At some stage or another, we have all found ourselves experiencing that uncomfortable sensation of feeling bloated while sitting at work. The feelings of discomfort and sometimes pain can be unsettling. Often, it’s just temporary and we possibly need to loosen a belt or a button! However for many, it can be a recurring uncomfortable problem that impacts on how we work.
In this month’s blog we look at bloating, the possible causes, and the nutritional and lifestyle changes we can make to help reduce bloating and the associated discomfort.
What is Bloating?
“Bloating can be defined as a sense of gassiness or a sense of being distended.” (1) This sense of fullness is felt in the tummy which can often be accompanied by visible distension and it can ease with the passing of wind or a bowel movement. Nevertheless, it can be very uncomfortable for some and can be a normal occurrence after a large meal, during times of stress or travel.
There is no single cause to bloating and it’s usually a combination of factors that can be related to diet, lifestyle and medical conditions.
Some of the factors that can cause people to feel bloated
• Eating high fibre foods e.g., beans and pluses for some people may contribute towards gas production. Though balance is important – too little fibre can cause constipation while too much can contribute to bloating. Overall, the aim is approx. 25-35g/day of fibre.
• Swallowing air through chewing gum, using straws, eating and swallowing too quickly, smoking and carbonated drinks. Swallowing excess air can lead to bloating.
• Stress, prolonged periods of stress can increase the potential for bloating, through a change in the communication between the gut-brain axis leading to changes in gut motility.(2)
• Hormonal fluctuations in women during the cycle, can promote bloating and the exacerbation of other intestinal symptoms like abdominal pain or discomfort and changes in bowel habits.(3)
Those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food intolerances (such as lactose intolerance), coeliac disease, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and gut infections (such as giardiasis) can also experience bloating.
Can your diet help?
There is no one size fits all solution to bloating. The approach needs to personalised to the individual. However, there are some nutritional modifications that can help.
One of the key steps that can be taken to help reduce the incidences of feeling bloated is to limit the intake of gas-producing foods e.g., beans and pulses, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and also sugar-free mints/chewing gum.(4)
Another option is eating oats (in cereal or porridge) and milled linseeds (up to one tablespoon per day taken with at least 150ml of fluid).(4)
Research has shown some evidence for taking peppermint oil capsules to help in reducing bloating and stomach pain.(5)
Keeping a food diary can be beneficial to help identify any foods which may trigger symptoms. However, it’s important to work with a registered professional before removing foods from the diet on an ongoing basis.
Lifestyle is important too!
There are some lifestyle changes that can potentially improve the bloated feeling. Exercise can support the movement of gas through the gut and out of the body. Strengthening core abdominal muscle strength may also help overtime. Avoid skipping meals, as this can lead to overeating at the next sitting. So, striving for regular meals across the day will be more beneficial. How you eat is also important – slowing down during mealtimes means less air is likely to be ingested. Chewing food thoroughly and taking time to relax afterwards can also be helpful. Lastly and no less important is trying to reduce stress. We would encourage you to enjoy some destress activities that support calmer times. Undertaking these activities can benefit fewer gut symptoms.
As we previously mentioned, there is no one size fits all solution. It’s about finding what you feel is most beneficial for you, in reducing the incidences of being bloated and the discomfort associated with it. However, as always if symptoms are persistent and uncomfortable, it would be advisable to talk with your GP.
1. Lacy BE, Gabbard SL, Crowell MD. Pathophysiology, evaluation, and treatment of bloating: hope, hype, or hot air?. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2011;7(11):729-739.
2. Park HJ, Jarrett M, Cain K, Heitkemper M. Psychological distress and GI symptoms are related to severity of bloating in women with irritable bowel syndrome. Res Nurs Health. 2008;31:98–107.
3. Mulak, A., 2014. Sex hormones in the modulation of irritable bowel syndrome. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 20(10), p.2433.
4. Bda.uk.com. 2022. Irritable Bowel Syndrome Food Fact Sheet. [online] Available at: <https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/irritable-bowel-syndrome-diet.html>.
5. Alammar, N., Wang, L., Saberi, B., Nanavati, J., Holtmann, G., Shinohara, R. and Mullin, G., 2019. The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 19(1).
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