Bloating can strike at any time of year but during times of festivities when more food is eaten and where there is less control over what you eat bloating can be a regular hazaard. Bloating is often caused by a build up of gas or liquid in the intestines. The underlying causes can be innocuous and circumstantial but chronic and persistent bloating is worth addressing. Here we’ll look at the potential causes of bloating. Other posts will focus on Dietary and Lifestyle Strategies to Reduce Bloating and Herbs and Supplements to Reduce Bloating.
Causes of Bloating
The microbiome – gas in the intestines is often a by-product of the bacteria and yeasts that live in our guts. They break down fibre and other substances from food and produce gases such as hydrogen and methane. Most of our gut bacteria should reside in the large intestine (the colon). However, persistent gas can be an indication of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO).
Slow gut motility – The migrating motor complex triggers peristalsis which pushes matter through the stomach and small intestines and on into the colon. Sometimes there are problems with this action meaning food moves through the intestines too slowly allowing more time for fermentation and putrefaction to take place.
Ileo-coecal valve malfunction – the ileocecal valve is the junction between the small and large intestines. It should be a one way valve that only allows food from the small intestine into the large intestine. However, sometimes this mechanism goes wrong and bacteria from the large intestine migrate into the small intestine leading to SIBO. Also, the valve may not open sufficiently often for food to pass through meaning food sits in the small intestine for too long.
Lactose intolerance – dairy products contain lactose, the milk sugar, that needs the enzyme lactase to be broken down. However, many adults do not produce lactase so end up lactose intolerant. This can result in symptoms such as diarrhoea, gas and bloating when dairy products are eaten.
Food intolerances – it’s possible to become intolerant to any food but common culprits are gluten, dairy, soya and eggs.
FODMAPs – For some people fermentable sugars known as FODMAPs cause problems. FODMAPs are found in many foods including wheat, dairy, the onion family, pulses and many fruits and vegetables. Following a low FODMAPs diet for a few months can help to reduce the problem.
Swallowed air – can contribute to intestinal gas. This may be caused by eating too quickly or talking while eating.
Over-eating – eating too much of anything can lead to gas and bloating.
Excess salt – whilst salt is an essential mineral with many functions in the body, too much of it can lead to water retention and bloating. Processed and packaged foods are often extremely high in salt so are best avoided.
Rich, fatty foods – can stay in the stomach for longer than other foods leading to a feeling of heaviness and stagnation.
Carbonated drinks – fizzy drinks introduce gas into the intestines.
Liquids – sometimes bloating can be caused by a build up of liquid in the intestines. This can happen if foods or supplements that draw water into the colon are ingested. These include high fibre foods, magnesium and vitamin C.
Stress – can halt the digestive process while the body sends blood and oxygen out to the limbs ready for the fight or flight response. This can lead to food sitting in the gut for longer than it should meaning fermentation and gas production are increased. Stress also has an impact on the balance of organisms in the gut.
Antibiotics and medications – in the process of killing off pathogenic bacteria antibiotics disrupt the balance of organisms in the gut which can result in an overgrowth of undesirable organisms.
See posts on Dietary and Lifestyle Strategies to Reduce Bloating and Herbs and Supplements to Reduce Bloating.
If you suffer from persistent bloating it is worth getting checked out by a medical specialist.