There’s no doubt that we love our food! However sometimes our gut may not completely agree with what we put into our bodies and this can cause a host of problems for us. Having a bloated stomach can be such an uncomfortable experience. It can occur when your tummy feels overly full, stretched, or tight, often due to gas.
We’ve listed down things you need to know about belly bloat. This includes how and why it happens, as well as how to relieve bloating through lifestyle changes, diet, and supplementation.
What causes stomach bloating?
Bloating happens when liquid, gas, or solids fill up the organs in your digestive system (1). It may be accompanied by burping, cramps, constipation, and diarrhoea.
Stomach bloating may occur when the food you eat moves too slowly down your GI tract. It may also be the result of the muscles in the wall of your stomach being weak, or when the muscles in your diaphragm do not relax (1).
Other causes of bloating include specific food in your diet and certain health conditions affecting the digestive system.
Here are some common conditions related to stomach bloating:
Gassiness and flatulence
Stomach bloating may be due to flatulence3. Flatulence, or farting, is caused by gas in the bowel. The intestines normally produce between 500 and 2,000 mls of gas, including methane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide2. This gas is regularly passed out as flatulence.
Air builds up in the digestive system through different ways. It comes from air that we swallow from eating food (especially high-fibre foods), and air generated by gut flora2.
While flatulence is normal, with people passing gas an average of 15 times a day, a person may suffer from excessive gassiness2. This is experienced as passing wind more often, accompanied by abdominal discomfort, and rumblings in the lower abdomen.
Excessive gassiness may be due to eating certain foods, or suddenly switching to a high-fibre diet. Other conditions like being lactose intolerant and suffering from irritable bowel syndrome may also cause excess wind and leave you with that bloated feeling.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS affects the large bowel, or the colon (4). It is a common condition, affecting 3 out of 10 people, with women more likely than men to be affected (4).
The symptoms of digestive issues, such as IBS, include stomach bloating, abdominal discomfort, and alternating between diarrhoea and constipation. A person has IBS if they experience recurrent abdominal pain, at least once a day over several months. This may be accompanied by pain related to bowel motions, and a change in the frequency or appearance of bowel movements.
IBS can be triggered by being under stress, or suffering infections. Some medications may also affect IBS, including some antibiotics, antacids, and pain medicines. IBS may also be caused or exacerbated by certain "trigger foods", although what these foods are vary from one person to another (4).
The bloating that arises because of IBS is not due to excess wind. Rather, it may be because of the unusual movement of your food and waste products through the bowel (3).
Constipation occurs when you pass dry, hard stools (5). A person who is constipated may feel like they don't need to go to the bathroom as often, have trouble passing stools, or need to sit on the toilet for longer than usual. This may be accompanied by the feeling that your bowel hasn't completely emptied. You may also experience a bloating stomach, and experience abdominal cramps.
Constipation may be caused by the combination of a low-fibre diet and lack of hydration (5). Fibre adds bulk to the faeces, making it easier to travel through the digestive tract. Without fibre, faeces become more difficult to push out. However, the fibre in faeces needs to absorb water in order to pass more easily. Without water, a low-fibre diet may cause constipation.
Constipation may also occur due to lack of regular exercise, changes in routine that affect one's regular bowel motions, and certain medications such as calcium-channel blockers, and non-magnesium antacids (5).
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO may also cause bloating (6). This is due to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine that are otherwise not usually found in that area (7).
SIBO may occur due to intestinal surgery, or having suffered IBS with diarrhea. Structural problems in the small intestine may also lead to SIBO. In these situations, the passage of food and then later, faeces, through the digestive tract is slowed down. This creates an environment for bacteria to grow (7).
People with SIBO experience bloating and the feeling of being uncomfortably full after eating, as well as abdominal pain, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, and unintended weight loss.
For women, problems with your ovaries or uterus may also lead to bloating (6). Hormones during your menstrual period or during menopause may also cause bloating (1).
Hormones released when you’re feeling stressed may interfere with regular digestive function (8). They may also negatively affect the gut flora, or the ecosystem of microorganisms that live in the gut (9).
When you’re under stress, your digestion may slow down, causing constipation, pain, and stomach bloating. Conversely, stress can also cause your digestion to speed up, resulting in diarrhoea. People may also lose their appetite when stressed (8).
There is a condition wherein your small intestine becomes inflamed when it comes in contact with gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many foods including grains and oats (10).
Gluten intolerance may result in bloating, as well as other symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, nausea, and tummy discomfort. You may also experience non-digestive system related conditions such as irritability, joint pain, skin rash, and easy bruising.
While the causes of this disease are unknown, it is known to run in families. Environmental factors may also trigger it, such as gastrointestinal infections, or a person's childhood diet.
Certain foods that are more likely to cause gassiness and bloating include beans, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower, and onions (3). Eating plenty of salty foods, carbohydrates, or fizzy drinks may also result in feeling bloated (1). Swallowing air when you eat too quickly may also cause you to be gassy.
Foods that contain a lot of sugars, even artificial sweeteners, may be poorly absorbed by the small intestine, triggering symptoms of IBS including abdominal bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea. These foods are high in FODMAPs or Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (11).
- Foods that contain lots of oligosaccharides include wheat, garlic, legumes, beans, and garlic (3).
- Foods with lots of disaccharides include dairy products like milk, yogurt, and ice cream (3).
- Monosaccharides include fructose, a sugar found in honey and fruits. Foods that contain this include pears and apples (3).
- Polyols, also known as sugar alcohols, can be found in chewing gums and candies. It is also found in apricots, plums, and cauliflower (3).
How to get rid of bloating
How to get rid of bloating depends on what is causing the condition. In the case of underlying conditions such as gluten intolerance and gynecological conditions, it may be necessary to seek medical advice.
When it comes to digestive conditions, getting rid of bloating largely rests on changing up your diet and practicing some lifestyle changes to promote healthier digestive system function. Here are some practices you can roll into motion today:
Eating more fibre
In the case of constipation, eating foods with more fibre and drinking plenty of fluids can help your digestive tract run more smoothly, helping address the feelings of bloatedness3. Fibre-rich foods also help address IBS1.
Australians are reported to take 20-25g of fibre every day. This is below the recommended amount of 30g of fibre a day for men, and 25g of fibre a day for women12.
There are two types of fibre - soluble and insoluble. Both are helpful for improving your digestive system12.
Soluble fibre helps the digestive tract run more smoothly by soaking up water and adding bulk to faeces. Soluble fibre include fruits and vegetables, soy milk and soy products, legumes including dried beans, lentils, peas, and oat bran, seek husks, flaxseed and psyllium (12).
Insoluble fibre helps mitigate the digestive system's tendency to slow down, which may result in bloating. Insoluble fibre also helps in adding bulk to faeces and preventing constipation. Sources of this kind of fibre include bran such as wheat, corn or rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables, dried beans, whole grain foods, and seeds and nuts (12).
Foods that contain resistant starch may also act similarly to high-fibre foods. These foods include unprocessed cereals and grains, potatoes, lentils, and unripe bananas. Resistant starch also has benefits for gut health by contributing to the wellbeing of good bacteria in the large bowel (12).
When switching to a high-fibre diet, it is best to take it slowly. A sudden switch from a low to high-fibre diet may result in increased flatulence and abdominal pain. Very high-fibre diet may also result in decreased absorption of certain nutrients that are necessary for your overall health, including zinc, calcium, and iron (12).
Being sedentary encourages digestive problems, meaning part of how to get rid of bloating is being more active. For instance, a simple twenty to thirty minute brisk walk several times a week can help support better bowel function (3).
Regular exercise also helps strengthen the muscles in the gut. It also stimulates the digestive system to help food pass through. Exercise may also be helpful in mitigating stress, which negatively affects digestion (1).
Avoiding certain foods
A large part of how to get rid of bloating is avoiding certain foods. Foods that cause gassiness as well as high FODMAP foods can help you avoid stomach bloating (6). Processed and fatty foods, as well as alcohol, may also cause stomach bloating.
On the other hand, it helps to eat low FODMAP foods to help improve digestive function. Low FODMAP foods include red capsicum, grapes, eggs, plain cooked meat, oranges, oats, rice, peanuts, and dark chocolate (11).
Taking gut-supporting supplements
When thinking of how to get rid of bloating, supplementation of various probiotics and minerals may be helpful. Supplementation may also aid in addressing stomach bloating by improving your digestive health.
Supplements that help protect against stomach bloating
When paired with a healthy lifestyle and diet plan, vitamins and minerals can help support your gut health. Here are some supplements that you may want to consider to address bloating:
Probiotics are live microorganisms that promote various health benefits (13). They help restore the balance of bacteria in the gut, especially after being disrupted due to infection or certain medications, like antibiotics.
Probiotics can be found in fermented foods including kefir, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso, and sourdough bread (15). They may also be taken in the form of supplements.
Taking probiotics as a supplement may help in easing symptoms of IBS (13). Specific probiotic strains like lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are also thought to reduce gas production in the gut (1).
Lactobacillus rhamnosus specifically has been shown to be able to change the population of bacteria in the gut towards optimal function and preventing degenerative disorders (14).
The probiotic strain Saccharomyces boulardii (SB) is also helpful in establishing friendly bacteria in the gut. It is a non-bacterial yeast that may assist with inflammatory digestive conditions such as IBS. It has been shown to improve IBS symptoms and raise quality of life in those who regularly experience IBS (14).
Zinc is essential for many of the body's functions. The body cannot naturally produce zinc, so it must be consumed through a well-rounded diet or supplementation (16).
Inflammatory bowel conditions may give rise to zinc deficiency due to malabsorption issues. Zinc deficiency, whether due to inflammatory conditions, low dietary intake, or other reasons, further leads to a compromised gastrointestinal epithelial barrier function (17). The intestinal epithelial barrier plays a role in nutrient absorption, as well as protecting against bad bacteria (18).
The weakening of this barrier further perpetuates gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, and other concerns like diarrhoea, food allergies, and gluten intolerance (17).
To address this, it is important to eat a zinc-rich diet. According to healthdirect.gov.au, adult men are recommended to consume 14 mg of zinc a day, while women are advised to consume 8 mg of zinc a day (16). Foods that contain zinc include meat, fish, poultry, dairy foods, and cereals (16).
Curcumin is an active constituent of turmeric, a common, bright yellow curry spice. It has been used since ancient times in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities (19). It has historically been used to treat poor digestion and abdominal pain.
Curcumin maintains healthy digestive system function by acting as an anti-inflammatory. It suppresses inflammation by acting like a switch that can turn off pro-inflammatory enzymes (19).
Studies have looked at the effect of curcumin in helping manage inflammatory bowel disorders (20, 21). Several studies have found that taking curcumin results in improved symptoms (20). One UK-based study of 207 people suffering IBS showed subjects experiencing improved symptoms after taking turmeric (21).
Stomach bloating is unpleasant, but a well balanced diet helps promote better digestive function. You may consider complementing your healthy diet with supplementation to increase your intake of certain nutrients. A supplement subscription from Vitable Australia can help put you on the path towards better digestive function. Choose a vitamin pack made only up of the personalised vitamins that are helpful to you. Best part is, our service even comes with vitamin delivery right up to your doorstep.
Learn more about the other health benefits of these supplements here:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
- HealthDirect. "Bloating". HealthDirect. Last reviewed July 2020 on https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bloating. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Better Health Channel. "Flatulence". Better Health Channel. Last reviewed August 2014 on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/flatulence. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- NHS. "Beat the bloat". NHS. Last reviewed August 2019 on https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/remedies-for-bloating-and-wind/. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- HealthDirect. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Health Direct. Last reviewed September 2020 on https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Better Health Channel. "Constipation". Better Health Channel. Last reviewed August 2014 on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/constipation. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- John Hopkins Medicine. "Bloating: Causes and Prevention Tips". John Hopkins Medicine. Published (n.d.) on https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/bloating-causes-and-prevention-tips. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Mayo Clinic. "Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)". Mayo Clinic. Published February 2020 on https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/small-intestinal-bacterial-overgrowth/symptoms-causes/syc-20370168. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- NHS. "5 lifestyle tips for a healthy tummy". NHS. Last reviewed August 2019 on https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/five-lifestyle-tips-for-a-healthy-tummy/. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America. "How to Calm an Anxious Stomach: The Brain-Gut Connection". Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Published July 2018 on https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/how-calm-anxious-stomach-brain-gut-connection. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- HealthDirect. "Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance". HealthDirect. Last reviewed January 2020 on https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/coeliac-disease. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- HealthDirect. "Low FODMAP diets". HealthDirect. Last reviewed September 2020 on https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/low-fodmap-diets. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Better Health Channel. "Dietary fibre". Better Health Channel. Last reviewed September 2021 on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/fibre-in-food. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- NHS. "Probiotics". NHS. Last reviewed November 2018 on https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/probiotics/. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Vitable. “Probiotics”. Published (n.d.) on https://research.vitable.com.au/probiotics. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Harvard Health Publishing. "How to get more probiotics". Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published August 2020 on https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-get-more-probiotics. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Health Direct. "Zinc and your health". Health Direct. Last reviewed March 2021 on https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/zinc. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Skrovanek, S., et. al., "Zinc and gastrointestinal disease". National Institutes of Health: US National Library of Medicine. Published November 2014 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4231515/. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Rios-Arce, N., et. al., "Epithelial barrier function in gut-bone signaling". National Institutes of Health: US National Library of Medicine. Published January 2018 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5742533/. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Vitable. “Curcumin”. Vitable. Published (n.d.) on https://research.vitable.com.au/curcumin. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- Dulbecco, P., Savarino, V., "Therapeutic potential of curcumin in digestive diseases". National Institutes of Medicine: US National Library of Medicine. Published December 2013 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882399/. Accessed 3 October 2021.
- GI Society. "Many Benefits of Turmeric". Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: GI Society. Published 2015 on https://badgut.org/information-centre/health-nutrition/many-benefits-turmeric/. Accessed 3 October 2021.