What causes bloating?
Common causes of bloated stomach include menstruation, high sodium diets, carbonated drinks, fast eating, high fiber foods, and food intolerance.
Bloated Belly Causes and Home Remedies
There are simple solutions to bloating. Let's break down each common cause and what we can do to reduce bloating.
1) Periods – During menses a woman’s body produces chemical signals called prostaglandins which cause the uterus to contract and help shed the uterine lining. These prostaglandins are not specific to the smooth muscle of the uterus but also to smooth muscle in the pelvic region as well including the digestive system. Prostaglandins released during menses will cause your digestive system to contract as well, causing bloating, bowel movements, and gasiness.
How to Reduce Bloating from Periods:
Over the counter drugs that inhibit prostaglandin production and therefore the cramps, gassiness, and bloating associated with menses include aspirin, ibuprofen, and indomethacin.
2) High sodium –Sodium causes you to feel bloated because high sodium diets will cause your body to hold onto water. The excess water contributes to feelings of bloating and weight gain.
How to Reduce Bloating from Sodium and Salt:
Avoid high sodium foods, condiments, and seasoning to avoid gaining water weight.
3) Carbonated drinks – Carbonated drinks actually have carbon dioxide dissolved within the drink as bicarbonate. When carbonated drinks are agitated and heated up to body temperature by the digestive system the dissolved bicarbonate will be released as carbon dioxide, causing bloat. You can observe the same effect by leaving a can of soda in a car on a hot day. Heat causes the dissolved bicarbonate to emerge as a gas. Shaking a can of soda and opening it will have the same effect.
How to Reduce Bloating from Carbonated Drinks:
Decrease carbonated drinks intake.
4) Eating too fast – Eating too much will cause your stomach to be distended as it cannot process large meals quickly enough. The food has to be mechanically and enzymatically digested before it goes on. Eating too fast impairs mechanical digestion by your mouth which means your stomach will have to work harder to break down food. Food will remain in the stomach longer which may contribute to indigestion and heartburn as well.
How to Reduce Bloating from Eating too Quickly:
Eat smaller meals more often to reduce bloating and indigestion. Instead of eating 2-3 large meals daily eat 4-6 smaller meals. Be sure to chew thoroughly and eat slowly which helps digestion. Eating slowly also helps you eat less as it allows signals from food being in your stomach to fully register with the brain and reduce your appetite.
5) High fiber foods like kale –Foods that causing bloating include fibrous foods because they are high in FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols). A low FODMAP diet is recommended to patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome to reduce gassiness and bloating. Fermentable oligo, di, and monosaccharides are carbohydrates that don’t get absorbed by the body and instead ferment in your large intestine, creating gas.
How to Reduce Bloating from Foods:
Digestive enzymes can help break down carbohydrates and reduce gasiness and bloating.
6) Food intolerances – One of the most commonly known food items in the list of high FODMAP foods is dairy that has the disaccharide lactose. Most people become lactose intolerant as they get older because they no longer produce enough lactase digestive enzyme to break down and absorb the lactose within dairy products. Without lactase your body is unable to absorb lactose it makes its way to the gut where your gut bacteria ferment lactose and produce gas, causing bloating.
How to Reduce Bloating from Food Intolerances:
Consuming lactose-free dairy products such as kefir will reduce bloating if you are lactose intolerant. You can also take digestive enzyme supplements containing lactase. Other common examples of high FODMAP foods are garlic onions, and beans.
Interestingly beans contain a digestive enzyme inhibitor (amylase inhibitor) that prevents the breakdown and absorption of its carbohydrates. The bean carbohydrates then make it past the small intestine into the large intestine where they ferment and create gas. Some over the counter supplements like white kidney bean extract use this inhibitor to support weight loss by blocking carbohydrate and calorie absorption with the side effect of causing gas.
Less commonly known foods high in FODMAPs are artificial sweeteners. They are categorized under Polyols in the FODMAP list. These are sweeteners such as malitol, sorbitol, sylitol, erythritol, and isomalt. The reason why is that polyols cause bloating is because they are actually a laxative. When consumed they are not absorbed by the body and remain in the lumen of the large intestine, which keeps water inside your bowels. Small amounts are okay but if taken excessively they will cause diarrhea. This is how the osmotic laxative polyethylene glycol (Miralax®) works.
A full list of high FODMAP foods is available here: