BY DR LYDIA THURTON
A patient came to me this week with abdominal bloating that was so terrible she had people mistake her for pregnant. She avoided eating. She lived in yoga pants and frequently had smelly gas and abdominal cramping. Her story is not unique. Many people live like this for years! I’m going to give you the top reasons why people are bloated and how to fix it.
You are not chewing your food. In order to digest you need to crush your food into small particles in your mouth. Your saliva actually starts the digestive process with its own enzymes. Elderly patients sometimes have problems with their teeth and need dental work to assist.
If you are not relaxed when you are eating, your parasympathetic nervous system is not activated. This part of your nervous system activates “rest and digest” nerve centres. If you are in “fight or flight”, stress mode then your digestive tract will shut down. Evaluate your life, are you stressed to the max? Don’t be shy to ask for help from a therapist.
Bloating can be caused by low stomach acid. Heartburn is a sign of low acid. Often people are blown away to learn that the cause of acid reflux could be LOW stomach acid (See a previous TCN article on heartburn). Stomach acid shreds your food into small pieces and this is essential for later steps in the digestive process. Half-digested food will cause gas. Take apple cider vinegar, betaine HCL or bitters before you eat if you suspect this is the problem.
After the stomach, enzymes in the small intestine kick in. Enzymes are little proteins that break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins into microscopic molecules that we absorb. If you are over the age of fifty and experiencing bloating, this is a common cause. As humans age, we produce less enzymes. Digestive enzymes can be supplemented. Any health food store has them.
Bloating can be a sign of a food sensitivity. This is different than an allergy. It’s not a life threatening reaction. Often patients become sensitive to foods they overdo – wheat, eggs and dairy for example. A naturopathic doctor can do a food sensitivity test. Or you can follow a diet where you eliminate the aforementioned foods and see how you feel.
Fibre is awesome for lowering cholesterol and creating healthy bowel movements. Too much of a good thing can cause bloating. Beans, cabbage, broccoli and flax seeds are common culprits. Try taking a digestive enzyme that breaks down plant fibres. Don’t stop eating your veggies.
Processed food that is far away from its natural form can also wreak havoc on some people’s digestion. Food from boxes and cans that have long lists of hard to pronounce ingredients can make you feel bloated and slow down your digestion. A holistic nutritionist can clean up your diet.
Digestive diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease cause bloating. Typically, these diseases will have more serious symptoms like pain, gas and in the case of colitis, bleeding with bowel movements. If you are having rectal bleeding, feel weak, malnourished and have intense abdominal pain it is important to get a colonoscopy. See your family doctor and he/she will decide if you need a gastroenterologist referral.
Finally, you may be bloated because you have funky bacteria in your small or large intestine. Taking a probiotic will help if your large intestine has bad bacteria. If your small intestine is infected, taking a probiotic will make you worse. If you get worse with a probiotic you may have something called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). I had to do some special training to learn how to treat this, find a naturopath that knows SIBO to help you.