Bloating – the uncomfortable truth

By Melissa Hohaia, Naturopath

Bloating is a symptom that can cause tremendous discomfort for some people, even to the point where a waist band or a tight pair of jeans is no longer a comfortable option.   Besides a visually distended abdomen (to the point where pregnancy is questionable), it can also be associated with varying levels of pain or discomfort.  You may find that your bloating is associated with an increase in gas elimination through burping or flatulence, or sometimes it can be accompanied by other symptoms such as a change in bowel movements or stool formation.  The frequency of your bloating can also vary along with the types of foods you eat or exposure to certain situations that trigger it.  You may find that it can appear completely randomly or notice a definite pattern or link back to a specific food or event.
Bloating is generally caused by increased gas in the intestines – this can be located in any part of the intestinal tract.  Generally, gas trapped in the small intestine will be associated with upper abdominal bloating (above the waist line) and will not be relieved by passing wind.  Alternatively, lower abdominal bloating is more likely associated with large intestinal gas and you will generally find some relief with passing gas.
Most bloating is caused from either ingesting excess gas while eating, or from gas produced by the millions of bacteria and organisms that live in your gut.  Bloating can however, also be a symptom of more serious health issues and it is important to seek professional advice if it is occurring frequently, has been a symptom for a while, or occurs suddenly along with other symptoms.
Bloating can be made worse by ingesting food that you are either allergic or intolerant to (such as gluten), or by food that is not being digested efficiently (such as foods high in fructose or lactose).  If certain foods are not being broken down efficiently by your digestive system then the bacteria get to have an absolute feast on the undigested food components – this allows fermentation to occur, which produces a lot of gas.  It may be worth keeping a track of your symptoms alongside the foods you eat to see if there are any obvious patterns.
Bloating is really just a sign that your body is giving you to let you know that your digestive tract is not working efficiently or has had its internal environment disrupted.  If this goes left untreated or incorrectly diagnosed, then you are potentially setting yourself up for an array of other health concerns (all the way from malabsorption to autoimmune disorders).  We are finding more and more diseases and health conditions can be linked back to an unhealthy gut.  So it is important to listen to what your gut is telling you and address it in an appropriate way.
There is not a single cause for bloating and therefore not all remedies or treatments will work the same for everyone. For some individuals it will involve avoiding certain ‘trigger’ foods (such as gluten or high FODMAP foods) or simply adjusting behavioural patterns (ie. Eating slower, chewing food more efficiently, drinking less liquid with a meal).

Some of my top remedies are:
Apple Cider Vinegar or Lemon Juice – approx. 1 tbsp taken 15-30 mins before a meal in warm water – this can help to increase the production of digestive enzymes and therefore food will be more efficiently broken down and there will be less chance for the bacteria to cause gas through fermentation.  If choosing to use apple cider vinegar it needs to be the ‘cloudy’ variety with the ‘mother’ (don’t select a crystal clear vinegar as it won’t have the same effect).
Probiotics – There are a lot of various probiotics available on the market and not all of them will have the same result.  If you are wanting to use a probiotic to relieve bloating it is very important to get a therapeutic grade product with researched bacterial strains that will have the ability to help correct your guts bacterial population.  Probiotics are not going to work immediately and I clinically find most people notice a benefit within a two-week time frame after taking them daily.
Iberogast – available from most health food stores or chemists – this product works on assisting digestion and aiding the breakdown of food so that gas production is minimised.  This can be used as either a preventative before meals or as a treatment at the onset of bloating.  Relief can be expected within 30 mins after taking.  This product is also safe to use in children after seeking professional advice.
Various Herbal and Essential Oil combinations – these need to be prescribed by a knowledgeable practitioner, but in the correct formulations they can assist in re-establishing a healthy gut environment and help to correct any pathogenic imbalances (either parasitic, bacterial, or fungal).  These formulations are generally taken as a short-term course of treatment alongside probiotics.