What Causes Bloating & How to Reduce It
We all feel a little bloated from time to time, and that’s normal. I have had my own struggles with occasional bloating. However, there could be a bigger problem if your bouts with bloating become more frequent than the occasional full feeling. As a functional medicine doctor, I know that to really resolve any issue, you need to find the root cause.
The cause of your bloating could be something as simple as eating the wrong foods. Or it could be something bigger such as leaky gut or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Regardless of what causes your bloating there is a solution to reduce it! I am about to tell you how to stop your bloating and the differences between bloating and gas. First, let’s talk about what exactly is bloating.
What is Bloating?
Bloating is protrusion of the abdomen. Have you ever felt like your stomach was full and bigger than usual? That feeling is known as bloating, and the truth lies in your jeans. Pants that zip up easily in the morning yet feel like a straightjacket by the end of the day are often the result of bloating.
What causes your bloating is not excessive belly fat.1 Instead, bloating is often caused by eating a large meal or excessive gas. However, it’s also a symptom of a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, lactose intolerance, or fluid build up because of your menstrual period. Getting rid of your bloating largely depends on what causes your bloating. Let’s talk about those common causes of bloating.
What Causes Bloating?
As I mentioned earlier, what causes bloating could be as simple as the food you eat or something more serious such as a gut infection. There are three primary causes of bloating that all have similar symptoms.
Fluid retention causes bloating in a few distinct ways. You can retain fluid from certain foods you eat such as water, alcohol, caffeine and salt, your hormones, or even from an illness such as heart or liver disease.
Retaining fluid feels as if there’s a full bathtub in your stomach that takes several hours to drain. Some common predecessors of fluid retention include:
- Eating too many carbohydrates at once
- Salty foods, especially when consumed with excess liquid
- Hormonal imbalance during early pregnancy or during your menstrual cycle
- Late-stage heart or liver disease
Limiting your salt intake and ensuring you’re hydrated are great ways to reduce bloating from fluid retention. That may seem counterintuitive because drinking a lot of water can make fluid retention worse.2 As with most things in life, it’s about balance. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is 124 ounces for men and 92 ounces for women.3
It’s not only the foods you eat that can cause bloating… it’s also the air you eat! You’re probably thinking that’s crazy! You’re not eating air. Let me explain. You can swallow excess air if you eat or drink too fast, drink through a straw, talk while you eat, chew gum, suck on hard candies, drink carbonated beverages, or smoke. Anything that causes excessive air intake while eating can cause bloating.
The key to preventing this kind of bloating after eating is to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. Don’t talk before you have completely swallowed so that you are not gulping air into your digestive system along with your food! Your friends and family will thank you! If you’re prone to this type of bloating you’ll also want to cut back on gum, sucking candies and carbonated beverages. And of course, you should never smoke.
Gases are the most common cause of bloating. It’s completely normal to produce between one to four pints of gas per day. However, producing more than that or not being able to release the gas through flatulence or belching, can lead to a lot of discomfort.
The most common gasses that get into our digestive system include:
- Carbon dioxide
Gas forms in your large intestine when bacteria ferments carbohydrates that aren’t digested in your small intestine. Bacteria also consume some of that gas, but the remaining gas is released when you pass gas.
Certain high-fiber foods may cause gas, including legumes; vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, and brussels sprouts; fructose found in artichokes, pears, gluten and soft drinks; and lactose found in dairy products. I will talk about foods that cause excessive gas more in-detail later. However, it’s important to not confuse bloating and gas. Gas causes bloating, however bloating doesn’t cause gas.
What Are the Causes of Excessive Gas?
There are three factors that cause excessive gas: gut infections, autoimmune disease, and foods you eat. Let’s talk about the causes of excessive gas.
Most of your gut bacteria are meant to be located in your large intestine and colon. When the bacteria normally found in the large intestine and colon begin to colonize the small intestine and overgrow, SIBO occurs.
Your gut is naturally lined with mucus that lubricates and protects it. However, an overgrowth of bacteria can damage your gut’s mucosal lining. Damaged mucus creates an opportunity for bacterial biofilms — or groups of microorganisms that are protected by a layer of protective slime — to attach to your cell wall, making them harder to control.
As the group of bacteria thrive and feed off of undigested food in your small intestine, the carbohydrates ferment and produce hydrogen. Hydrogen can feed single-celled organisms in your small bowel called archaea, which then produce methane. With SIBO, an excess amount of hydrogen, methane, or both can occur in your digestive system.
The excess gas in your GI tract can lead to other SIBO symptoms such as severe bloating, among others.
Candida is a form of yeast that lives in your mouth and intestines in small amounts. Its job is to aid with digestion and nutrient absorption. It is a part of your body’s normal microflora — the microorganisms that live in a delicate balance in your mouth, throat, gut, vagina in women, and on your skin.
Ideally, your good bacteria, bad bacteria, and Candida that make up your gut microbiome exist in a balanced state. In fact, I like to think of your microbiome as a rainforest, with many different species living together in harmony. When one species gets out of balance in your rainforest, everything gets out of control. When this balance is tipped between Candida and other microorganisms, Candida overgrowth occurs. Candidiasis, or yeast overgrowth, is very common and causes symptoms such as bloating, constipation, rashes, fungal infections, fatigue, brain fog, and mood swings. In fact, the excess Candida can begin a fermentation process in your gut that produces its own swelling and belly bloat, just like when bread rises.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that can cause more than 300 symptoms including diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, gas, and bloating. In people that have Celiac disease, any gluten they eat damages the villi in their gut, causing nutrient deficiencies or even serious illness.4
Gluten can cause bloating because of the inflammation it can create in your digestive tract, which interferes with digestion. I recommend everyone avoid gluten, even if you don’t have Celiac disease, because it triggers the release of a substance called zonulin that causes leaky gut. In turn, leaky gut leads to inflammation that can cause a whole host of symptoms, including bloating.
While gut infections are the primary root cause of gas and bloating, certain foods also trigger excessive gas and bloating.
Dairy is one of the main causes of bloating in people who don’t produce the lactase enzyme, which allows you to break down lactose found in milk into simple sugars. The lactose travels undigested into your colon, where bacteria may begin to ferment it, creating gas. In a similar way to gluten, this leads to inflammation and poor digestion of both lactose and the foods that you eat while your gut is inflamed.
If you aren’t lactose intolerant, you might still react to the two proteins found in milk, casein and whey. Casein is a protein with a very similar molecular structure to gluten and 50% of people who are gluten intolerant are casein intolerant as well. As with gluten, I recommend that everyone avoid dairy, especially if they are concerned about bloating.
As mentioned earlier, beans and cruciferous vegetables such as brussels sprouts and broccoli cause gas because they contain raffinose, a trisaccharide that is difficult to digest and leads to fermentation and the production of intestinal gas.
Additionally, certain sweeteners such as sorbitol and fructose produce bloating and digestive distress in some people, as does too much fat. A low-FODMAP diet can be helpful for people who struggle with SIBO, IBS, and other gastrointestinal disorders and symptoms such as bloating, while they get to the root cause of the problem. Try an elimination diet to determine which foods are causing your bloating and gas.
Now I am about to tell you my proven methods that I used from my decades of experience as a medical doctor to help people reduce their gas and bloating.
5 Steps To Get Rid of Bloating and Gas
1. The 4Rs
As a functional medicine doctor, I used the 4R approach to treating gut infections in my patience. This proven approach begins by removing all inflammatory foods from your diet, such as corn, gluten, dairy, and eggs. Then you replace the bad with good bacteria. Using supplements like digestive enzymes supports optimal digestion and promotes intestinal repair and a healthy inflammatory response.
The next step is to reinoculate the beneficial bacteria in your gut with high-potency probiotics to re-establish a healthy microbiome. If you do have SIBO, I recommend taking a soil-based probiotic that’s free from lactic acid that can make your SIBO symptoms worse.
The final step in the 4R approach is to repair your gut by providing your gut with the essential nutrients it needs to repair itself. My most comprehensive supplement for this is Leaky Gut Revive®.
2. Relieve Stress
When you have constant stressors in your life, your immune system never really gets to turn off. Your inflammatory response is activated for too long and eventually goes rogue, attacking your own bodily tissues. Pretty soon, your stress hormones try to suppress the response but go overboard, leaving you with a weakened immune system.
Under stress, many people tend to take shorter breaths and swallow more air which can cause bloating. Deep breathing not only helps keep you from swallowing excess air, it also helps manage your stress levels. Under stress, your body is busy sending resources to fuel the fight-or-flight response. It essentially turns off digestion, which is a recipe for poorly digested food and the creation of excess gas. Relieving your stress is essential for proper digestion and optimal health. One of my favorite ways to relieve stress is by listening to music and dancing it out with my daughter Elle. Just a half-hour of listening to music can reduce your stress levels!
3. Ditch These Foods
I talked earlier about the foods that cause bloating. Remember, I always recommend that everyone remove gluten and dairy products from their diet. You should also remove gas-causing foods such as legumes and cruciferous vegetables.
You’ll also want to limit the fats you consume. Fats take longer to digest than protein or carbs, so they stay in your stomach longer and cause bloating. While they do keep you satiated because they hang around, that’s the very same reason that rich and fatty food can be a cause of your bloating.
4. Look at Your Fiber Intake
Fiber is essential for proper digestion, yet too much of a good thing can be bad. Too much fiber can cause bloating because it remains in the body for a relatively long time. Because your body cannot completely break down the fiber found in foods such as apples, garlic, and bananas, these compounds pass through the upper part of your gastrointestinal tract undigested.
Bacteria can feed on this undigested fiber and cause gas. However, too little fiber can also cause bloating as well as constipation because this can slow down your digestion and give your food more time to ferment while in your digestive tract. Keeping a food diary can help you find just the right balance to keep everything moving along as it should.
5. Eat foods that reduce bloating
You can do more with your eating habits than just avoiding foods that cause bloating. You can also eat with purpose! Make it a point to include bloat-reducing foods in your diet, such as
ginger, lemons, avocado, pumpkin, coconut, leafy green vegetables, berries (raspberries & blueberries), sweet potatoes, dark chocolate, and cucumbers.
These foods offer various benefits that can help regulate fluid retention and banish bloating. Berries are a great source of fiber, which enhance your gut health and help to soften your poop.5 Cucumbers are about 95% water, which also helps your body stay hydrated and keeps the digestive system moving.6
Bloating is common, however, it doesn’t have to be your reality. Treating the root cause of your bloating can get you on the path to optimal digestive health. It could be as easy as changing your diet or you may have to put in the work to heal your gut infections. My No. 1 tool to support gut health is Leaky Gut Revive®. Regardless of what the cause of bloating is, you can take steps to reduce it.
FAQs about Bloating
What is the main cause of bloating?
What is the main cause of bloating?
The three main causes of bloating are fluid retention, air, and gas. These are a result of the things you eat, how you eat, and your overall gut health.
How do I get rid of bloating?
How do I get rid of bloating?
To reduce bloating, you have to address the cause of bloating. Certain foods such as dairy and gluten can cause bloating in certain people. To determine which foods are causing your bloating, try an elimination diet.
What relieves bloating fast?
What relieves bloating fast?
There are some foods that actually work to decrease bloating in your body. Ginger, lemons, avocado, pumpkin, coconut, leafy green vegetables, berries (raspberries & blueberries), sweet potatoes, dark chocolate, and cucumbers are a few super-healthy foods that offer some relief from bloating relatively quickly.
- What Is Bloating?. Jennifer R. Scott . VeryWell. 2020.
- This is what happens to your body when you don’t drink enough water. Marilisa Racco. Global News. 2018.
- Nutrition & Healthy Eating. The Mayo Clinic. 2019.
- Recent advances in coeliac disease. D.A. van Heel and J. West. Gut. 2006.
- High Fiber Diet. Aelia Akbar and Aparna P. Shreenath. StatPearls. 2021.
- Cucumber, Raw. Food Data Central. 2021.
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