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Bloating: causes, symptoms and treatment

Bloating in the abdomen, or simply feeling bloated, because of ‘too much’ gas in the digestive system is a common complaint affecting between 10 and 30 percent of adults.

Our experts explore causes, symptoms and lifestyle changes for bloating, as well as recommend the best herbal remedies available.

What is bloating

The term ‘bloating’ usually refer to the presence of wind, gas or flatulence in the digestive tract. In the majority of people, digestive discomfort is caused by a maldigestion of food and arises from bad habits and bad diets. 

Over 5 litres of gas are produced each day in the normal gut.

When normal digestive function is interrupted or hindered, changes in chemical reactions or the way gut bacteria work lead to increased amounts of gas being produced.

Causes of bloating

  • Indigestion
  • Acid reflux 
  • Intolerance to lactose or other foods 
  • Dysbacteriosis (imbalance of bacterial types in the gut)
  • Constipation 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome 
  • Menopause

Less common causes of digestive bloating

  • Aerophagia (the nervous habit of swallowing air) 
  • Coeliac disease 
  • Pancreatic insufficiency (lack of production of digestive enzymes) 
  • Tumours

Bloating after eating

Bloating frequently occurs after eating due to an excess of gas in the digestive system. This can be triggered by gulping down your food or eating certain foods that are known to initiate bloating, such as fizzy drinks or fatty foods.

Nutrition and bloating

Certain foods can make bloating worse:

  • Fizzy drinks (including fizzy water) – they contain a lot of carbonated gas
  • Sugary drinks - high levels of sugars will encourage gut bacteria to produce more gas
  • Diet drinks’ – contain sugar substitutes such as sorbitol and also leads to an increase in production of gas as the body cannot absorb these well
  • Dark beers or real ales
  • Vegetables are good for you, but avoid Brussel sprouts, leek, onions, turnips, cabbage, beans
  • Fatty foods, if your bloating after eating is due to indigestion or acid reflux
  • If you are intolerant to certain foods such as lactose, avoid them
  • Avoid dairy cream or dishes made with lots of the stuff, even if you are not lactose intolerant
  • Avoid using straws, drinking from bottles or chewing gum as they can introduce an excessive amount of air into your digestive system

Depending on the cause of your bloating, there are certain foods you can eat to help yourself:

  • Live, natural yoghurt
  • If you are constipated, foods rich in fibre as well as prunes can help
  • If you suffer from IBS, drink peppermint tea

Lifestyle changes that helps bloating

There are other things in your lifestyle you can look into, including:

  • If you smoke, cut this out – it is not only your digestion and bloating that will improve
  • Drink plenty of water as it will help your general health. However, avoid drinking water 30 minutes before your meal and try to limit the amount of fluid consumed during each meal so as not to dilute your digestive juices
  • Reduce or cut out alcohol. If you do feel a need for a drink, do so in moderation and stick to wine rather than spirits
  • Avoid Stress. Remember that stress (‘fight or flight’) hormones increase the amount of acid in your stomach, giving you indigestion or worse, ulcers
  • Learn to handle stress better. It is not always possible to avoid stress, so managing it better is the logical next step. Ask yourself – what were you like the last time you were late for an appointment because of being stuck in a traffic jam?
  • Exercise more. Not only will this help you relax, it will also improve your digestive function in general

Treatment of digestive bloating

Several types of food can cause flatulence in some people but not in others. It depends not only on the presence in the large intestine of the right bacteria for the right food, but also on a sufficient quantity of bacteria to digest it. 

  • Bitter herbs have been used for many years as digestive tonics. The important bitter herbs are Centaury and Gentian. Other bitter herbs include Wormwood and Blessed Thistle.
  • There are many herbs which are able to help with the symptoms of indigestion and dyspepsia.These herbs are generally referred to by phytotherapists as carminatives, and are defined as herbs which can help with indigestion, bloating and other related digestive discomforts.
  • Peppermint is the foremost of the carminative herb.
  • Herbs such as cynara and dandelion, have been used for centuries in helping improve symptoms of indigestion including bloating.
  • Many digestive problems are either related or worsened because of stress in our modern world. If you feel bloated and also stressed, your digestive symptoms may improve if you address stress by using Valerian.

Depending on the cause of your bloating, there are certain foods you can eat to help yourself:

  • Live, natural yoghurt
  • If you are constipated foods rich in fibre as well as prunes can help
  • If you suffer from IBS, drink peppermint tea

When to seek further help

Although the most common reasons for feeling bloated relate to minor health problems giving you excessive gas in your gut,occasionally abdominal bloating, swelling or distension points to something more serious. If you are in any doubt, consult your doctor.

You should also see your doctor for further advice if you experience:

  • Abdominal (stomach) pain, especially severe pain
  • Unexplained diarrhoea or vomiting
  • Worsening symptoms
  • Excessive heartburn
  • Blood in your stools, or dark, tarry stools
  • Loss of weight