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Bloating is one of the most common (and uncomfortable!) gastrointestinal symptoms. "It generally gives people a sensation of pressure or fullness, and some experience distention, where the belly physically stretches out," says gastroenterologist Dr Richard Saad. Persistent bloating can be a sign of something serious, such as fluid collection or a growth, and should be checked by a doctor. But far more likely causes are overproduction of gas in the intestines, constipation, overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, inability to absorb carbohydrates such as lactose, and premenstrual water retention. Try these simple tips to stop bloating and flatten your belly once and for all.
Activity: Exercise helps stimulate digestion. Research finds that people retain less gas and are less likely to feel bloated during and after moderate activity.
Trigger avoidance: Aerophagia, or unintentional gulping of air into the stomach, introduces gas into your GI system. To prevent it, ditch straws and chewing gum, especially sugar-free gum; some artificial sweeteners draw fluid into the intestines, leading to gut distention. And skip carbonated beverages: The air bubbles make you gassier.
Smaller meals: Large servings can leave you bloated. "Eat smaller meals every 2 to 3 hours to allow the digestive system time to process," says gastroenterologist Dr Vijaya Rao. Limit salt, which promotes water retention, and fatty foods, as they stay in the stomach longer than protein and carbs do.
Probiotics: Look for brands of probiotic yoghurt and supplements containing Lactobacillus and/or Bifidobacterium, the strains of bacteria less prone to gas production and most often found to reduce bloating in studies.
Low-FODMAP diet: Avoiding foods such as apples, avocados, and legumes can relieve bloating within a month. These foods contain carbs called fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs), which can trigger gas or bloating. Low-FODMAP choices include bananas, carrots, and spinach.
Stress relief: Stress may worsen bloating, possibly by affecting signalling pathways between the gut and brain. It can also cause sharp, shallow breathing that makes you swallow air. Yoga and meditation can slow air intake and relax you.
Gas medications: Over-the-counter drugs help break up gas bubbles. For gas due to constipation, try an OTC laxative. For IBS-related constipation, prescription medications can speed waste transit. If tests reveal bacterial overgrowth, antibiotics can help control GI bacteria.
Antidepressants: Low-dose antidepressants may relieve IBS-related bloating. "Neurotransmitters that communicate between nerves in the brain also help control the GI tract's neural network," Saad says.