For many of us, we are used to hearing the odd gurgle or two from our stomach, usually when the room is quiet or when sitting an exam for optimal levels of embarrassment.
It’s easy to then just ignore it and go on about your day without looking back, but if you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), it a whole different ball game.
For the past twelve years I have been living with a ‘grumbling gut’ due to my crohn’s disease which has come with its own challenges but non-more so common than dealing with bloating. Bloating is common, not only in people with bowel conditions but in the general population and so before I share my top tips on dealing with bloating lets have a look at what can cause it.
What is bloating and how is it caused?
While the presence of gas within our gastrointestinal (GI) tract is normal, it can become trapped and build up causing abdominal pain and discomfort. This is known as bloating and the production of this excess gas can be caused by the bacteria within our GI tract when they break down the foods we eat. Vegetables are difficult for our body to digest due to the presence of complex carbohydrates and so we rely on bacteria within out GI tract to break them down. A by product of when these bacteria break down foods containing complex carbohydrates is gas and so some people who eat a diet high in vegetables can experience bloating as a result. Similarly, in people with IBD, some foods that they are can remain undigested due to the presence of inflammation within the small intestines and so the break down of this partially digested food is left to the bacteria in the colon, which results in gas production. Another cause of bloating is ingestion large amounts of air while we eat or the consumption of carbonated drinks.
How can I deal with bloating?
There is no one size fits all when it comes to dealing with bloating. We are all different and so what might work for myself and others may not work for you. But here are my tips you can try on how to deal with bloating.
1. Take your time eating.
I get that we are all busy and have hectic schedules and so time is of the essence especially when it comes to meal times. Taking your time while eating can reduce the amount of air you swallow which can help reduce bloating. If you are eating out with friends then try and not talk at the same time you’re eating which aside from reducing the amount of air you gulp in, its also good table manners!
2. Check if you have food intolerances.
A lot of people may be unaware that they may have food intolerances. Lactose intolerance is an example which can cause bloating. Lactose is a simple carbohydrate that is found in dairy products which is broken down by the enzyme lactase and people who are lactose intolerant lack this enzyme. This cases lactose to remain in the GI tract where it is then fermented by the bacteria in the GI tract producing gas which can lead to bloating.
3. Stay hydrated.
We’ve all heard the ‘keep hydrated’ speech of which many of us, no matter how hard we try, can’t seem to keep on top of. It is recommended that we drink between 2-2.5 litres of water a day, but this value really does depend on each person as not only are we all different but have different activity levels. By switching your caffeinated, carbonated and alcoholic drinks with water will not only help keep you well hydrated but can also reduce the amount of bloating you experience. One thing I find helpful if you can’t live without tea is to switch to mint or other herbal teas.
Now this is easier said than done and stress can play a major role in causing bloating. If you have IBS your symptoms, including bloating, can be triggered by stress due to the bidirectional communication between your brain and your GI tract know as the gut-brain axis. If you’re stressed this stimulates the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA) which consists of the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. This axis is our main system that helps us responds to stress and when stimulated it causes a series of events that results in the release of the hormone cortisol from your adrenal glands. Cortisol stimulates your gut to release mast cells and along with other neural and hormonal influences that can change the permeability and activity of your gut and bring about the symptoms of IBS.
5. Keep active.
If you have a desk job or are generally inactive then this can make your experience with bloating a little more uncomfortable due to your inactivity. Try making time to go for walks or at least take regular breaks where you can stretch and get your body moving as it helps to improve intestinal transit. Doing regular exercise can also assist with this and reduce the effects of bloating.
6. Watch what you eat.
It may be an idea to keep a food diary if you suffer from bloating. This is a method that I used to keep track of any foods that could trigger my crohn’s symptoms and it is such an easy method to use. All you do is note down the date, time, type of food and the quantity of it that you’ve eaten and then note down how you’re feeling a few hours afterwards. Some people may find that reducing the amount of foods that contain fermentable carbohydrates (fruit, dairy and wheat) can reduce their bloating.
There you have it, just a few tips that can help you reduce the effects of bloating that you may experience. If you’re concerned about how bloating is affecting you or if you’re planning on making any changes to your diet it is best to have a word with your doctor who can advise you on this or refer you to a dietician.