Abdominal bloating and gas is a very common complaint that affects most people at one point or another. According to multiple epidemiological studies, approximately 10 to 30% of the general population experience bloating symptoms. (6)(10)(21) Bloating can cause significant discomfort and can even impact your quality of life. (17) The good news is that excess gas and bloating are treatable and can often be prevented using dietary modifications and various therapies when advised by a practitioner. Read on to understand what causes bloating and gas and what you can do to prevent this digestive nuisance from disrupting your life.
Did you know? A large survey of American households found that over 70% of people who experience bloating report their symptoms as moderate to severe, and 50% modify their daily activities in response to their symptoms. (22)
What causes bloating?
Caused by trapped gas in the digestive tract, bloating often presents with the uncomfortable sensation of too much gas in the abdomen or a heavy fullness. (23) In some cases, the abdomen may also appear swollen and distended. (16)
It’s normal to experience occasional gas and bloating. When gas builds up in the stomach due to swallowing air while eating, it is expelled from the mouth through belching. In contrast, excess gas in the colon, likely related to diet, is released through flatulence. (27)
Did you know? Certain populations are more likely to experience gas and bloating, particularly women and obese individuals. (23)
Gas and bloating is often a symptom of specific conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract, including:
- Celiac disease
- Dysmotility syndromes (e.g., gastroparesis, rapid gastric emptying, slow intestinal transit, constipation)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Lactose intolerance
- Small bowel or colonic obstruction
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) (9)(16)
Gas and bloating can be caused by other factors, including:
Did you know? Over 90% of individuals with IBS experience frequent gas and bloating. (23)
How to reduce bloating and excess gas
The tips outlined below can help prevent gas and bloating.
Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is a practice that involves eating slowly and without distraction. Eating too quickly or while distracted can lead to unwanted effects such as gas, bloating, and indigestion. Slowing down and eating with intention can prevent overeating, and some research has shown that mindful eating may reduce symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome. (4)(5)
When enjoying your meals, avoid distractions (e.g., cell phone, television), and bring your awareness to the flavors, textures, and temperatures of each bite. Routinely check in with your hunger levels and try to stop eating when you’re comfortably full.
To learn more about mindful eating, visit the Fullscript blog.
Identify foods that trigger gas and bloating
If you notice recurring symptoms of gas and bloating, try keeping track of your symptoms and reporting specific foods that appear to precipitate your symptoms. Several foods are known to cause stomach cramps and gas in some individuals, mainly onions, garlic, legumes, whole grains, and cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, Brussels sprouts). (9) Once you’ve identified the foods that may be causing gas, bloating, or other symptoms, try removing them from your diet for two to six weeks to see if your symptoms improve. You can then slowly reintroduce the foods one at a time, preferably a few days apart, to determine specific food triggers. (8)(13)
You can easily track foods and symptoms using a journal or mobile app, such as mySymptoms, Bowelle, and Cara Care.
Download a symptom diary for tracking food and symptoms.
Did you know? Soda and other carbonated beverages can cause excess gas and bloating. (27)
Soak, sprout, or boil foods
Preparing difficult-to-digest foods in specific ways can help break down the carbohydrates that may be causing your symptoms. (9) For example, soaking, sprouting, or fermenting beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can reduce anti-nutrient content and improve digestibility. (7)(12)(18)(20)(28)
Download a handout about anti-nutrients.
Try a low-FODMAP diet
The low-FODMAP diet is a dietary intervention often recommended for patients with IBS that restricts the intake of foods containing highly fermentable carbohydrates, including oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. For some patients, foods containing these carbohydrates can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. The low-FODMAP diet involves the temporary restriction of foods containing FODMAPs, followed by a reintroduction stage. (2) According to one study, 70% of participants maintained long-term symptom relief following completion of the low-FODMAP diet. (2) Download a handout on the low-FODMAP diet.
Avoid constipation, which can contribute to bloating, by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. (3) Fluid intake recommendations vary depending on your activity level and the climate in which you live; however, some experts recommend that men and women drink approximately 125 ounces (3.7 liters) and 91 ounces (2.7 liters) per day, respectively. (25) Plain water and herbal teas are the most hydrating options. Additionally, consuming water-rich foods, such as melon, berries, lettuce, and celery, can help you reach your daily fluid intake goals. (19)
Watch out for sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols are indigestible sugars commonly found in chewing gum and sugar-free foods. Once they reach the large intestine, sugar alcohols are fermented by gut bacteria, leading to gas and bloating for some individuals. (15) Try to avoid or minimize consumption of sugar alcohols, including mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. (15) Alternatively, the sugar alcohol erythritol has been shown to be better tolerated and doesn’t appear to cause the same symptoms as other sugar alcohols when taken in small doses. (15)
Even if you don’t feel up to it, engaging in mild physical activity, such as going for a walk or bike ride, can provide some bloating relief. According to one study, physical activity promotes intestinal gas clearance and reduces abdominal distention. The study also noted that remaining sedentary can cause gas to settle in the gut, significantly worsening symptoms related to bloating. (26)
Supplement with digestive enzymes or peppermint oil
Your digestive system naturally produces and secretes digestive enzymes; however, some individuals may not produce adequate amounts to facilitate digestion. (14) Numerous factors can cause digestive enzyme inadequacy or deficiency, such as aging, dysfunction of digestive organs, inadequate chewing, and excessive consumption of alcohol, meat, refined carbohydrates, or fat. (24) Supplementing with digestive enzymes, such as lactase, lipase, and protease, may help the digestive tract break down the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your foods. (9) Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of supplementing with multi-enzyme preparations for reducing bloating and flatulence following a meal. (14)
For digestive enzymes to work effectively, be sure to take them before consuming your meal so that they have the chance to reach your stomach before your food does. (14)
Supplementing with peppermint oil may also relieve digestive symptoms. Peppermint is known as a carminative, a type of herb that helps prevent or reduce gas formation. (1) According to numerous studies, peppermint oil supplements are superior to placebo at relieving symptoms of IBS, including gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. (1)(11)
When to see a medical practitioner
Gas and bloating can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Consult your integrative healthcare provider if you experience chronic gas and bloating or any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Worsening heartburn (16)
The bottom line
Occasional gas and bloating can be an uncomfortable problem. However, incorporating certain dietary modifications, regular physical activity, and digestive enzymes supplements can help manage your symptoms. If you struggle with chronic gas and bloating, speak to your integrative healthcare provider for a treatment plan customized to your needs.
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