This Is Why You’re Feeling Bloated and Here’s What You Can Do About It

by | Mar 20, 2024 | Health

Feeling gassy or like your belly is full or tight are signs of bloating. It can be uncomfortable and painful, and some days you may not be able to button your pants.

Bloating happens when your abdomen feels tight and full, and it’s usually caused by gas or constipation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. It’s a common occurrence – about one in seven people feel bloated every week, and most don’t seek medical care for it, according to a 2023 study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

While women were twice as likely to report bloating to their doctors, the study found, bloating is also common for men, says Kamal Amer, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey.

I have plenty of men who present to me for evaluation for bloating,’ he says.

When they do, Dr. Amer says the first thing he discusses with patients is diet. Many different foods can make you gassy, and some food allergies or intolerances cause constipation or bloating.

He also discusses what medications or supplements someone takes, and other lifestyle habits, like how often they work out, how frequently they eat, and whether they smoke.

‘We also assess to determine if there are any underlying digestive issues and to rule out more serious causes, such as infections and inflammation,’ Dr. Amer says. So, if you’re bloated regularly and nothing you do seems to help, he recommends seeing your doctor.

Bloating has several causes, and there are many things that can help relieve bloating. Here’s an overview.

What Causes Bloating?

Gas and constipation are the two main causes of bloating.

While gas is a natural result of digestion, you can have too much gas in your intestines, caused by how your gut bacteria digest carbohydrates, which is known as fermentation, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

bloating can lead to bathroom being uncomfortable
Image: Getty

Too much fermentation means most of the carbs you ate weren’t digested earlier and reached your gut bacteria – maybe because you ate too fast, have a food intolerance, or have a GI condition. This increases gas and bloating.

When you’re constipated, the contents of your digestive tract get backed up, leaving little room for normal gas to pass through, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Some people also might have motility disorders, where foods pass through your digestive system more slowly. This can cause constipation, gas, and bloating.

Bloating (and gas or constipation) may be linked to your diet, lifestyle habits, and medications you take.

How to Relieve Bloating

Bloating can be painful and uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to get some relief:

Take a look at your diet.

‘Diet plays a huge role in bloating,’ Dr. Amer says. You could have an underlying gluten insensitivity or lactose or fructose intolerance.

He says certain foods, like dairy, wheat, oats, and fruits like apples and apricots, contain molecules that some people struggle to digest, which can cause diarrhoea, constipation, and bloating. Cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, can also be difficult to digest and cause gas. So can beans and fried foods, Dr. Amer says.

Many of these foods contain FODMAPs, or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates that the body doesn’t always digest well. Sometimes, going on a low-FODMAP diet, where you avoid dairy, wheat, beans, and certain fruits and vegetables can help, but Dr. Amer says it’s difficult to follow.

To get to the bottom of which foods might cause bloat, Caroline Susie, R.D.N., L.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, suggests keeping a food journal noting your symptoms after eating, which you can share with your doctor.

Increase your fibre intake.

Fibre improves digestion and helps prevent constipation and bloating. Susie says men need about 38 grams of fibre a day, but most don’t eat anywhere near enough.

veggies to assist with bloating
Image: Getty

Adding more whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables will increase your fiber intake, she adds. However, your body needs time to adjust, and eating too much fiber too quickly could actually increase bloating.

‘Increase your intake slowly and be sure to also increase your water intake to avoid any gastric distress,’ Susie says. Fibre absorbs water, which softens your stool and keeps your digestive regular.

READ MORE: 6 Foods You Need to Eat More (And 6 You Should Skip)

Fibre supplements can help, too, Dr. Amer says. Look for ones containing psyllium husk or methylcellulose, and slowly introduce them. Taking too many fibre supplements too often can increase bloating and discomfort.

Pay attention to what medications and supplements you take.

Medications, like antibiotics, iron tablets, and pain medications (especially opiates), can cause bloating and constipation, Dr. Amer says. If you’re having these side effects, talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe something different.

Take a look at the supplements you take, as well. Along with fibre supplements, Dr. Amer says protein powders often contain lactose or artificial sweeteners, which cause bloating for some people. Creatine can also cause bloating.

Some probiotic supplements might increase bloating when you start taking them, he says, so it’s best to start with a low dose and gradually increase them.

Cut back on carbonated drinks.

Drinking plenty of water is good for your digestive system and can prevent constipation. Just stick to still water. Fizzy drinks, like sodas or beer, are made with carbon dioxide, which can increase gas and bloating, Dr. Amer says.

READ MORE: Research Reveals How Diet Cooldrinks Can Affect Your Metabolism

Get more exercise.

Exercise increases gut motility, or how well foods move through your digestive system, and helps release excess gas and stool, Susie says. Going for regular walks or just increasing your overall activity will relieve bloating.

Try some yoga poses.

Yoga can also get your digestive system moving, Susie says. Specific poses, like child’s pose or happy baby, may help release excess gas, which should reduce bloating.

man doing yoga

Try diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep-belly breathing, might help some people with bloating, Dr. Amer says. When you activate the diaphragm, it creates a “gentle massaging” sensation for the intestines and stomach and activates the parasympathetic system, which is the body’s relaxation response, according to the University of Michigan Health.

To try it:

  • Sit or lie down and close your eyes.
  • Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen.
  • Inhale through your nose for four seconds, and notice that the hand on your abdomen is moving, while the one on your chest isn’t.
  • Hold the breath for two seconds.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for six seconds.
  • Repeat the breathing for up to 15 minutes.

Avoid eating too much and too fast.

When you eat too fast or overeat, you might swallow extra air, which increases gas and bloating, Dr. Amer says. He suggests eating smaller, more frequent meals to prevent eating too much, eating more slowly, and chewing your food well before swallowing.

Stop smoking.

Quitting smoking brings many health benefits. It may reduce bloating, too. “Smoking is associated with bloating mainly because of swallowed air,” Dr. Amer says.

READ MORE: 10 Super Effective Strategies to Quit Smoking for Good

Avoid chewing gum.

Gum often contains artificial sweeteners, which has sugar alcohols that increase bloating for some people, Dr. Amer says. When you chew gum, you may swallow extra air, also increasing the likelihood of bloating.

Try homeopathic remedies.

Some natural remedies can help with bloating, Susie says. For instance, peppermint may help relax the muscles in the intestines, allowing gas and stool to pass. But, if you have acid reflux, she says you should avoid peppermint, which could make it worse. Chamomile and ginger may also help. Try sipping on teas with these ingredients.

Take an OTC gas reliever.

Dr. Amer recommends starting with dietary changes and lifestyle modifications to minimise bloating. But, you can try over-the-counter gas-relieving medications containing simethicone.

It’s best to take these drugs as needed, usually about every eight hours until the bloating goes away. But, Dr. Amer says they might not help everyone.

When to See a Doctor

Persistent bloating could be a sign of a more serious medical condition, so it’s important to see a doctor, Dr. Amer says. These include infections, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), gluten or lactose intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, or irritable bowel syndrome. He says bloating and constipation could be connected to conditions like diabetes or anxiety.

You should definitely see a doctor if your bloating comes with other symptoms, like weight loss, diarrhoea, bloody stool, abdominal pain, or fever, Dr. Amer says.

From: Men’s Health US

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