The Surprising Science of Bloating


 

Feeling bloated? The common misconception is that you have "too much gas" (1). 

Abdominal bloating is one of the most common and frustrating concerns in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and occurs in up to 30% of the general population (2). 

There is one important distinction to make. Bloating is the sensation of abdominal swelling; the feeling of an uncomfortable fullness. On the other hand, there is distension - the actual increase in measured abdominal size (3) - when the button of your jeans is barely holding it together. 

Abdominal bloating and distension can occur together or separately, as shown below:

Bloating vs distension

Differences between bloating and distension. Source - https://www.iffgd.org 

What is making you feel bloated?

However, the specific mechanism causing bloating remains unclear.

Potential causes of bloating include:

  • Gut hypersensitivity 
  • Impaired gas handling
  • Altered gut bacteria balance
  • Abnormal gut-brain reflexes, where the abdominal wall fails to contract

These lead to an exaggerated response to small increases in abdominal volume, causing the sensation of bloating and potentially accompanied by distension (4).

What to do to prevent bloating?

Slices of toast with tomato, radish slices, nuts, cucumber, cheese, sour cream

1. Eat smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, and avoid the typical three large meals a day. By doing so, you will keep your metabolism lifted, and prevent the unpleasant feeling of postprandial abdominal swelling.  

2. Reduce your consumption of fibre-rich food, at least for the first week. These include beans, broccoli and cabbage because they favour the formation of intestinal gases which cause bloating.     

3. Reduce your consumption of dairy. Milk and its derivatives, such as yoghurt and cream, may irritate your intestines and promote swelling.

4. Avoid fruit-only meals. Fruit tends to be high in natural sugars, causing your belly to swell.

Large bottle of water

5. Stay hydrated. This doesn’t mean drinking a whole bottle of water in one go, but instead, consistently drinking water throughout the day. You can also drink green or herbal teas, as well as smoothies or fresh fruit and vegetable juices for added micronutrients.

6. Refrain from consuming alcohol, soft drinks, and sweets. And also, avoid chewing gum, because you may introduce air into the stomach causing swelling.

Cup of warm water with lemon slices and ginger

7. Drink a glass of warm water with squeezed lemon juice and a slice of fresh ginger every morning on an empty stomach. This works to fight swelling and gastric tension, and promote weight loss. You can also add lemon and ginger to your juices or herbal teas.

8. Avoid eating fried and highly processed foods (including white flour and its derivatives).   

9. Choose raw or sautéed vegetables, over boiled ones as they will further swell your abdomen.

10. Choose your dressings wisely. Use extra virgin olive oil or linseed or hemp oil as a condiment.

Does exercise help reduce bloating?

Man and woman running across bridge

Mild physical activity enhances intestinal gas clearance and reduces the sensation of bloating (5).

Note:

Consult your doctor to find the underlying cause of your symptoms. 

Treatment for bloating and distension will likely require a complex strategy combining dietary changes (including probiotics), medication and behavioural changes.

When do you feel bloated? Let us know in the comments. 

P.S. Join our Facebook group "Tasty, but healthy" for easy nutritious recipes and healthy living tips!

 

The surprising science of bloating

  

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References

(1) Levitt, M. D., Furne, J., & Olsson, S. (1996). The relation of passage of gas and abdominal bloating to colonic gas production. Annals of internal medicine124(4), 422-424.

(2) Houghton, L. A., & Whorwell, P. J. (2005). Towards a better understanding of abdominal bloating and distension in functional gastrointestinal disorders. Neurogastroenterology & Motility17(4), 500-511.

(3) Monash University (2018). Abdominal bloating vs distension - what's the difference? FODMAP Blog https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/abdominal-bloating-vs-distension-whats-difference/

(4) Seo, A. Y., Kim, N., & Oh, D. H. (2013). Abdominal bloating: pathophysiology and treatment. Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility19(4), 433.

(5) Villoria, A., Serra, J., Azpiroz, F., & Malagelada, J. R. (2006). Physical activity and intestinal gas clearance in patients with bloating. The American journal of gastroenterology101(11), 2552.

 

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