Bloating is one of the most common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. Bloating of the stomach can be uncomfortable, heavy and ultimately stressful. The stress of course does not help as it may exacerbate discomfort in the gut and cause further complications.
Bloating has become so common and people consider it a regular occurrence in their day and just part of their normal digestion process. However, bloating, wind and abdominal discomfort are not ‘normal’ and should be considered as a sign of digestive issues.
While reasons for digestive discomfort can vary from person to person based on diet, lifestyle, stress or environmental factors, and although it can seem difficult to identify the reasons, it is possible that just need to know what to look for.
Here are some common causes of digestive discomfort resulting in bloating and wind:
Food intolerances are one of the most common causes of bloating, and one that can easily be avoided if you know what foods negatively affect your digestion.
We are all individuals and no one is created identical; therefore different people might react differently to the same foods.
Paying attention to your body’s reactions and signals to foods is the the single best way to identify food intolerances.
You may consider writing a food diary to help detect food intolerances or reactions to certain foods. Ask yourself after you eat, are you bloated? Gassy? Uncomfortable? In some cases, reactions to different foods can occur hours after the food has been consumed, therefore documenting the food you eat may help flag the foods that are causing your bloating.
There are dozens of different foods people can be sensitive to. Some of the most common foods include dairy, eggs, wheat and gluten.
What can you do? If you suspect that you might be sensitive to a certain food the easiest thing to do is to remove it entirely from your diet and keep a food diary to see if there is improvement and then reintroduce it to see how your body reacts. However if you are still not seeing an improvement you should speak to a healthcare practitioner.
Low Stomach Acid
Low stomach acid (also known as hypochlorhydria) is a common problem that may be overlooked – it can lead to digestive issues such as bloating, gas, acid reflux and heartburn. Although many people believe that these issues are caused by excess stomach acid, it may actually be caused by not having enough.
Stomach acid is a vital to healthy digestion. It is essential for helping us produce the enzymes that break down our food. Low levels of stomach acid can lead to inadequate digestion of proteins, nutrient malabsorption, imbalanced gut bacteria, and potentially the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast or parasites in the stomach and small intestine. (1)
The production of stomach acid levels will naturally decline as people age, however they can also be suppressed by a poor diet, consumption of additives and preservatives and stress.
What can you do? If you suspect you have a low stomach acid, consider supporting it by drinking a natural digestive aid such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar before meals, this will help to stimulate stomach acid and help with digestion. Alternatively, you can incorporate bitters such as dandelion, rocket, watercress or ginger, this can stimulate stomach acid production and increase saliva.
Simply, Not Chewing Your Food
A simple but overlooked way to support good digestion and reduce digestive issues is by thoroughly chewing your food.
The action of chewing helps to pre-digest food by mechanically breaking it down, and by chemically breaking it down with the help of an enzyme found in your saliva called salivary amylase.
Chewing your food signals to trigger your stomach to begin producing stomach acid to further break down your food and continue the digestive process.
When you don’t chew your food enough, your body may not produce enough of the enzymes needed to fully break down your food. This could lead to digestive problems includes bloating.
What can you do? Be mindful and take your time to fully chew your food when you eat. When you eat, sit down, and slow down. The more mindful you can be when you eat, the more it will support digestion and reduce potential bloating.
Unbalanced Gut Bacteria
Our gut microbiome is critical for normal gut development and health. They are a beneficial colony of one hundred trillion bacterial cells residing in our large intestine which directly impacts our health.
However, when there is a disruption to the balance of the microbiome; be it from poor diet, stress or low stomach acid or a combination, issues can arise. An unbalanced gut microbiome is one of the major common causes of bloating, gas, constipation and inflammation of the digestive tract. (2), (3)
What can you do? One of the easiest ways to boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut, is to eat probiotic-rich food, most often made via fermentation. Examples include: kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and/or take a high quality, multi-species probiotic. Probiotic foods contain the ‘good’ bacteria that help nourish the intestinal flora in our gut and reduce the ability of harmful bacteria to survive. (4) In addition, consuming pre-biotic foods such as: onions, garlic, artichoke, leek and oats are beneficial as they feed our healthy gut bacteria. (5)
Stressed + Poor Sleep
Since the gut is intricately connected to the nervous system; sleep, stress management (such as meditation and yoga) and exercise are necessary for renewal of the body and controlling inflammation; therefore improving these areas may improve any potential bloating.
When you are stressed, blood supply is directed to your muscles, away from your digestive system, to help you move faster. Additionally, digestive enzyme production slows, and the contractions in your intestines that help break food and move it along, can also be affected. (6)
To simplify: When you are stressed you can’t digest optimally.
What can you do? A major component of a healthy lifestyle should include stress reduction techniques such as meditation (focusing in prayer and/or using apps such as Headspace or Calm for guided meditation), yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing and spending time in nature.
Overall gut health is a complicated and evolving area of research. Our gut health is influenced by many factors, including: diet, exercise, stress, age, medication, illness, environment and exposures during early life (e.g. breastfed or not). That said, identifying what is affecting an individual can take time, as causes could have arisen in conjunction with one another.
It’s important for me to emphasise that regular episodes or periods of chronic or severe wind and bloating may can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition and you should seek suitable advice from a healthcare practitioner.
1) Kines, K., & Krupczak, T. (2016). Nutritional Interventions for Gastroesophageal Reflux, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Hypochlorhydria: A Case Report. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 15(4), 49–53.
2) Menees, S., & Chey, W. (2018). The gut microbiome and irritable bowel syndrome. F1000Research, 7, F1000 Faculty Rev-1029.
3) Ohman L, Simrén M. (2010). Pathogenesis of IBS: role of inflammation, immunity and neuroimmune interactions. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. Mar; 7(3):163-73.
4) Sanches et al. (2016) “Probiotics, gut microbiota, and their influence on host health and disease”. Gut Microbiota, Diet and Health.
5) Gionchetti P., Calabrese C., Calafiore A., Rizzello F. (2017) Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Antibiotics in IBD. In: Baumgart D. (eds) Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Springer, Cham.
6) P.c. Konturek, T. Brzozowski, S.J. Konturek. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of physiology and pharmacology. 62, 6, 591-599.