Abdominal bloating is a common digestive complaint. It typically relates to feelings of fullness, distension and feeling uncomfortable. It is usually felt in the lower abdomen but can also be felt in the upper abdomen too. Bloating is usually accompanied with gas and other digestive issues such as constipation. Bloating may also be related to hormonal fluctuations and can be worse at times associated with the menstrual cycle.
People can often feel bloated after eating certain foods, either ones that may ferment in our digestive system or ones that they are intolerant or allergic to. However, bloating may also be due to many other reasons including gut hypersensitivity, impaired gas handling, altered gut microbiota, and abnormal abdominal-phrenic reflexes. Bloating is associated a common symptom of conditions of the digestive system from IBS, to IBD and SIBO.
The gut brain axis offers insight into how stress can also contribute to bloating (and IBS in general). The vagus nerve, which connects our brain to our digestive system, communicates between the gut and the brain, meaning there are signals being communicated between the two all of the time. The microbiome has a large part to play in this too. The gut microbiota is implicated in a number of stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety, and also gut disorders such as IBS. The understanding of this gut brain connection was researched hundreds of years ago but more recently has come to the forefront of nutritional science.
Some people find relief on a low FODMAP diet, or a specific carbohydrate diet. These diets limit the foods that typically trigger bloating in people such as pluses and legumes, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower and high sugar fruits. The difficulty with these diets is that they are highly restrictive and also reduce specific nutrients that are very beneficial to our health in other ways. Whilst they do tend to be effective in the short term to reduce symptoms, they are also known to deplete our beneficial microflora, in particular our bifidobacteriawhich are critical for our long term health. We therefore recommend more personalised dietary protocols to ensure that these address the symptoms whilst maintaining good health.
Often bloating is a result of not digesting food properly. Bitters such as rocket, radish, dandelion are good to have both with or before a meal to help with getting the digestive process activated which may help to break down food more effectively. Ginger may also be beneficial within meals or just prior to a meal as this too supports the optimal pH of the stomach to help break down and digest foods well.
The process of eating is just as important as the food you are eating. Mealtimes need to be given a sufficient time frame so that you are not rushing and eating your food quickly. Digestion actually starts with saliva, so make sure that whilst you are preparing your foods you are smelling all the delicious aromas as this will trigger you to salivate. Saliva triggers your stomach to get ready for food and even in the mouth, we are already producing enzymes to help break down carbohydrates.
Another important element here is making sure you are in your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as your rest and ‘digest’ system for good reason. To help get you there, you can practice some calming breathing exercises 5 minutes before your plan to eat as this will activate the vagus nerve and start to calm your system down, preparing it for digestion. Even simply ensuring that you sit down without distraction for a meal rather than eating on the go is so important.
Starting your day with a mug of hot water with fresh lemon and ginger activates your digestive system and kick starts your liver into action. Peppermint tea is nice to have after meals to help with bloating too.
Alcohol and sugar impact the digestive system negatively and therefore should be avoided as much as possible during a gut healing protocol.
It may be useful to try and write a diary when you get the bloating if this is only on occasion.This will then help you note down the foods that you have eaten prior to the symptom and then try and see whether there is a common theme to specific foods that there may be an intolerance to.
Soaked linseeds and chia seeds are great for bulking stools and making toilet trips more regular as they are full of fibre. Soak the seeds in some water or non-dairy milk over-night in the fridge and have a tablespoon of the soaked seeds with breakfast each morning when you wake up.
Digestive enzymes may offer a supportive role when it comes to digestive conditions such as bloating. These come in various forms but we find that the Cytozyme formula by Cytoplan has particularly good general feedback. Digestive Aid by Viridian is useful is the stomach acidity also needs some support and Terranova offer a Digestive Enzyme formula combined with Probiotics for a more all round digestive health solution. Note that if stomach ulcers are present then digestive enzymes should only be taken with the guidance of your Nutritional Therapist. If herbal tinctures are an option, the Digestive Elixir by Viridian offers a beautiful blend of soothing herbs to support digestive health, discomfort and bloating.
Activated Charcoal has been used as an aid for bloating for years. It helps to move gasses through your digestive system so your bloating is reduced (so are any symptoms of gas!). Kiki Health offer a simple capsule form charcoal which is easy to carry with you when out and about.
Beneficial bacteria (probiotics) are well researched with positive benefit around bloating. We love the High Strength Synerbio by Viridian when it comes to really supporting the rebalance of Digestive Health or if stress is also an issue then it could be worth looking at probiotic formulas with additional calming herbs such as the Your Flora Tranquil supplement.
If bloating is linked to constipation, then ensuring good hydration and enough fibre in the diet is essential. For a little gentle support around constipation, Pukka Triphala Plus is a blend of herbs and fruits that may help to generate and bulk stools supporting all round easier bowel movement.
Many tests may be useful when it comes to bloating as a symptom, from our Gastrointestinal test, to our SIBO test to food sensitivity testing. These are all valid options but if you would like to look into these tests in more detail, we would suggest that you book in with one of our Nutritional Therapists. They are highly trained and skilled to assess complex digestive health conditions and may be able to help to improve health and get to the root cause of any symptoms without the need for testing. They will also be able to give you all of the most relevant options when it comes to testing to ensure that any money invested is spent wisely on the specific options that would be most likely to get results with which protocols can be adapted to support your long term health.
Foley, Anna et al. “Management Strategies for Abdominal Bloating and Distension.” Gastroenterology & hepatology vol. 10,9 (2014): 561-71.
Seo, A Young et al. “Abdominal bloating: pathophysiology and treatment.” Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility vol. 19,4 (2013): 433-53. doi:10.5056/jnm.2013.19.4.433
Liang, Shan et al. “Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis.” Frontiers in integrative neuroscience vol. 12 33. 11 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3389/fnint.2018.00033
Foster, Jane A et al. “Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome.” Neurobiology of stress vol. 7 124-136. 19 Mar. 2017, doi:10.1016/j.ynstr.2017.03.001
Staudacher HM, Whelan K. Altered gastrointestinal microbiota in irritable bowel syndrome and its modification by diet: probiotics, prebiotics and the low FODMAP diet. Proc Nutr Soc. 2016 Aug;75(3):306-18. doi: 10.1017/S0029665116000021. Epub 2016 Feb 24. PMID: 26908093.
Please note that the information contained within this website does not and should not replace medical advice, and is not intended to treat or diagnose. We always recommend you consult with your doctor. Our Nutritional Therapy team is highly trained and we offer one to one Nutritional Therapy Consultations, which are designed to be complementary to any medical treatment from a functional medicine approach, as well as offering a preventative & optimal health focus.