Most of us have experienced that uncomfortable sensation, often after a big meal, where a button needs to be undone as your belly is pushed outwards as if by an invisible force from deep within. Sometimes it can feel like we’re about to give birth to a bowling ball. So what’s going on? Bloating is one of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms, explains gastroenterologist Dr Richard Saad. There are a variety of simple causes, from overproduction of gas in the intestines, to constipation, overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, inability to absorb carbohydrates such as lactose, and premenstrual water retention. There is a chance that bloating becomes persistent, which may be a sign of something serious, such as fluid collection or a growth, and should be checked by a doctor. Usually, though, the following solutions can help ease your discomfort.
Exercise helps stimulate digestion. Research has found that people retain less gas and are less likely to feel bloated during and after moderate activity.
Unintentional gulping of air into the stomach, (technically known as aerophagia), introduces gas into your digestive tract. 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 fizzy drinks: the air bubbles make you gassier.
EAT SMALLER MEALS
Large servings can leave you bloated. “Eat smaller meals every two to three hours to allow the digestive system time to process,” says Vijaya Rao, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. Limit salt, which promotes water retention, and fatty foods, as they stay in the stomach longer than protein and carbs do.
Look for brands of probiotic yoghurt and supplements that contain Lactobacillus and/or Bifidobacterium, the strains of bacteria less prone to gas production and most often
found to reduce bloating in studies.
EAT A LOW-FODMAP DIET
Avoiding foods such as apples, avocados and legumes can help relieve bloating within a month. These foods contain carbs that are grouped together and dubbed FODMAPs (an acronym for fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides and polyols), which have been proven to trigger gas or bloating. Low-FODMAP choices include bananas, carrots and spinach.
Stress may worsen bloating, possibly by affecting signaling 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.
TAKE A PILL
There are over-the-counter tablets available from your pharmacy which break up gas bubbles. If gas is due to constipation then use a gentle laxative tablet or powder. For IBS-related constipation, prescription medications can speed waste transit. If tests reveal bacterial overgrowth, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to help control gastrointestinal bacteria.
Low-dose antidepressants may relieve IBS-related bloating. “Neurotransmitters that communicate between nerves in the brain also help control the intestinal tract’s neural network,” Saad says.