With symptoms that range from mild discomfort and a bit of gas to severe cramping and a visibly swollen stomach, bloating is a big issue for a lot of people.
So what causes this uncomfortable condition? And how can you deal with it?
According to The Mayo Clinic, bloating usually indicates a build up of gases in the digestive system.
“When gas doesn't pass through belching or flatulence, it can build up in the stomach and intestines and lead to bloating,” it explains on its website.
“With bloating, you may also have abdominal pain that can vary from mild and dull to sharp and intense. Passing gas or having a bowel movement may relieve the pain.”
Some of the common causes of this type of bloating include eating too fast, having a lot of foods that slow down digestion (i.e. highly fatty, processed foods), fizzy drinks, stress or anxiety, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Bloating and distension (when your belly visibly swells up) can also indicate inflammation or irritation in the digestive system and is common for people with allergies or food intolerances. And for some women, it’s also a part of their menstrual cycle.
In fact, research has found that bloating and distension is often more common and more visible in women due to physiological differences to men.
In an interview with The Atlantic Dr Robynne Chutkan – a leading integrative gastroenterologist and founder of the Digestive Center for Women in the US – says that females have longer colons than men, which drop right down into the pelvic area and leads to “extra twists and turns” that can slow down digestion and trap gases.
But whether you’re a woman or a man, bloating can have a serious impact on everything from your appetite to your energy levels and even your mood.
How to beat the bloat
The wide range of causes of bloating can make it hard to know how to deal with it when it does happen, so we’ve come up with a list of three different strategies you can use to relieve or even prevent bloating from taking over.
Stretching or walking
If you’re already feeling really bloated, the idea of moving probably isn’t very appealing, but it can actually help the gas pass through your system. Things like slow, gentle stretching, yoga or walking helps get things moving.
Including probiotic rich foods and drinks like kefir in your diet improves gut health and digestion, which in turn helps reduce the likelihood of bloating. Probiotics can also relieve symptoms of bloating and soothe inflammation that may occur from eating certain foods. Check out our article on kefir grains
Strengthening your core
In her interview with The Atlantic, Dr Chutkan explains that the abdominal wall helps hold the bowel in place and can reduce bloating as a result. So the stronger your core is, the more it will be able to hold things in place. Research has also found that doing ab exercises such as crunches can relieve gas and bloating (although it depends on how severe it is). Trust your gut on this one, and if you don’t feel up to it, wait it out.
Bloating can be a one-off thing, or something people deal with on a frequent basis. But understanding the common causes of bloating and some of the most effective solutions means you’ll be able to reduce it’s impact on your life from now on.