One in 4 people are struggling with gut problems on a daily basis a survey commissioned by Healthily to raise awareness of gut health problems. One thousand men and women were asked questions about a variety of gut conditions from a bloated stomach to constipation and IBS and how they affected their lifestyle – the results revealed frustration and a feeling of powerlessness for those struggling with poor gut health.
Bloating and poor gut health
Nearly half of the 1000 men and women surveyed said they struggle with a gut condition such as IBS, constipation, diarrhoea or bloating. Over two thirds (66.6%) of the 500 women questioned said bloating was a problem and that they found they went up a dress size because of their condition – and a quarter of women (25%) said it impacted their daily decision around what to wear.
Professor Maureen Baker, who was previously former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and a national leader in primary care and digital technology adds, ‘Bloating is often a result of having too much air in your gut. It is common to feel bloated on occasion and can be a result of eating certain foods, drinking fizzy drinks, feeling anxious or during hormonal changes. However, if your bloating persists for more than two weeks or keeps coming back then it is important to see your doctor to rule out any other cause.’
What is bloating?
Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan’s Medical Director says, “Your salivary glands, stomach, small intestines, liver and pancreas produce a variety of digestive enzymes needed to process your food properly. These include proteases which break down dietary proteins, amylases which digest carbohydrates, and lipases which break down dietary fats.
As you get older, you tend to produce less intestinal enzymes and less stomach acid, which can lead to a number of health problems from bloating, wind and heartburn to irritable bowel syndrome and malabsorption.”
5 causes of a bloated stomach
- Swallowing air
The most common reason for bloating and its myriad symptoms are the digestion of some food and drinks or simply swallowing air while you eat and having lots of gas in your gut as a result.
The longer your stool stays in your colon, the more time bacteria have to ferment what’s there, resulting in more gas to form and subsequent bloating.
- Food intolerances
‘Lactose and wheat intolerances prevent offending foods breaking down properly and means they are left to be fermented in the colon by bacteria. This leads to excess gas and bloating,’ says Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist and head of nutrition at Healthspan.
- Digestive conditions
Bloating is one of the main symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), along with abdominal pain, gas, diarrhoea, and constipation.
Coeliac disease also means that the small intestine can’t absorb nutrients from food and causes inflammation in your digestive tract, which may result in bloating and damage to the small intestine.
- The menstrual cycle
Feeling bloated could also be related to the menstrual cycle as part of premenstrual issues or peri and post-menopause due to a drop in oestrogen.
Other medical causes
A lack of digestive enzymes, a reduced bile output and fluid retention are other reasons. Plus, reduced function or enlargement of an internal organ and a physical obstruction of the gut are other reasons that would need to be investigated further.
How to reduce a bloated stomach
‘Making tweaks to your diet can be helpful,’ says Rob Hobson, Healthspan Registered Nutritionist, ‘Eat smaller portions of food (little and often) and chew your food slowly to maximise enzyme production and help break it down more effectively.’
Research has shown that limiting certain carbohydrates called fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) may reduce bloating and other symptoms in people with IBS.
‘Some plant-based foods are synonymous with bloating and many of these are high in FODMAPS which are short-chain carbohydrates that pass straight through to the colon where they’re fermented by gut bacteria (and produce lots of gas),’ explains Rob.
Avoid processed, convenience foods are often loaded with bad fats and sugar, which can put a strain on your digestive system. Avoid fizzy drinks as these can lead to excess gas in the gut which can exacerbate bloating.
Foods that can help
Digestive enzymes are found in many plant foods, especially pineapples, papaya and kiwi. Eat more fruit, vegetables, salads and juices – these also contain potassium which helps to flush excess sodium from the body to reduce fluid retention. Magnesium plays an important role in salt and fluid balance. Food sources of magnesium include fish, nuts, seeds, soy beans, whole grains and dark green, leafy vegetables.
Try digestive enzymes
Digestive enzyme supplements are available from health food shops. If you feel bloated after eating carbohydrate, carbohydrate-digesting enzymes such as amylase and cellulase will help.
If milk causes a problem, consider milk-digesting enzymes containing bromelain (from pineapples), papain (from papaya), lipase and lactase.
If you are gluten-intolerance, a product supplying gluten protease, cellulase and amylase can help. It’s not always easy to know what enzymes you need so most people select a mixed digestive enzyme supplement containing lipase (digests fats), amylase (digests carbohydrates), protease (digests protein), lactase (digests milk sugar) and cellulase (digests cellulose). Eg Healthspan Digestive Enzymes.
Extracts of globe artichoke stimulate bile production and can quickly relieve bloating without side effects. It is also helpful when bloating and indigestion are due to overly spicy food or drinking alcohol.
In people with irritable bowel syndrome, taking artichoke extracts with meals, symptoms of bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain and constipation significantly improved over a 6-week period.
Positive effects were noticed within 10 days and 96% rated artichoke extracts as better than or at least equal to previous treatments for their symptom[i]. Artichoke also helps to reduce fatty infiltration of the liver and to reduce cholesterol synthesis.
Usual doses are 360 mg two or three times daily with food. Select a supplement standardised to provide a guaranteed amount of the key active ingredient, cynarin.
A little bit of bitterness may help!
Bitter herbs have been used for many years as digestive tonics. These herbs may be found contained within ‘digestifs’ – alcoholic drinks consumed after a large dinner to help improve the digestive process. Herbs such as cynara and dandelion, as found in A.Vogel Digestisan, (50ml, £10.95 www.a.vogel.co.uk) have been used for centuries in helping improve symptoms of indigestion including bloating.
Make a home brew
Try Caraway and fennel seed as these have a similar effect so you can add them to a home-made brew. Be sure to recognise the symptoms for bloating correctly and not confuse them with heartburn and reflux as drinking mint tea will exacerbate the symptoms of these conditions.’ adds, Rob.
Invest in your microbiome
Probiotic supplements provide specific strains of beneficial digestive bacteria (usually Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species) that have positive effects on digestion to reduce bloating. As well as aiding the breakdown of food, probiotic bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids which are transported to the liver to have helpful effects on bile production, fat digestion and cholesterol metabolism.
Taking probiotics for 4 to 26 weeks can improve IBS symptoms, including bloating, when used alone or in combination with standard anti-spasmodic medications[ii].
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that probiotics used to manage IBS should be taken for at least four weeks.[iii] Select a supplement providing a known quantity of probiotic bacteria, such as 5 to 50 billion colony forming units (CFU) per dose, consisting of at least 3 different strains such as Healthspan Super50 Pro, 60 capsules, £29.95.
Try peppermint oil
Peppermint oil improves digestion and relieve bloating by increasing gastric emptying, stimulating secretion of digestive juices and bile. It also has a relaxing effect on the intestinal tract to relieve spasm. Peppermint is therefore taken to relieve bloating, indigestion, colic, intestinal cramps, flatulence, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome.. You can drink peppermint tea as required, or take a peppermint capsule (100mg) per day.
Struggle with a sensitive tummy?
If you have a sensitive stomach or suffer from indigestion, natural silicic acid in a colloidal gel may help. Try Silicolgel, £8.39 (200ml), £10.49 (12 x 15ml travel-sized sachets) Boots, Holland & Barrett. It is a compound of silicon and oxygen in gel form, silicolgel coats the stomach and upper gastrointestinal tract with a protective lining which then attracts and binds with irritants, toxins and pathogens.
When the stomach empties naturally, these unwanted molecules are passed through the body. The gel can also bind with gases and reduce excess acidity which can help reduce flatulence. Treats upper gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach pain, abdominal discomfort, flatulence, reflux, nausea and heartburn, and also alleviates similar symptoms in the gastrointestinal tract that may occur due to a change in diet during travel or on holidays.
Suitable for adults and children over 12, and vegetarians, vegans and those intolerant to gluten. There are no known side effects or contraindications.
Other natural treatments that can help to reduce bloating include sources of probiotic digestive bacteria (eg live bio yoghurt). Cut back on salty foods and ‘windy’ foods such as beans, lentils and onions. Switching to lactose-free dairy products will help if you have a lactose intolerance.
Research also suggests that exercise can help eliminate gas from the bowels and that light exercise, specifically a 10-15 minute walk, has been found to help reduce feelings of bloating and fullness in your stomach following a meal more effectively than medication.
Science has also pointed to the fact that exercise could also reduce stress, fatigue and depression, which are linked to digestive symptoms through brain-gut interactions.
Finally, Professor Maureen Baker, Chief Medical Officer at Healthily says: ‘Solutions are available for most gut problems so you shouldn’t just ‘put up’ with them. If you feel embarrassed and you’re not sure what to do, the Healthily Smart Symptom Checker can help you decide if the best next step for you is self-care, or to see a pharmacist or your doctor.
‘The Smart Symptom Checker is a Class 1 Medical Device and using it helps you assess your symptoms. Sometimes there can be a sign of an underlying medical condition so if you have been to see your pharmacist and still have symptoms it is best to seek medical advice and not continue to self-treat.’
If you found Bloated stomach – successful steps to remedy discomfort interesting you’ll find more expert advice for managing gut health on our Nutrition channel.Tags: caraway, fennel, gastrointestinal, stomach bloating Last modified: July 26, 2022