindful eating can take many forms, but the easiest way to begin is by slowing down and paying attention to each of your senses as you consume your meal.
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