A Deep Dive into Debloating - Part 1:
What is bloating and what causes bloating?
As we slowly ease out of the festive season and enter a brand-new year, this is the perfect opportunity to hit the reset button and do a bit of inner spring cleaning, starting with our gut.
Let’s be honest. We all like to overindulge during the holidays, and with that overindulgence comes the joys of digestive issues like weight gain, indigestion, constipation, belching, gas and, the most notorious of them all, food babies or bloating.
Shockingly, recent research suggests that about 15-30% of the general adult population suffers from bloating daily. This statistic jumps to over 90% of all those diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). And for many women, up to 75% have reported experiencing bloating before and during their period.
Why is this the case? And most importantly, how can we fix it?
These are excellent questions that we want to give you the answers to right now! But to get to the bottom of this bloating conundrum, we need to delve a little bit deeper and get all the facts straight.
So, let’s start with the basics, shall we?
What is bloating?
Bloating is a very uncomfortable and common condition that makes your belly feel heavy, full, and/or tight. This condition is usually caused by pressure or gas that develops in your digestive system, causing abdominal discomfort or pain, and can make life quite miserable.
Years of research on abdominal bloating confirms that about 1 in 5 people of all ages experience this frustrating symptom, but yet, it is still not fully understood today.
Why? Because it shows up in so many different ways that it is nearly impossible to link it to any one specific cause. When we look at the science behind bloating, the current theories and studies on the potential causes are super extensive, complicated and inconclusive to say the least.
BUT, what we do know is that when there is a disruption in our digestive system or the balance between the good and bad bacteria in our gut, this produces significant changes in our immune system leading to inflammation and changes in our gut sensory-motor function, which can result in bloating.
So, in simple terms, bloating can be seen as a sign of imbalance in our digestive system resulting in abdominal discomfort, which can be caused by a long list of factors like food intolerances, stress, poor diet, hormone imbalances, and digestive issues such as IBS, to name but a few.
What causes bloating?
As mentioned before, the cause of a bloated belly can be hard to figure out because there are so many things that can throw your gut and body out of balance.
Everybody's body is different. So, what may cause bloating for one person most probably will not be the case in the next person.
With this in mind, you need to take the time and dig deep to find and address the root of the problem, which is specific to YOUR body, and not get distracted by only treating the general symptoms.
The big question is, where the heck do you start?
Don’t stress babe! We are here to demystify the situation and give you some clarity about what could be going on in your beautiful body.
The most common causes of bloating
For most women, bloating will resolve quite quickly. But for some women, constant bloating can be a sign of a more serious underlying issue.
The most common causes of bloating are:
1. Eating habits:
The most likely culprit that contributes to bloating is what and how we eat.
- Eating too much or too little: Eating too much in one sitting can put huge pressure on your digestive system, especially if you are consuming foods that are highly processed and contain a high percentage of fiber, sodium, additives, and sugar alcohols. Eating too little can also strain your digestive system because your body will struggle to get all the nutrients and energy it needs to function optimally.
Eating too quickly: Eating too quickly, on the other hand, could cause you to end up swallowing more air than food, resulting in trapped air and bloating.
- Food sensitivity: Many people today have some sort of food allergy or intolerance to a specific type or group of foods. This kind of sensitivity can result in more regular bloating as your body reacts by producing excess gas and your belly adjusting to accommodate the extra pressure. The most common food sensitivities that can cause discomfort in your belly include intolerances to lactose, gluten, and FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols)
These are generally gut-brain disorders that occur based on how the body reacts to gas and can persist over a period of weeks, months or even years.
These disorders can affect as many as 1 in 3 people and may target any part of the digestive system or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including the oesophagus, stomach, intestines, and colon. These digestive issues usually develop when there are disturbances in your gut bacteria, immune or nervous system function, and digestion.
Depending on how sensitive your gut is, you can be predisposed to specific digestive issues that cause bloating, like:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): extreme gut sensitivity to the production of gas, which may lead to cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, weak or dysfunctional abdominal muscles, and diaphragm, and visceral hypersensitivity (meaning being hyper focussed on abdominal symptoms).
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO): excess gas that is produced by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the small intestine.
- Constipation: characterised by the slow passing of food, fewer, strained, and incomplete bowel movements, hard stool, and bloating.
- Gastroparesis: affects the stomach and is caused by damage to the main nerve responsible for getting the stomach muscles to contract and move food through your digestive tract.
- Leaky gut: deterioration to the gut lining, causing damage and breaks in the gut barrier. This allows bacteria, food and toxins to pass through the walls of the GI tract, entering into the bloodstream and causing inflammation, which negatively impacts your immune system and the absorption of essential nutrients.
Now don’t freak out! The above is only the case if you have been diagnosed by a medical professional, so don’t get too ahead of yourself by googling your symptoms. ;)
3. Side Effects from Specific Medication and Antibiotics:
Another common cause of bloating can be a side effect of the medication you are taking. Certain medications and antibiotics can cause an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in your gut, encouraging an increase in bacterial and fungal growth and changes to your pH levels to such an extent that your overall inner ecosystem is out of balance. Antibiotics found in the foods we consume can also contribute to this imbalance.
4. Hormonal imbalances and the menstrual cycle:
Hormonal imbalances, PMS, abdominal pain, and bloating usually come with the territory of being a woman.
According to recent research, bloating is regularly experienced before, during and right after your menstrual cycle due to the constant changes in reproductive hormones in your system throughout your period. The same goes for when you are on contraceptives or going through menopause.
These studies also show that hormonal changes can affect gut function and motility, leading to water retention and bloating. However, if these symptoms get worse over time, especially during or after menopause, you should consult a medical professional to check for any gynaecological conditions.
Why? Bloating can be a sign of more serious issues with your ovaries or uterus. So, when in doubt, consult a medical professional and never miss a gynae check-up!
5. Psychological Conditions like Stress, Anxiety and Depression:
Research also points to psychological distress as being a major factor in how serious bloating symptoms can be.
As we experience bloating, we are more likely to become stressed, anxious, panicky, or even depressed, negatively impacting our daily life. And due to the gut-brain connection, how we feel can affect how our digestive system functions, and vice versa.
The list of causes behind bloating is VERY long. We could spend all day going into what could be potentially giving you abdominal discomfort, but the key points to take away are:
- Everybody's body is different. So, what may cause bloating for one person most probably will not be the case in the next person.
- You need to take the time to find and address the root of the problem, which is specific to YOUR body.
- When in doubt, always listen to your gut.
- If you are still in doubt, consult a medical or health professional.
- Keep on reading part 2 of this deep dive to figure out how to get rid of the bloat for good!