Bloating is very common, occurring in 16–31% of the general population. Fortunately, it’s generally a short-term problem that resolves on its own, perhaps triggered by a large meal or a gas-producing food.
It can also be a result of hormone imbalance and unfortunately around menopause is much more common in women.
However, for some, bloating is a chronic problem that causes moderate to severe symptoms and negatively affects quality of life.
Here are 12 ways you can reduce or eliminate bloating.
1. Identify the cause of bloating
Gases like oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and methane are introduced into your gut by swallowing air and the fermentation of foods in your large intestine.
Increased gas in the gut can cause increased tension and bloating. This may be due to eating foods that contain compounds that are fermented in your colon, such as fibre, sugar alcohols, and FODMAPs or any of these:
– food intolerance, such as lactose or fructose intolerance
– swallowing excess air
– increased fluid in your bowels
– imbalances in your gut microbiome, or the ecosystem of bacteria living in your gut
However, studies show that there’s often little difference in the amount of gas in the guts of people who experience bloating and those who don’t.
As such, bloating may be caused by a heightened perception of normal amounts of gases and tension in your gut, known as visceral hypersensitivity.
Also, stress, anxiety, high fat meals, weight gain, and changes during the menstrual cycle are linked to bloating.
Some people also experience this condition due to muscle reflexes in the abdominal wall and diaphragm.
In rare circumstances, bloating may be a symptom of medical problems like an infection, malabsorption syndromes, bowel obstruction, liver disease, or cancer.
If you have chronic, unresolved bloating, it’s important to seek medical advice to treat the underlying cause.
Bloating is triggered by many dietary and lifestyle factors, so it’s best to identify the cause to reduce or eliminate symptoms.
2. Limit foods that trigger bloating
Many people experience bloating after eating certain foods that contain high amounts of nondigestible or poorly digestible compounds.
These compounds include insoluble and soluble fibres, sugar alcohols, and the sugars raffinose and fructose.
When you eat foods containing these compounds, the undigested fibre and sugars end up in your large intestine where bacteria ferment them, leading to increased gas.
Specific foods that may cause bloating include:
– Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
– Fruit: prunes, apples, pears, and peaches
– Whole grains: wheat, oats, wheat germ, and wheat bran
– Legumes: beans, lentils, peas, and baked beans
– Sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners: xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol found in artificial sweeteners and sugar-free chewing gum
– Drinks: soda and other carbonated beverages, including water
While these foods may lead to increased gas, not everyone will feel bloated after eating them. Keeping a food diary may help you identify which foods cause your symptoms so that you don’t have to follow an overly restrictive diet.
Some foods, such as sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, legumes, and high fibre vegetables and fruit, contain large amounts of nondigestible compounds that may lead to bloating. Limiting your intake of these foods may alleviate this condition.
3. Check for lactose intolerance
Lactose is a sugar found in milk and your body needs an enzyme called lactase to break it down.
However, most people don’t produce enough of this enzyme to break down lactose once they reach adulthood. The resulting condition is called lactose intolerance.
This condition causes lactose to pass through your gut, pulling in more water until it reaches your colon, where it’s fermented by bacteria and releases gas. This may lead to symptoms like bloating, stomach pain, increased flatulence, and belching.
If you suspect you have lactose intolerance, reducing your dairy intake may help eliminate symptoms of bloating.
However, it’s important to work with your doctor to rule out other causes before making any significant changes to your diet, as dairy is an important source of key nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, and protein.
Fortunately, some dairy foods are lower in lactose and may be better tolerated. These include Greek yoghurt and aged cheeses.
Additionally, many lactose-free dairy products allow you to reap the benefits of dairy without the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is a common condition that causes multiple digestive symptoms, including bloating. If you’re lactose intolerant, it’s best to avoid or limit dairy products.
4. Support regular bowel habits to alleviate constipation
Constipation affects about 14% of people worldwide, causing symptoms like infrequent bowel movements, excessive straining, hard stools, and bloating.
In particular, it can lead to bloating because the nondigestible components of food spend longer in your colon and are thus subject to more fermentation by bacteria.o
Often, you can improve symptoms of constipation by:
– Increasing your fibre intake. Aim for 18–30 grams per day of both soluble and insoluble fibre from whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
– Drinking adequate fluids. Drink 6–8.5 cups (1.5–2 litres) per day of water and other fluids.
– Exercising regularly. Walking, jogging, swimming, or bicycling for about 30 minutes each day may help keep your bowels moving regularly.
Keep in mind that you may need to increase your soluble fibre intake with caution, as this type of fIbre is fermented in your colon and may contribute to bloated feelings.
Additionally, adding fibre to your diet too rapidly may worsen constipation, so it’s important to increase your intake slowly. Aim for an intake of 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.
While constipation may be relieved with medication, certain types like bulk and osmotic laxatives may make bloating worse, so talk with your doctor about your symptoms to determine what’s best for you.
Constipation may cause or exacerbate symptoms of bloating. Increased fibre and fluid intake, as well as physical activity, are effective natural treatments.
5. Try a low FODMAP diet
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive condition characterised by symptoms like abdominal pain, discomfort, diarrhoea, and constipation.
Approximately 66–90% of people with IBS also experience bloating. Numerous studies show that limiting certain carbs called fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) may reduce bloating and other symptoms in people with IBS.
Not only are FODMAPs poorly digested and fermented by bacteria in your colon, but they also cause more water to be retained in your bowels.
Foods high in FODMAPs to limit include:
– Grains: wheat and rye
– Dairy: milk, custard, yoghurt, and soft cheeses
– Fruit: watermelon, apples, stone fruits, grapefruit, pears, mangoes, fruit juice, and dried fruits
– Vegetables: onions, garlic, leeks, artichoke, asparagus, peas, lentils, mushrooms, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, and Brussels sprouts
– Nuts: cashews and pistachios
– Other: sugar-free gum and honey
Low FODMAP diets are quite restrictive for several weeks before excluded foods are gradually reintroduced to determine which foods you can tolerate and which you can’t.
FODMAPS are poorly digested fermentable short-chain carbs found in a wide variety of foods. They ferment in your large intestine, producing gas. A low FODMAP diet may relieve bloating in people with the digestive condition IBS.
6. Try probiotic supplements
Probiotics are live microorganisms, such as bacteria, that provide health benefits when you consume them.
They can be consumed as special preparations or in pill form, but they’re also found naturally in some foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, and tempeh.
Some studies suggest that probiotics may aid digestive symptoms like bloating by boosting the number and types of bacteria in your gut. In turn, this may reduce inflammation and your awareness of tension and gases in your gut.
Still, most studies have focused on people with IBS. A recent analysis of 35 studies in 3,452 people found that multi-strain probiotics helped reduce bloating and other symptoms of IBS.
However, the evidence is mixed. Some studies show no effect on bloating compared with dietary interventions. Success may depend on the individual, as well as the type of probiotic strains used.
If you try probiotics, choose one type and stick with it for at least 4 weeks to determine whether it has a positive effect.
Probiotics may improve the bacterial environment in your gut, which may counteract bloating — especially if you have IBS.
7. Eat smaller portions, and limit salty and fatty foods
Eating large volumes of food may contribute to bloating in two ways.
First, large portions may stretch your stomach and lead to the pooling of gases and solids along your gut, causing feelings of fullness and bloating.
Second, if the foods contain nondigestible or poorly digestible carbs, the more that’s in your colon, the more gases your body will produce.
Additionally, a high salt intake has been found to contribute to water retention in the gut and feelings of bloating.
Finally, high amounts of fats in your intestine may retain gas and increase the sensation of bloating. This may be why people often report feeling bloated after fatty meals.
Reducing your portion sizes and limiting your intake of foods high in salt and fat, such as fried foods, fast food, chips, chocolate, and confectiony, may help reduce symptoms of bloating.
Large meals and foods high in salt or fat may contribute to bloating by increasing the production and retention of gas and water in your bowels.
Limiting your portion sizes and your intake of foods high in salt and fat may relieve symptoms.
8. Try peppermint oil
Peppermint has a long history as a digestive aid and in supplement form, it has been found to reduce symptoms of bloating and distension in people with IBS.
In a 4-week study in 72 people with IBS, taking 180 mg of peppermint oil capsules — which were designed for sustained release in the intestine — 3 times a day resulted in significant improvements in these symptoms.
However, research on peppermint oil for bloating is very limited. More studies are needed, and positive results may depend on specific preparations.
Some evidence indicates that peppermint oil combats bloating and distension in people with IBS, but personally I find it helpful to have peppermint tea after a meal, rather than the more usual coffee which is more acidic, and even sucking a strong mint can help too.
9. Avoid swallowing too much air
Swallowing excessive amounts of air, known as aerophagia, is a possible cause of bloating, particularly in people with gut disorders like IBS.
However, swallowing excess air is more likely to cause belching rather than bloating, as swallowed gas is quickly cleared or absorbed.
However, you can limit the amount of excess air in your gut by avoiding eating too fast, chewing gum and drinking carbonated beverages
If you are naturally a quick eater, slowing down may help as well as the suggestions above.
10. Do light exercise regularly
Exercise may reduce bloating, as it helps eliminate gas from your bowels. Additionally, light exercise has been found to help reduce the feelings of bloating and fullness in your stomach that occur following a meal (45
One study in 94 people found that a 10–15-minute walk after a meal improved the feeling of bloating to a greater extent than medications (45
Other studies including people with IBS have associated activities like walking and cycling with long-term improvements in symptoms, including bloating.
Additionally, exercise can aid psychological symptoms like stress, fatigue, and depression, which themselves are linked to digestive symptoms through brain-gut interactions.
Exercise offers a host of other benefits, including weight maintenance, and is easy to incorporate into your daily routine.
Light exercise like walking or cycling may help clear gas from your bowels and stomach, thereby reducing bloating.
11. Avoid rapid weight gain
Rapid weight gain is linked to bloating for several reasons.
First, a buildup of fat in your stomach area may constrain your bowels, increasing tension and contributing to bloating. Additionally, fat may have inflammatory effects, contributing to hypersensitivity in your gut.
Finally, unwanted weight gain may cause you to focus attention on your stomach area, which may increase your perception of bloating.
If you are overweight and are experiencing bloating, trying some healthy strategies for weight loss — such as exercise and limiting portion sizes — may be beneficial.
Rapid weight gain may contribute to bloating by increasing bowel tension, inflammation, and mental focus on your stomach area. Conversely, weight loss may help reduce these effects.
12. Retrain your abdominal muscles
Recent research has shown that some people’s experience of bloating and distension is caused by an abnormal muscle reflex.
Normally, when you eat, your diaphragm rises and the front wall of your stomach contracts to create more space without pushing out your belly.
However, in some people the opposite happens, whereby the front wall of your stomach protrudes and your diaphragm descends, meaning that there’s less room.
It’s unclear why this occurs, but it can be fixed through biofeedback. This treatment involves training your abdominal muscles correctly while getting visual feedback via electrodes, eventually leading to an automatic correction of your muscle contractions.
In one study including 45 people, several biofeedback training sessions resulted in a 40% reduction in the feeling of distension and a 1-inch (2.5-cm) reduction in waist circumference.
Some people’s bloating may be caused by an abnormal muscle reflex. Biofeedback is a therapy that helps retrain these muscles to relax and relieves the symptoms of bloating and distension.
Bloating is a common condition caused by a wide range of dietary, lifestyle, and health factors.
Maintaining a healthy diet and weight, promoting good bowel habits, and getting regular exercise may help reduce symptoms. If bloating is caused by specific foods in your diet, avoiding or eliminating these foods can help.
If you have IBS, a low FODMAP diet — and potentially products like probiotics or peppermint oil — may be helpful.
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