Bloated stomach is a commonly encountered problem faced by all age groups. It not only distracts us from our routine but also affects our productivity. Eating hurriedly, having food allergies and intolerance are the leading cause of bloated stomach.
Certain food items like beans, and vegetables like cabbage, broccoli causes gas production which can cause abdominal pain and bloated stomach. Menstruation, improper mealtimes, constipation, eating spicy food also causes bloating.
A bloated belly can be easily prevented by chewing food adequately, staying hydrated and exercising regularly. When bloated, sip on ginger or peppermint tea for quick relief. Anise seeds, fennel seeds, and pumpkin seeds should be incorporated into the diet to alleviate bloating and give quick relief.
In this space, we will see what causes bloating, how it can be prevented and cured.
- Suggested read: How to Reduce Bloating? 23 Ways to Prevent It Completely
What is bloated stomach?
Bloated stomach is any abnormal gas swelling or increase in diameter of the abdominal area. Unlike the common myth, the cause of bloating is strictly not fluid retention. In bloating, the patient feels tightness around abdomen which can cause uneasiness and pain (1).
The pathophysiology of bloating is complicated and incompletely understood, some individuals can get a bloated stomach without any specific cause. Let us have a look at otherwise common causes that lead to bloating and abdominal distension.
What causes bloating?
Eating too much or too fast
Overeating is one of the main reasons for bloating. It leads to stomach expansion to accommodate the increased volume of food (2).
When you eat too fast, you tend to swallow air with every morsel which also triggers bloating. Also talking while eating leads to air gulping with morsels, which is a common cause of a distended stomach.
For certain people digesting ordinary food can lead to the production of excessive gas, nausea, and cause bloating. Lactose intolerance is a fairly common condition wherein it becomes difficult for the person to digest dairy products (3).
Fructose intolerance is also seen in individuals who are unable to process sugar in fruits. Artificial sugar substitutes like sorbitol also cause bloating in some individuals.
Certain cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, and beans contain a complex sugar called raffinose.
The metabolism of raffinose causes excess gas during digestion resulting in a bloated stomach (4). If you are already symptomatic with bloating try and avoid these food items.
Imbalance in fiber intake
Fibrous food like artichoke, pea, bananas, avocado is essential for proper functioning of our digestive system. Lack of fiber in the diet can cause constipation.
As a result of this, the intestine gets stuffed and the gas is entrapped in between causing distension of abdomen. It is common for individuals with constipation to have a bloated belly.
Chronic stress or anxiety
Our digestive system functions primarily due to digestive enzymes. Chronic stress can cause an increase in cortisol levels in our blood.
Our digestive enzymes are sensitive to this hormone, and thus people with anxiety usually experience stomach upset, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.
Inflammatory bowel disorders
Inflammatory bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, Coeliac disease, and Crohn’s disease cause inflammation and irritation of bowel lining(5).
This inflammation is a result of our own immunity acting against the intestine. The gas which is produced is unable to be pass through the inflammative bowel, leading to bloating.
Spicy meals including garlic and onion, fatty food, raw fruits like tomato, tangerines, and caffeine require more acid production for digestion.
Heartburn occurs when this excess acid moves from the stomach up to the esophagus. This gastric reflux causes bloating, nausea, belching, and flatulence.
Bloating and abdominal pain occurs accompanying pre-menstruation syndrome that many women experience. Hormonal fluctuations in estrogen levels and progesterone level trigger bloating.
Women experiencing dysmenorrhea also have shown symptoms of abdominal pain, hormonal imbalance and bloating.
A decrease in LB count
Lactobacillus is an essential bacteria found in our gut lining. It aids in proper digestion of food. An imbalance in the intestinal flora causes gas production leading to bloating(6).
Lactobacillus keeps the other opportunistic bacteria in check, an increase in other bacterial counts can cause serious bloating.
Certain medications such as aspirin, NSAIDs, opioids, antacids, stool bulking medication causes gas build up leading to distention and bloating.
Overuse of antibiotics causes a decrease in the functional bacteria levels in our gut which are necessary for proper digestion. This irrevocably leads to bloating.
Few other abdominal bloating causes include
- Alvarez’ syndrome, bloating of unknown or psychogenic origin
- Gastric dumping syndrome
- Splenic-flexure syndrome
- Infestation with intestinal parasites like Ascaris
- Chagas disease, a parasitic infection
- Polycystic ovary syndrome and ovarian cysts
- Ovarian cancer
- Celiac disease
- Salivary hypersecretion and dehydration.
- Megacolon, abnormal dilation of the colon.
- Aerophagia, air swallowing habit
- Partial bowel obstruction
- Visceral fat
Many over the counter medication such as Pepto-Bismol and Simethicone help alleviate bloating symptoms. Activated charcoal tablets have also proven effective in treating stomach upset and preventing bloated stomach.
For those with lactose intolerance, consuming Lactaid which is lactase enzyme will help prevent gas production and bloating.
How to prevent bloated stomach?
1. Break your meals
If you tend to feel uncomfortable after a meal, the chances are that you overate. To avoid this uncomfortable feeling, eat smaller portions at regular intervals.
Chewing your food will reduce the amount of air you swallow with each morsel, and will also make you eat slower. This helps saliva to efficiently mix with your food and thus eliminates the chances of bloating.
2. Eliminate food allergens
Food allergies and intolerances are relatively common. It causes excess gas production, bloating and sometimes abdominal cramps. Lactose the primary carbohydrate in milk, lactose intolerance is a fairly common condition.
Some individuals are intolerant to fructose found in fruits. Many people are allergic to wheat or gluten. Gas and bloating are common symptoms of egg allergy.
3. Avoid gas-producing food
Certain legumes, lentils, beans, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower can cause an increase in gas production.
Reduce the intake of this food or ensure that they are well cooked. Also cut down on starchy food as it can also cause bloating.
4. Find substitutes
Certain food items like bread, potatoes, and pasta can cause a bloated stomach. Try and substitute these items for healthier alternatives such as brown rice, quinoa, tortillas, or sweet potato.
5. Avoid swallowing air while eating
Aerophagia is a psychological habit in which people tend to swallow air nervously. Some people do not realise when they consume air while eating.
Follow these steps while eating so you can take to reduce the amount of air which could lead to bloating. Chew your food slowly, chew with your mouth closed. Try and avoid eating and talking at the same time, also avoid drinking through straws.
6. Avoid carbonated drinks
Carbonated drinks like soda contain air, which becomes trapped in the stomach and triggers gas and a bloated stomach. Beer can also trigger bloating in people allergic to gluten as it has wheat content.
Stick to noncarbonated beverages such as water, fruit cordial, or herbal teas. Stay hydrated and set a routine and monitor your caffeine intake.
7. Treat constipation
Constipation is a leading cause of bloating and abdominal pain (8). To prevent constipation, include plenty of fruit and vegetables in the diet which are a rich source of fibers.
Also, drink lots of water and stay well hydrated. Constipation has negative effects on our intestine as it leads to toxic waste built up, get it treated promptly.
8. Exercise regularly
Exercise helps speed up the transit time of food through our digestive system and also helps improves bowel function. Walking, swimming, jogging, or cycling are useful forms of exercise to get the bowels moving.
Certain yoga poses can help to release trapped gas and thereby reduce the pressure and distention.
Home remedies for bloated stomach
Probiotics are the essential bacteria naturally occurring in our gut. They play an important role in regulating our digestion. If an imbalance occurs between the good and bad bacteria in our gut, it can cause bloating, excess gas, diarrhea or constipation.
Eating foods such as yogurt, miso paste, kefir or sauerkraut will replenish the level of essential bacteria in our gut. You can also take a probiotic supplement to increase the level of good bacteria in your digestive system.
Ginger helps relieve a bloated stomach and ease other digestive symptoms such as nausea and indigestion. It has potent anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce intestinal tract inflammation.
The active ingredient gingerol acts as a carminative preventing the formation of excess gas (9). Try and incorporate ginger as a flavoring in food, or sip on ginger tea when you feel bloated.
3. Peppermint tea
Peppermint tea has natural muscle relaxant and antispasmodic properties which is very beneficial for bloating and excess gas. Menthone, an active ingredient in peppermint improves the mobility of the digestive tract by relaxing the smooth muscles in the intestines walls.
This allowing food and trapped air to move through smoothly. Drinking a cup of peppermint tea after a large meal can help to relieve any symptoms of a bloated stomach, indigestion or gas.
4. Fennel seeds
Fennel seeds are popular for their potent digestive properties. The active compounds estragole, fenchone, and anethole found in fennel seeds exhibit antispasmodic and carminative features.
These active ingredients are helpful in relieving stomach gas and abdominal bloating. The volatile oils found in fennel seed stimulates the mucous membranes of the digestive tract which encourages motility and peristalsis (10).
Pumpkin is a natural source of fiber and potassium and helps reduce stomach bloating. The potassium found in pumpkin removes the excess sodium from our body, which is the offending cause of gas formation in your stomach. You can boil pumpkin pieces in water and consume when bloated. Roasted pumpkin seeds also have an action against bloating.
Caraway also called Carum carvi, or Persian fennel has potent antispasmodic and carminative properties. The active compounds carvol and carveneara help get rid of bloating and excessive gas in the stomach.
Add a teaspoon of caraway seeds to boiling water. Strain away the remnants and sip on this tea to avail the beneficial properties of caraway seeds.
7. Anise seeds
Anise seeds have potent antispasmodic properties which aid in relaxation of the digestive tract. The active ingredient anethole gives anise seeds its carminative properties.
They also help treat digestive problems like dyspepsia, which can lead to stomach bloating. Use anise seeds in food preparations as a spice or crush them after roasting and drink in lukewarm water.
Over to you on the bloated stomach
Bloated stomach is a fairly common condition and can happen anytime to anyone. Our lifestyle choices, errant work hours, lack of exercise are the leading causes of our stomach upset.
Probiotics are the quintessential requirement of our body. They help maintain the optimal health and functioning of our digestive tract.
Try to find time to exercise in between the work hours. Sitting for an extended period post meal can cause gas production. Staying hydrated is another crucial factor to achieve proper gut motility.
Bloating can easily be avoided if our diet is regulated and if beverages like soda, beer are eliminated.