Bloating is a major problem for a lot of people. It can range from mild discomfort to great pain. Occasionally it can be sign of a big problem like IBS, Crohn's disease, allergies, autoimmune disease or cancer, but most often bloating and the gas that causes it are tied to what and how you eat. About half of the gas in your digestive tract is from swallowed air (usually from eating too quickly), the rest is produced by the bacteria, yeasts and fungi that reside in your gut. Slow digestion and the range of microbes living in your digestive tract can cause unwanted gas to build up and create bloating. Eating too much, eating too fast and eating rich, fatty foods can all make this worse. Of course, we also know that there are specific foods that are notorious for causing gas and bloating; foods like beans and lentils, fruit, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sugary foods, dairy products and whole grains all have the ability to cause severe discomfort for some people. However, I am going to tell you today, that it isn't the food that's the problem! The issue lies in your gut.
Gas and bloating are problems with inefficient digestion and poor eating habits:
Low stomach acid causes inadequate digestion of proteins, so food sits for too long in the stomach and can cause carbohydrates to begin fermenting
Low enzyme secretion means an inability to break down proteins, sugars and starches efficiently
Imbalanced gut bacteria (your micro biome) means you are feeding bad microbes which create much more gas and waste products
Slow intestinal motility causes constipation which is sure to make you bloated
Eating too quickly or eating too much puts a lot of stress on the digestive tract
Eating when you are stressed, in a hurry or preoccupied can reduce the amount of stomach acid and enzymes that are secreted, impairing digestion
What Your Gut Microbiome Has to do With It:
The human microbiota consists of 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells harbored by each person-primarily in the gut; the human micro biome consists of the genes these cells harbor and is a sort of catalogue of your gut inhabitants. Scientists have long known and understood that there is a strong connection between an individual's health and their micro biome. In fact, in the 1690's, a man named Antonio Van Leewenhoek studied microbes from both oral and fecal samples of healthy and sick people and noticed vast differences in the populations of good and bad bacteria. This tells us that there are things that can disrupt the environment of our guts and that this disruption may have consequences to our health.
Poor diet, high stress and medications like antibiotics are just some of the factors that can create a disharmonious environment in your digestive tract. Studies have shown that an altered gut ecosystem is frequently associated with poor digestive health, increased susceptibility to infections as well as other diseases like obesity, metabolic syndromes, allergies and other inflammatory diseases. Also, this altered ecosystem may not be so easy to correct; another study showed that 3-4 days after treatment with a broad spectrum antibiotic like ciprofloxacin, the gut mircobiota experiences a decrease in the number and diversity of microbes, many of these will fail to return ever and for some species, reestablishment can be affected for up to 4 years following treatment.
What do we do about this? There is evidence that taking a multi-strain probiotic (contains 10 or more different strains of microbes in a dose of 10 billion or more per capsule) along with different types of fermented foods (see #4 below) is very effective in the relief of bloating and that it can begin to help repopulate good microbes in the digestive tract. While we still need larger and better-designed studies, anecdotally, I've personally experienced and seen with my clients great results from taking a range of different probiotic and prebiotic foods. The foods you eat do have a big impact on correcting your gut issues; specific bacteria have jobs to break down polysaccharides and make new vitamins to benefit our health while others feed off the junk foods we eat and create havoc in the gut. We want to build up the numbers of beneficial microbes and this will help to bring down the communities of harmful microbes and help us to find relief in our digestive tract and better absorb the nutrients in our food.
The following are some possible signs that you may have an imbalance in your gut micro biome:
digestive issues of all kinds
food allergies and sensitivities
SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
Here are some simple strategies you can implement today that will go a long way toward helping you restore harmony in your belly!
Chew your food! This seems like a simple idea, but putting it into practice can be a challenge. Take your time and chew your food thoroughly! Not only will you be mixing your food with more saliva that contains enzymes that break down carbohydrates as well as producing leptin and ghrelin (hormones that manage appetite), but you will also slow down how quickly you eat. Slowing down will help you to eat smaller portions and not overwhelm your digestive tract.
Don't eat when you feel stressed. Your digestive tract cannot produce enough hydrochloric acid or enzymes needed for digestion when you feel anxious, worried or are in a hurry. Take a few moments to create a calm, relaxed environment, take a few deep belly breaths and pause to look at and appreciate the food you are about to eat. If you can't relax at that moment, it might be better to hold off on your meal and go for a short walk or do something else to clear your mind. Manage your stress by getting enough sleep and taking time to care for yourself. We are all living pretty stressful lives and your body's coping mechanism for dealing with being on the go is to produce cortisol. Excess cortisol can keep your body in a fight or flight mode for very long periods of time. This has a negative impact on digestion and gut health by slowing down digestion, not producing enough of the acids and enzymes needed for digestion, and damaging and killing the good bacteria in our guts! Your enteric nervous system is located in your gut and it is in communication with your brain. Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach before a big event? That's your enteric nervous system at work, and when it is activated through a stress response, this is what can cause problems like constipation, bloating and diarrhea.
Try food combining. Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are all digested at different points in our digestive tracts. Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth and then continues in the intestines. Protein needs the high acid content of your stomach to begin breaking down, and fats are emulsified with bile in the intestines and further broken down when lipase enzymes begin to do their work. Protein actually stays in the stomach for about 3-4 hours before hydrochloric acid has broken it down enough to continue into the intestines, however, if you aren't producing enough hydrochloric acid, this can take much longer. If you have eaten both meat and a starch at the same meal (spaghetti with meat sauce or steak and potatoes) then the carbohydrate portion of the meal is going to begin to ferment. Compared to proteins, carbohydrates move through the stomach in under an hour, so if you are having a difficult time digesting complex meals, food combining can be very helpful. You may find this chart helpful https://beyondhealth.com/media/wysiwyg/kadro/articles/food-Combining-chart.pdf or you can also work with a Nutritionist or Naturopath for more individualized assistance.
Make it a priority to take a probiotic supplement each day and incorporate more fermented foods into your diet on a regular basis. Foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and pickles have been fermented as a way to preserve them. This type of fermentation does not contain any vinegar; it is a natural fermentation and the benefit of eating these foods is that many will provide your gut with a variety of beneficial microorganisms as well as helping to make the food more digestible and nutrient-dense. One of the many jobs of good bacteria is to produce vitamins and make them more available to our body. Be sure to find these in a refrigerator section of your local health store or try making them yourself! I have a recipe for an easy sauerkraut that can be used to pickle just about any veggie combination you would like. http://flourish-nutrition.com/recipe/simple-sauerkraut Also, sprouting seeds, nuts and legumes is another way to make the nutrients more available and easier to digest. http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/sprouting/how-to-sprout-black-beans/
Nature has provided us with many foods, herbs, spices and essential oils that can assist us in an acute situation of bloating, gas or other digestive upset. Try them as a tea, chewing a small amount whole or use 1 drop of therapeutic grade essential oil such as Young Living* to get fast relief. You won't believe how well these remedies can work!
1 tsp fresh grated ginger steeped in hot water for 3 minutes for bloating, gas or nausea. Add 1/2 tsp raw honey.
Chew a pinch of fennel seeds for bloating and gas.
Chewing peppermint leaves or make a peppermint tea for bloating, heartburn and nausea. Sip slowly.
The bottom line for all of this is that it is not the food itself, but our lifestyle choices that bring about digestive issues. My reasoning is that if we create the problem with our poor choices, then implementing some new and better choices will help to correct the problem. I can speak from experience that healing your gut will open you up to being able to eat just about any food again (in moderation) and I can help you achieve that as well!