The Bloating Epidemic and How to Deflate It!
The pufferfish defends itself by puffing up to several times its normal size. With its increase in size it intimidates its prey. We might say that bloating keeps that fish alive!
For humans, on the other hand, bloating is never desirable. We’ve all no doubt experienced the pain (and sometimes embarrassment) of feeling bloated. Bloating is on the rise, even at epidemic proportions according to the medical community. So, let’s take a look at some of the common causes of bloating and how to deflate that bloat!
What Causes Bloating?
When we experience bloating we may feel overly full and even find our stomach distended. Bloating is often accompanied by flatulents, burping, heartburn, lethargy and an overall sense of discomfort in the digestive tract.
- Poor eating habits – This includes: overeating; eating rich, fatty, or sugar-laden foods; eating a lot of processed foods; eating too fast; eating too late at night; and drinking too much alcohol.
- Swallowing air – While this may seem odd, there are several habits that cause people to ingest too much air and it results in bloating. Some of these include: chewing gum, sucking on hard candy, drinking through a straw, drinking carbonated sodas, and smoking.
- Eating gaseous foods – We have to be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” on this one, because these foods can be very good for us. However, too much of a good thing can cause problems. Many people experience some form of negative side effects (most often gas and bloating) from milk, cheese or yogurt. Some other foods that are prone to produce gas are: all kinds of dried beans, lentils and chickpeas; cruciferous vegetables and a few fruits like apricots, plums, prunes and other dried fruit. I wouldn’t eliminate these from your diet unless you’re allergic to them. But eat them in moderation and not in conjunction with each other.
- Artificial sweeteners – Artificial sweeteners are a common culprit that may be chief contributors to the bloating epidemic. These include: aspartame, sorbitol, sucralose (Splenda), etc. All of the artificial sweeteners are “serious bloat inducers.” “Banish them from your diet, and you’ll feel instant bloat relief,” says nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, RD.
- Sedentary lifestyle – Lack of movement or exercise is a recipe for bloating, among other more serious problems. Exercise keeps things moving in the digestive system. It also burns sugar that might otherwise lead to too much fermentation in the gut. Exercise also enables the body to release pent-up gases, relieving bloating. Regular exercise simply needs to be part of the regimen of leading a healthy lifestyle.
- Dehydration and loss of electrolytes – Lack of water and electrolyte imbalance can interrupt proper digestion and lead to bloating. Be sure to stay hydrated and take measures to keep your electrolytes in balance especially in hot weather, while exercising, or doing heavy/hard work.
- SIBO – SIBO is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This commonly occurs after a course of antibiotics, but can result from other problems as well including FODMAPs. FODMAP is an acronym for a type of carbohydrate that ferments and is poorly absorbed in the gut. Some FODMAPs include: fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans and polyols. So avoid these.
- Medications – We are a pill-popping culture and as such, we often don’t think twice about the side effects of even the common medications that we take. Here is a list of some of the most common meds that cause bloating and I know some will shock you! The culprits are: aspirin, antacids (you probably weren’t expecting that one), diarrhea meds, narcotic pain meds, fiber supplements, multivitamins, and iron supplements.
- Stress – Stress plays havoc with our digestion and our health in general. Stress often leads to poor or irregular eating choices and interferes with proper digestion.
- Medical conditions – A variety of medical conditions can cause bloating. When any of these are the cause, they’re usually accompanied by other more serious symptoms as well. Some of these medical conditions are: diverticulitis, IBS, Crohn’s, food intolerances, parasites, celiac disease, candida, and some cancers.
Okay, but what if you’re feeling bloated right now? What can you do about it? And what can you do to remedy bloating in the future?
How to Prevent and Deflate Bloating
1. Practice good eating habits
- Eat mindfully. Eat smaller portions, slowly. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, or eating fatty and sugary foods. Don’t eat late at night. Stop eating a couple hours before bedtime. Consider integrating intermittent fasting into your weekly or monthly routine. Avoid drinking soda.
- Drink only water. Stick to H2O throughout the day. Water prevents common causes of bloating like constipation and dehydration and doesn’t contain any stomach-expanding ingredients like sweeteners and carbonation that are present in other drinks like soda (yes, even diet) and seltzer.
- Chew more slowly. When you eat too quickly, you swallow more air, which can cause bloat. Chew slower and more mindfully and maybe skip the after-lunch gum (which has a similar effect) while you’re at it.
- Avoid salt. Salt causes the body to retain water, so it’s best to stick to pepper when you’re feeling bloated.
- Eat smarter. A number of foods are great at getting rid of unwanted bloat. Asparagus stimulates the growth of good gut bacteria; bananas contain high levels of potassium to flush excess sodium out of your system; and watermelons (90% water) also have natural diuretic properties. Other foods that help prevent and eliminate bloating include all of the “watery” vegetables like celery, tomatoes, artichokes, leafy greens, cucumbers, etc. Additionally, lemons, apples, apple cider vinegar, kiwi, honeydew melon, berries, and pineapple all possess various properties that help prevent and relieve bloating.
2. Exercise regularly
As stated above, regular exercise can help keep your digestion in good working order and relieve excess gas by increasing blood flow to your digestive tract and ridding your internal organs of constipation-causing toxins. In fact, during exercise you’ll probably experience the need to pass gas. Our recommendation is to let ‘er rip! Don’t try to hold it in. Now if you’re around other people, indiscriminately passing gas may have an effect similar to that of the pufferfish. So use discretion when you release flatulents! You want bloating relief without offense.
3. Take probiotics
You can either take a probiotic supplement or eat lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir. Probiotics help bring stability to the gut and can relieve bloating in short order.
4. Consume herbs, spices and teas
Several herbs like ginger, fennel and chamomile are particularly potent against bloating. You can buy dried ginger and simply chew on a piece or two to experience almost immediate relief. You can also make soothing fennel tea simply by simmering a tablespoon of fennel seeds in two cups of water in a covered pan for 30 minutes. Fennel tea smells and tastes quite delicious as well as being a powerful bloating cure. Chamomile, peppermint, mint and green teas are also very effective remedies for relieving bloating.
Start the day off right with a glass of warm water with lemon to jump-start your digestive system and get things moving right away. Sprinkle in some cinnamon or cayenne pepper for extra anti-inflammatory power.
5. Relieve stress
Practice stress-relieving techniques that work for you. Slow down. Take time to rest and relax. Invest in your relationships and spend time with friends and loved ones. Try to eliminate conflict from your life and express love toward others. Get out into nature. Listen to soothing music like Wholetones. Practice a fun hobby. Seek peace with God.
Try giving yourself a stomach massage to relieve stress. One study conducted by Umea University in Sweden found that an abdominal massage increases blood flow, soothes your muscles, decreases bloating and works wonders on period cramps.
Unless you’re suffering from a more serious condition, bloating is usually a lifestyle issue that you can easily reverse by changing some simple lifestyle habits. Many of the bloating remedies above can offer near instant bloating relief. Doesn’t a cup of fennel tea sound good right now?
- Another way to reduce bloating: Getting more vitamin D.
- Perfect your protein intake.
- Another buzzword that you might be hearing about a lot: leaky gut—here’s how to know if you have it.