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Bloated Stomach: What Causes Bloating?

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
Coffee Causes Bloating

Bloating is caused by gas or air trapped in the abdomen and can cause mild to severe discomfort. Extreme cases can cause difficulty eating or breathing. Although bloating can be a signal that something is amiss in your diet or digestive tract, in general, bloating is relatively common and isn’t cause for concern. A healthy lifestyle and an understanding of digestive disorders can help reduce and prevent bloating.

Symptoms Associated With Bloating

While bloating is a symptom itself, there are some classic characteristics that can help you differentiate bloating from other conditions. The following is a short list of general indicators:

  • Abdominal tightness
  • Cramping or sharp pains
  • Feeling full hours after a meal
  • Gas and flatulence
  • Stomach growling

The Most Common Causes of Bloating

Bloated stomach

Most people will experience bloating at some point, but some people retain gas significantly more often. Some of the factors that make bloating more likely include overeating, dysbiosis (imbalance of the intestinal gut flora), bowel obstruction, and digestive disorders like IBS, IBD, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease.

Many people confuse bloating with water retention, but they are different. Menstruation, hormonal changes, and eating food that's high in salt may cause you to retain water, but this is not bloating.

Below are some of the most common causes of bloating.

1. IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes discomfort and bloating. One study defined the change in normal bowel function as "life-altering."[1] Many studies find that IBS is most likely to cause bloating when people eat complex carbohydrates, certain types of fat, and food that stimulates an allergic response.[2]

2. Swallowed Air

The frequent swallowing of air while chewing can cause bloating and other discomforts until it's released (usually by belching).[3] Chew slowly to reduce the amount of air that you swallow.

3. Inulin

Inulin is a naturally occurring source of fiber that’s found in bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, leeks, onions, and garlic. Some inulin is beneficial and even acts as a prebiotic, but too much can cause bloating and cramping in certain people. One study found that inulin caused gas and bloating in individuals who had no other history of gastrointestinal disorders.[4]

4. Coffee

While coffee offers many benefits, too much can be rough on your stomach.[5] Coffee can worsen IBS symptoms by over-stimulating the nerves of the digestive tract, leading to bloating, gas, and discomfort.

5. Alcohol

Researchers have found that alcohol worsens IBS symptoms and affects your gut microbiota.[6] The effects of alcohol vary based on your pattern of drinking.

6. Medication

Some types of medication can cause bloating, particularly formulas that contain sorbitol and lactulose.[7] Many sweet-tasting liquid medications taken by mouth have these ingredients. Antibiotics can kill both the harmful and healthy bacteria in your system. Disrupting your gut microbiota can affect normal digestion and result in bloating.

7. Artificial Sweeteners

For many people, artificial sweeteners negatively affect their digestive system. Synthetic sugar substitutes like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and erythritol can give you gas, diarrhea, and even provoke nausea.[8]

8. Harmful Organism Overgrowth

When a small number of good bacteria remain in the large intestine, you become susceptible to the overgrowth of detrimental bacteria. In lesser cases, this internal stress can lead to gas and bloat, in more severe cases, it can lead to constipation or diarrhea.

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is caused by bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. In general, gut bacteria should only remain in the very last stretch of the small intestine, but when they proliferate and start creeping back toward the stomach, they can cause weight loss, diarrhea, bloating, and inhibit the movement of the contents of your intestines.[9]

9. Food Intolerances

Dairy and lactose intolerance is a well-known food sensitivity commonly associated with bloating and gas. It results when your intestines fail to produce lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose.[10]

10. Certain Foods and Drinks

Carbonated water and soda are obvious contributors to bloating. If you’re already bloated, skip the fizzy drinks and drink purified water instead. In the same vein, some foods are famous for their ability to cause gas and bloating. These include beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, apples, onions, pears, corn, cereal grains, and other fiber-rich foods. If you don’t have enough fiber-digesting probiotic organisms in your gut, these foods may cause gas and bloating.[10]

11. Constipation

Constipation may cause bloating because your gut microbiota is interacting with trapped stool and producing gas in your colon. If you have a history of bowel obstruction combined with bloating and constipation, consult your natural health care practitioner for personalized guidance.

Diet to Prevent Bloating

If you’re not sure what’s causing your discomfort, try an elimination diet. There are many different options that are available online, but this is the one we recommend:

Eliminate These

  • Meat: Red meat, eggs, chicken, pork, fish, and shellfish
  • Dairy: Cheese, milk, yogurt, cream, butter, ice cream
  • Sugar: Sweetened cereals, donuts, cookies
  • Gluten and Simple Starches: Wheat and rye bread, pasta, bagels, crackers
  • Fruit: Apples, peaches, plums, pears, watermelon
  • Vegetables: Onions, garlic, snap peas, asparagus, artichokes

Replace With These

  • Grains: Rice, quinoa, spelt, gluten-free pasta or couscous
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, tempeh, sunflower seeds, pumpkin or squash seeds
  • Fruit: Citrus fruits, grapes, bananas, berries
  • Vegetables: Green beans, bok choy, tomatoes, salad greens, zucchini, squash, peppers

Try to stick to this diet for six to eight weeks. You can slowly add the foods from the elimination list back into your diet, just make sure you add them one at a time to find the source of the bloating. Here are some recipes you can rely on while you’re on the elimination diet.

How to Alleviate Bloat Right Now

If you feel bloated and haven’t been able to relieve the pressure, try massaging your stomach. Begin at your right hip, apply pressure as you draw your palm up toward your right ribs, across to your left ribs, down to your left hip, and back to the starting point. Continue this circular motion until you feel better; it should only take a minute or two to feel relief.

You can also try drinking ginger or peppermint tea. For ginger tea, simply cut a few slices of fresh ginger and add to hot water. To make peppermint tea, pour near-boiling water over fresh peppermint leaves.

Your body should naturally produce many of the enzymes required to digest food, but if you have an unpredictable stomach, try adding supplemental enzymes like VeganZyme® to your diet. VeganZyme is formulated with a comprehensive spectrum of digestive and systemic enzymes for superior gut support and function.

Keeping Bloat at Bay

A better solution to fiber-associated bloat is to cultivate the right gut microbiota to help you get the most nutrition out of your diet. Limit foods that do little for your health like artificial sugars, alcohol, and processed foods that contain inulin. Drink plenty of pure, filtered water and avoid soda. Eat a diet that's rich in fiber and other prebiotics to feed strong, healthy probiotic colonies.

A probiotic supplement like Global Healing's Ultimate Probiotic can give your gut a probiotic boost to promote diversity. A wide range of bacterial species in the colon provides you with the digestive and intestinal support you need keep your gut happy, healthy, and bloat-free.

References (10)
  1. Anastasi, J.K., Capili, B., Chang, M. "Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome." Am J Nurs. 2013 Jul;113(7):42-52. Web. 26 June 2017.
  2. Böhn L., Störsrud S., Törnblom H., Bengtsson U., Simrén M. "Self-reported food-related gastrointestinal symptoms in IBS are common and associated with more severe symptoms and reduced quality of life." Am J Gastroenterol. 2013 May;108(5):634-41. Web. 26 June 2017.
  3. Tack J., et al. "Functional gastroduodenal disorders." Gastroenterology. 2006 Apr;130(5):1466-79. Web. 26 June 2017.
  4. Bonnema, A.L., Kolberg, L.W., Thomas W., Slavin J.L. "Gastrointestinal tolerance of chicory inulin products." J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun;110(6):865-8. Web. 26 June 2017.
  5. University of Maryland Medical Center. "Gastritis." Web. 26 June 2017.
  6. Reding, K.W., Cain, K.C., Jarrett, M.E., Eugenio, M.D., Heitkemper, M.M. "Relationship between patterns of alcohol consumption and gastrointestinal symptoms among patients with irritable bowel syndrome." Am J Gastroenterol. 2013 Feb; 108(2):270-6. Web. 26 June 2017.
  7. U.S. National Library of Medicine. "Abdominal bloating." Web. 26 June 2017.
  8. Storey, D., Lee, A., Bornet, F., and Brouns, F. "Gastrointestinal tolerance of erythritol and xylitol ingested in a liquid." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) 61, 349–354.Web. 26 June 2017.
  9. Dukowicz, Andrew C., Brian E. Lacy, and Gary M. Levine. "Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: A Comprehensive Review." Gastroenterology & Hepatology 3.2 (2007): 112–122. Web. 26 June 2017.
  10. Boettcher E., Crowe, S.E. "Dietary proteins and functional gastrointestinal disorders." Am J Gastroenterol. 2013 May;108(5):728-36. Web. 26 June 2017.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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