Why am I bloated?
Bloating is the most common digestive symptom that people experience and also the thing that bothers people the most. It can range from a feeling of fullness or discomfort, to visible distension of the abdomen that has often been described by our patients as ‘looking like you are 20 weeks pregnant’.
One thing is for sure, bloating is something that really impacts people. It could be because the feeling is so visceral and hard to ignore, or that it often makes us feel bleh or that we’re bigger and puffier than usual.
Bloating is something that might seem simple but has many different causes. Here’s a rundown of what our naturopaths look for when it comes to bloating symptoms, to help you narrow down potential causes.
UPPER OR LOWER BLOATING
UPPER bloating is bloating that occurs above the navel. If you’re bloating up here, it usually indicates a dysfunction or irritation in the upper digestive tract. Common causes are low stomach acid or enzymes, bacterial or yeast overgrowth in the duodenum (upper small intestine) and H. Pylori infection. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO, is also a consideration if the bloating is severe and persistent.
LOWER bloating refers to bloating that happens in the lower half of the abdomen, below the navel. Causes for lower bloating are many, but often it is due to food intolerances, dysbiosis of the microbiome (see below) and maldigestion of food, which ferments and then goes on to cause bloating.
GASSY BLOATING OR FLUIDY BLOATING
It’s also worth noting that bloating can be due to gas or fluid. Gassy bloating is usually caused by fermentation of your food by the yeasts and bacteria in your microbiome. You eat a food, it ferments in a non beneficial way and then that gas gets trapped in your intestines, causing distension and discomfort.
Fluid bloating occurs due to an inflammatory reaction to food. You eat the food, the immune system is triggered to release inflammatory mediators that lead to a buildup of fluid. When you eat a food and react immediately, before it even has time to get into the small intestine, you can assume you have fluid bloating.
One of the major causes of bloating is food intolerance, but how do you know which foods? The tricky part about food intolerance is that often it isn’t obvious what the food is. Sometimes you can react to foods some of the time and not others.
One of the best ways to test out these foods is to use a food and symptom diary to track what you ewat, and any symptoms that you may have. Do you bloat every time you have pasta and bread? Then it’s likely wheat that is the issue. Do beans and lentils give you tummy trouble? They are probably fermenting too much in your gut.
Seeing a good naturopath can help you to decipher what foods are likely to be the culprit, and design a diet that will help you to overcome your bloating.
Dysbiosis occurs when the gut microbiome (the collection of 2-3kg of bacteria and yeasts living inside of you) becomes out of balance. Within your gut are hundreds of species of bacteria and yeasts will all kinds of roles. Any disruption in this leads to the species becoming out of whack, which can then lead to your food digesting and fermenting in a way that causes you symptoms like bloating, irregular bowel movements and indigestion.
To test for dysbiosis you need to do a comprehensive stool analysis, where you can look at the microbial and yeast populations. Once you have this information you can modify your diet or as we do at Shift, get a comprehensive gut healing protocol to help to restore your natural microbiome and eliminate bloating.
Lastly, one of the biggest causes of bloating is having food that is not properly pre-digested sitting in the small intestine and over-fermenting. Without adequate stomach acid, bile and pancreatic enzymes, your food will sit in the gut and ferment in a non-beneficial way. This can cause putrefaction of proteins (smelly wind is a sign of this) and lead to irritation and inflammation at the gut wall.
Check out this article on how your digestive system works, to get a better feel for why this is a problem.
Bloating is frustrating but there is so much you can do! Seeing a qualified naturopath that understands the gut and how to discover the root cause of your bloating is so important.
When our naturopaths at Shift see a client with digestive issues like bloating, they can decipher what is wrong using their clinical skills and advanced stool testing to see what the root of the problem is. They can then develop a naturopathic treatment plan to help shift any underlying causes so that you can digest your food properly and stop feeling bleh all the time!
Bloating is not normal and by taking the right steps you can find out what the cause is, and what you need to do to fix it.