So many clients we work with at HEAL come to us because of bloating and stomach problems. Whether it’s the feeling of having to unbutton your pants after every meal, or long-term unresolved painful bloating and gas, it’s never fun!
There are many causes of bloating. Our goal when working with clients is to undercover the root cause of their bloating. Here are some of the common causes of bloating that we see, and how to resolve them.
A popular misconception is that stomach acid is ‘bad’, when in actuality you need stomach acid to properly break down and digest food. Your stomach is lined to handle secretions of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) and enzymes that help you break down, digest and absorb nutrients, especially protein. If you don’t have enough stomach acid, food digests much more slowly and incompletely, leading to putrefaction and gas.
It’s worth noting that many people experience reflux and heartburn because of low stomach acid, not high stomach acid. Unfortunately one of the big causes of low stomach acid is chronic antacid use, which can make it worse.
An acidic stomach also helps keep viruses, bacteria and other pathogens out. H.pylori for example, is a common bacteria that we test for at HEAL that can proliferate in the stomach and cause inflammation leading to ulcers and GERD.
When a client has symptoms of low stomach acid, we’ll work to identify and address the possible root causes, including stress, nutrient deficiencies (like zinc or B vitamins), h. Pylori, and food choices. We’ll often also incorporate supplements like digestive bitters and soothing herbs to reduce bloating and improve stomach acid and enzyme secretions.
Like we’ve outlined before on HEAL, digestion actually begins with the sight and smell of food. This stimulates the release of saliva which begins the breakdown of carbs. Chewing properly helps to break down food into smaller pieces making it easier for your stomach to break it down further. When you eat quickly, you miss these important steps, which makes for more work from the rest of your digestive system and a greater likelihood of developing gas and bloating.
We know this article isn’t about heartburn, but bloating often goes hand in hand with other digestive issues. Interestingly, a Chinese study found that fast eating was one of the most common lifestyle habits associated with the development of GERD.
While most North Americans consume far too little fiber, you can overdo it with high fiber foods. Soluble fiber attracts water to form a gel-like substance, which slows down digestion to keep you fuller, longer. Eating too much soluble fiber, especially if you’re not hydrating enough, can slow down digestion and cause bloating and even constipation. Psyllium (Metamucil) is a common form of soluble fiber that can sometimes make constipation and bloating worse.
Some plants, like beans, for example, contain types of carbohydrates (in this case oligosaccharides) that take a while to break down, so they ferment and cause gas. Beans are a very healthy food for most people, but if you’re not used to eating them, they can cause a lot of uncomfortable bloating and gas. In general, too much fiber that’s sitting in your intestines undigested can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria. This is one of the potential causes of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
It’s best to start with a smaller amount of fiber and work your way up overtime so your digestive system can adapt. Try to eat a variety of different plant foods and avoid large amounts of raw vegetables which are tougher to digest. A lot of packaged foods now have fiber additives like inulin or chicory root, which can be helpful to avoid if you tend to bloat easily.
Dysbiosis is when you have an imbalance of bacteria in your gut. Sometimes it’s that you don’t have enough of the beneficial and protective bacteria like the bifidobacteria and lactobacillus strains, other times it’s that you have an overgrowth of more pathogenic bacteria or yeast, like candida albicans.
When we work with clients at HEAL, we will often run additional testing to determine what the composition of their gut bacteria looks like so we can put a protocol in place to remove the harmful bacteria and reinoculate the healthy bacteria that are missing or low. This might look like dietary adjustments with meal plans to support that, herbal supplements to kill off the harmful bacteria and sometimes probiotics with the specific strains of the bacteria you’re missing.
A food intolerance is when you have a reaction or set of symptoms arise from eating a food or food component, at an amount normally tolerated. Food intolerances include enzyme deficiencies (e.g. lactose intolerance from not producing enough of the lactase enzyme) as well as an inability to digest certain foods as a result of a gastrointestinal disorder.
It’s estimated that about 20% of the population has some form of food intolerance, but unfortunately they can be difficult to diagnose because unlike a food allergy, the symptoms are not always immediate. Bloating that does not pass is one of the more obvious symptoms.
We use a variety of different tools to test for intolerances in clients, including lab tests and/or elimination diets, where we remove the foods we suspect are problematic for a period of time and then reintroduce them one at a time to observe a reaction.
Last but not least, is stress! As you’ve probably experienced, when you’re stressed, digestion slows down and nutrient absorption is reduced. Like in the examples above, undigested food can create gas that leads to bloating. The intestines have a tight barrier to protect the body from bacteria, toxins and undigested food. Stress has been shown to weaken the intestinal barrier, allowing things like bacteria and undigested food particles to get through (a factor in food sensitivities).
Working with our clients to implement lifestyle changes that reduce stress, in general and around meal times, is one of the most important things we do.
The underlying theme for all of the causes we’ve listed above, is that food needs to pass through multiple stages of the digestive system to be properly broken down, for nutrients to be absorbed, and for you to have a nice flat stomach and normal bowel movements. We always work with our clients to coach them through the very first stages of this process, run tests to rule out and address any underlying issues, and provide holistic recommendations that address the food you eat, your lifestyle, and stress reduction practices.
Click here to book a complimentary info session to learn more about how we can help you resolve your bloating.