I think we are all very familiar with the all too common feeling of bloat. Do you feel like no matter what you eat you still seem to struggle with that distended, uncomfortable trapped gas feeling in your gut? Believe me, you are not the only one feeling this same frustration. Bloating is one of the most common symptoms I see in practice which is usually caused by several different factors including digestive dysfunction somewhere along the GI tract, dysbiosis/overgrowth of pathogens, stress, constipation, food intolerances, and more. Have you ever considered where you feel bloated? This is a key piece when trying to identify what’s causing your bloat and how to address it.
Where do you feel your bloat?
Upper left ribcage - This is where your stomach sits, this tells you that your stomach needs some extra TLC with digestion support. This is usually indicative of low stomach acid and likely needing digestive enzyme support as well. Not only do we need sufficient stomach acid levels to help break down our food, but it also functions to sterilize the food that we eat. This helps to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria or pathogens from entering the rest of the digestive tract. Digestive bitters, lemon water, and apple cider vinegar are all natural ways to support stomach acid to help reduce the instance of bloating from occurring.
Upper right ribcage - This is where your liver and gallbladder live. If you experience bloating in this area of your abdomen then this could be due to bile flow issues. Bile is released from the gallbladder when fat is present in the diet. Think of bile like dish soap - we use dish soap to help cut the grease/fat to make it easier to wash. Bile works in a similar way - it helps to breakdown fat into smaller particles to make it easier for digestion and absorption. Bile flow becomes sluggish or impaired from a high toxin load, gall stones, complete gall bladder removal, or a diet low in nutrients which help keep bile flowing. Sluggish bile flow affects your ability to digests fats likely leading to discomfort and bloating in this area. Bile is also antimicrobial, we need it to be thin and free flowing as it helps to keep the gut microbiome healthy (i.e free from bad bacteria, pathogens, etc.). When bile flow becomes sluggish, it allows bad bacteria to overgrow and lets pathogens hangout in the gut, contributing to bloat. Bile flow/production can be stimulated by eating bitter foods such as bitter greens (arugula, kale, dandelion, mustard greens, radicchio), lemons, ginger, endives, artichoke, beet/beet greens.
Middle Abdomen - Bloating in the middle abdomen around the belly button tells us that the small intestine could be involved. Usually bloating in this area could be a sign of small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) where bacteria that’s normally found in the large intestine has populated in the small intestine. These bacteria are not meant to colonize in the small intestine and can cause discomfort, bloating, and nutrient malabsorption.
Lower Abdomen (below belly button) - Bloating felt in the lower abdomen under the belly button involves the large intestine/colon. Bloating coming from the colon is usually a sign of microbiome dysbiosis where there’s an imbalance of bad vs good bacteria. Candida overgrowth and parasites may also be a reason for bloating in this area. And lastly, this could also be a symptom of constipation due to slow motility, so working on improving healthy bowel habits would be a good place to start.
When do you feel bloated?
Timing of your bloat is another important factor to consider when trying to uncover the root cause of your bloat. Consider these:
15-30 minutes after eating - this indicates that low stomach acid could be the culprit for instant bloat.
1-2 hours after eating - After food leaves the stomach, it moves directly into the small intestine where for further breakdown and nutrient absorption. It can take a couple hours for food to move from the stomach to the small intestine so if you are noticing bloating around this period of time this could indicate that SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) could be a possibility and/or pancreatic insufficiency. The pancreas releases digestive enzymes into the small intestine to help with the breakdown of food. If the pancreas is under functioning, this could impact the way food is being digested in the small intestine.
2-3 hours after eating or at the end of the day - Anything between or longer than 2-3 hours after eating, or if you experience most of your bloat at the end of the day is usually a sign of large intestinal dysbiosis. A microbiome that is challenged with more bad guys than good guys makes the last stage of digestion really difficult. This is where pathogenic bacteria can feed on undigested food leading to fermentation in the gut. The cause of dysbiosis is usually from constipation/poor motility, diet lacking fibre and nutrient dense foods, low stomach acid, and stress. Dysbiosis in the large intestine can lead to things like candida overgrowth and parasitic infections causing things like bloating, foul smelling gas, lowered immunity, and can aggravate those with IBD (irritable bowel disorders/disease).
Top reasons you may be experiencing bloat:
Eating too quickly or consuming too many liquids with meals
Stress/HPA axis dysfunction
Dysbiosis (low flora, bacterial overgrowth, candida, parasites, etc)
Low stomach acid
Why does more fibre cause bloat?
This is not uncommon. If you’ve tried incorporating more fiber into your diet to try to improve your digestion and it only made you feel worse, you are likely not the only one to experience this. Here’s why. If you previously went from a diet that was pretty low in fiber to incorporating high fiber supplements and more fiber rich foods too quickly it can be really overwhelming to the gut microbiome. It is best to go low and slow with high fiber foods and supplements when starting out. This is because fiber is a non-digestible food substance in our body but it acts as a food source for the beneficial bacteria in the colon and helps to move things along in the intestinal tract. If there is dysbiosis present in the intestinal tract then a drastic increase in fiber can overwhelm the system and may even lead to digestion slowing down, increasing bloat. Having said that, it is best to gradually increase fiber consumption over a period of time, and if you are taking a fiber supplement, I recommend starting with 1/2 tsp and working up from there.
What foods cause bloat?
There’s not one food that causes bloat specifically. It all comes down to the health of your gut and your ability to digest and absorb nutrients from the food you are eating.
What can I do to avoid bloating?
First and foremost, address the root cause! This may require working with a practitioner such as myself who can help you investigate low stomach acid, different types of dysbiosis, etc.
Below are some tips in the meantime:
Slow down and chew your food! Aim for 20-30 chews per mouthful
Space out your meals. Allow for 3-4 hours in between meals without snacking. This allows the gut to do a sweep of the system to move contents through the digestive tract and prevent overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine specifically.
Be present, eat without distractions (tv, phone, computer, in the car)
Sit down while you eat
Take a few deep breaths before you eat (especially if you are feeling stressed)
Reduce consumption of carbonated beverages especially while eating
Find healthy ways to manage stress
chronic stress can slow down and impair digestion
Reduce gum chewing
Hidden cause of bloat. This can trick the digestive system into thinking that food is coming from the chewing process and production of saliva to assist in digestion.
This can also increase how much air is being swallowed.
Adjust fibre intake
You may not be getting enough or you may be eating too much too quickly
Address food intolerances - keeping a daily food log is the best way to go here
Peppermint oil capsules or tea
Castor oil packs
If you struggle with stubborn bloat and are frustrated after having tried everything with no results, I can help. I know how frustrating and isolating it can feel when nothing seems to be working and like your body is working against you. In my 1:1 Multi phase Candida Program we will work closely together to help you find and understand the root cause of your gut health imbalances. Through personalized protocols I will be there every step of the way to not only help relieve your stubborn symptoms, but to totally reclaim your gut health so that you can feel confident with the new tools you have to sustain your lifestyle!
If 1:1 work seems too intimidating or if you feel like you don’t need as much direct support try out my self-paced online Candida program here.