Do you occasionally feel uncomfortable immediately after eating a meal, or do you experience heartburn, indigestion or bloating that comes and goes? Some individuals are relieved with meals, others become very miserable on a daily basis due to various factors. Pay attention to your “gut instincts” as you can learn a lot about your condition from your symptoms and how often you have them. In fact, your symptoms may be telling you that you have a slow-moving or sluggish metabolism and less than ideal digestive tract.
Gastrointestinal problems seem to be on the rise and are the reasons many people go see their doctor (usually after they have become extremely uncomfortable). If you ignore your symptoms including bloating, your condition can deteriorate rapidly. Many times the 3 F’s can be helpful for digestive complaints, especially the lower gastrointestinal tract. These stand for fluids, fiber and fats (good fats). Be sure to discuss your symptoms with your health care provider (don’t be embarrassed) and read on for more information that you can “stomach,” which could provide you with relief!
What Causes Bloating? In order to answer the question of what causes bloating, which could be a number of things, we first must explain how the gastrointestinal, or digestive system works. The overall job of the gastrointestinal system is to absorb nutrients and prevent the abnormal (toxic) substances from being absorbed. In order to do this, a very complex system of three processes is required: the nerve-controlled muscles to push food through the alimentary canal (the gastrointestinal system is comprised of this 30-foot hollow tube), gastric juice secretions by the stomach, pancreas and the liver to breakdown the food, and finally, the absorption of fluids and nutrients by the small and large intestines. The small intestine’s wall is the first line of defense against the absorption of toxic molecules. A healthy intestinal wall is covered with “friendly bacteria” that act as a gate, keeping damaging toxins out of the body’s circulation and letting healthy substances in. Anything that goes wrong in any of these three processes or with the balance of “friendly” bacteria could cause a disruption and at the very least discomfort.
Bloating is considered to be a symptom. It is best described as a general discomfort (feeling like the stomach is swollen) and may occur with mild or intense pain in the stomach. It occurs from gas build up in the stomach or intestines and should not be confused for distension. Distention is when the stomach is actually larger than normal, typically due to an increase in air, fluid, or tissue in the abdomen. Often times, a person with a distended abdomen will not be able to fit into clothing that they could fit into the previous day.
What are some of the factors behind this troublesome build up of gas? Well, one of the most common factors is fatty food. Fat slows down the stomach’s process of emptying the fluids/nutrients into the intestines and increases the sensation of fullness. Also, certain bacterium that resides in the colon can cause an excessive production of gas. Some individuals have more of this gas producing bacteria than others do; other people may have poor digestion that results in more undigested food in the colon (the bacteria creates gas from the undigested food); in addition, the bacteria may escape to the small intestines, which also contains undigested food. People who suffer from this type of bloating usually experience flatulence as well. Other causes may be partial or temporary blockages anywhere in the pathway of the stomach to the rectum, or functional obstructions, not a literal obstruction, which is caused by poor functioning of the muscles of the stomach or intestines (hypothesized to be a neural dysfunction).
Some specific health conditions that cause bloating are: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); celiac disease; lactose intolerance; constipation; candidiasis (candida overgrowth); diverticulosous; thyroid disease; gastroparesis (paralysis of the stomach) in diabetics; chronic intestinal pseudoobstruction; and Hirschprung’s disease. Other contributors can be a woman’s menstrual cycle and stress or anxiety.
If bloating is a problem for you it may be wise to avoid other gas producing foods such as: broccoli, baked beans, cabbage, cauliflower, carbonated drinks, chewing gum and hard candy (swallowing air causes gas). Another option, rather than avoiding some of the nutritious foods mentioned above would be to take digestive enzymes with your meals. Digestive enzymes help your body to break down the foods you eat more easily.
As you can see, there is not just one simple cause to bloating and it is not a condition, it is a symptom of a condition. If bloating is a chronic problem for you, be sure to see a physician especially if you experience other symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, nausea/vomiting, weight loss, abdominal/rectal pain and/or persistent heartburn.