Abdominal bloating is very common, and many people don’t even realize that it’s not normal. Digestive disorders have become commonplace, but they are not normal. If your diet and lifestyle are healthy, normal digestion means no heartburn, no acid reflux, no bloating, and fully formed stools several times a day. Unfortunately, Americans usually have some digestive issues.
I am asked all the time: “Why am I always bloated?” The answer is typically in your diet, your digestive enzymes, or in your microbiome. Let’s look at these.
The standard American diet is as far from healthy as it has ever been. Fast food, carbohydrate rich foods, refined flours, sugar, unhealthy fats and loads of artificial preservatives will ruin your digestion. Eating out is one of the quickest ways to mess up your gut. Learn to shop and cook your own food!
Optimal nutrition includes 5-10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. And by vegetable, I don’t mean ketchup and potatoes. This is high fiber, nutrient dense fruits and veggies that give you and your microbiome the nutrition you need. Fiber and water are crucial for optimal digestion. One without the other isn’t very good. But both work together to improve the movement of food through the digestive tract, which decreases how much gas in in your intestine.
First of all, in regard to nutrition, cut out all dairy and gluten. These two foods are responsible for the majority of food-related bloating. This means milk, cream, cheese, and ice cream. Gluten is found in bread, pasta, breaded foods, crackers and pretzels. If this seems impossible to you, relax. It really isn’t hard at all! Simply dedicate an hour or so to looking up what foods have gluten and then plan how you will substitute. Commit to taking a full 2 weeks to go fully gluten and dairy free. You may be amazed at how much better your bloating is!
Another reason for bloating is poor digestion. Up towards the top of the digestive tract, your stomach makes acid and your pancreas and gallbladder secrete digestive enzymes and bile acids to digest your food. If you take acid reducers, you are guaranteed to not have normal amounts of stomach acid. As a result, your food is not predigested in the stomach, so your small intestine has to work harder to digest the food. This causes fermentation in the small intestine, which causes gas. So if you have acid reflux, your goal should be adjusting your lifestyle until you can get off acid reducing medication. We are designed to have a stomach full of acid. It’s just supposed to stay there and not come up the esophagus. So get off meds as soon as you can!
Many of us don’t make enough digestive enzymes. There are a number of good products available to help us digest our food better. This can decrease the amount of fermentable carbohydrates available to the bacteria in our intestine, resulting in less gas production.
Finally, the microbiome down in your colon is much more complex than we ever realized. Did you know you have a trillion microbes in your gut and they have a profound impact on not only digestion, but overall inflammation, cancer risk and brain health? Eating fermented foods is a great way to boost your healthy microbiome. Functional medicine practitioners can do stool analysis tests to look at how balanced your microbiome is. Probiotics are another valuable tool for boosting the health of your microbiome, as well as other products such as colostrum polypeptides, L-glutamine and larch arabinogalactan.
If you address all these issues and still have bloating, see a functional medicine practitioner. There are stool tests that can assess for dysbiosis, parasites and poor digestion, as well as blood tests for food sensitivities. Believe it or not, sometimes some very healthy food may be irritating your intestine and need to be temporarily eliminated. Functional testing will identify what is affecting you and allow your practitioner to customize dietary and supplement recommendations.
Don’t just live with bloating, figure it out!