Abdominal bloating occurs when unexpected gases are produced as a result of incomplete digestion or when you are not able to fully digest particular foods (food intolerance). Bloating also occurs when you eat on the run, gulping food and drink down. It can occur when you are mentally stressed, experiencing anxiety or generally uptight for any manner of stressful reasons, including inadequate sleep. Any stress that is affecting the gastrointestinal tract can contribute to bloating and it can be a painful distressing symptom that happens after almost any meal.
What triggers bloating?
Intolerance to certain foods such as:Dairy, especially cowsGrains containing gluten - wheat, rye, oats, barley etcSensitivity to fructose (from fruit)Allergic reaction to yeast and all foods and drinks containing it, including alcoholPreservatives, chemicals and colourings that are added to foodsPlants from the nightshade family - tomatoes, potatoes, capsicum, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, pimentos, paprika and pepinos.Combining foods that are not compatible such as dairy and grains or pasta, or fruits cooked with animal food. Often creative recipes are not always conducive to our digestive system despite high-rating TV programs illustrating popular cuisines and elaborate dishes and dressings!Emotional or mental stress has impact on the entire gastrointestinal function. Common examples include eating when angry, upset, or feeling anxious and pressured, especially in the work environment when meeting deadlines, eating and working at the same time.Rushing through your meal, not chewing it thoroughly, Drinking during eating.Drinking or eating cold foods can also contribute to bloating if cooked food follows.Bowel disorders such as ongoing constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel disease, colitis, diverticulitis.ParasitesInadequate digestive enzymesMenstruation - some women also feel bloated prior to their menstrual cycle. This is often hormonally related and means the hormonal system is out of balance. Fluid retention can occur, or congestion of blood flow to the uterus often described as stagnant Chi energy. Hormonal activity or imbalance can affect the gastro intestinal function.
Everyone's sensitivity and entire metabolism will vary and some people may find they can tolerate certain things mentioned here without distress - for a while - but eventually problems may arise if this becomes a regular lifestyle choice.
Obviously all the above examples of bloating would need to be treated differently. All of them can be resolved; some are easier to treat than others but natural remedies and perhaps a change in diet or lifestyle choices would be necessary.
Pharmaceutical remedies that may be prescribed often create various side effects requiring additional drugs to help with the new set of symptoms. Some of these antacids contain aluminium and other unpleasant chemicals, which only contribute to further gut derangement.
What to do?
Consider food allergy testing to see what you may be reacting to.
Check hormonal levels if you have cyclic bloating for oestrogen, progesterone, LH and FSH
Stool test - usually conducted by a functional lab at your cost. A kit will be sent out to you.
Practise yoga, tai chi and meditation to relax the mind and body, helping with underlying anxieties, mood swings and any sleep problems
See a naturopath who can formulate the correct remedies to help improve gut and bowel function, including healing of mucous membranes. You will also need the appropriate live bacteria. Many different formulas have been created to cater for particular states of dysbiosis and bowel problems.
You may require anti parasite treatments - stool tests can ascertain if parasites are present. Some parasites live in the body for decades feeding off you and breeding like crazy. You may kill off the adult parasites but there are often hundreds of eggs that are likely to hatch so remedies must be taken consistently over a period of time. They can contribute to many intestinal problems causing bloating and sometimes colicky pain and fatigue.
Once the relevant tests have been performed offering a clearer picture of what is causing the bloating, the right protocol can then be put in place with natural remedies to help you eliminate the bloating. It may mean that you have to omit one or more of your favourite foods! Often the food we crave and eat the most is the major contributor to our problem.
If you feel you don't drink enough water - like most people - then increase consumption to at least 1.5 litres a day. In hotter weather you may need up to 2 litres. Room temperature is good, never drink cold drinks.
Any woman with hormonal imbalance can be helped greatly with appropriate herbs and homoeopathics; often the pituitary is slightly out of sync and requires "fine tuning" to establish a state of equilibrium again. Adrenals may also be affected which, in turn, can contribute to fluid imbalance - remember the adrenals sit just above your kidneys. Chronic stress can be a trigger.
Include good quality oils in your diet such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil and unsalted butter.
If you realise your bloating is due to stubborn bowel function, please do not use laxatives, even if natural, as constipation can occur for many reasons. To use laxatives on an uptight stressed colon will only irritate the mucous membranes further; this in turn will make your belly bloat out with irritation. Moisturising herbs need to be included such as slippery elm and flaxseed meal. Psyllium can make bloating worse in many people. Relaxant herbs need to be included if it is stress-related. If any symptoms persist see a qualified Naturopath as there are so many herbs that could be selected for any GIT problem.
Spices can be helpful when digestive bloating occurs, especially if there is a lot of trapped air, but in moderation. I find they can be easily combined with herbal remedies and beverages, along with foods you cook.
A Soothing Bath
If constipation is the cause and you know it is triggered by stress, a hot Epsom salt bath at night with about 4-5 drops of vetiver essential oil and a handful of rock salt can help relax the viscera (intestinal organs). Epsom salts are full of magnesium and have a slight laxative effect yet are not cathartic unlike taking them orally which was prescribed decades ago. Epsom salts are too harsh to take orally. The bath is deeply relaxing and some people may even find elimination occurs the next day and the temporary bloating subsides. Make sure you do a spot test with Vetiver on the wrist first just to make sure you will not have a skin reaction. Again, it really depends on the type of colonic function you have, and why you are constipated. This is more suitable for an uptight or spastic colon or for those with a very narrow colon.
Next month we'll look at other holistic approaches to eliminating bloating.
Sydney-based Lyn Craven is a practitioner of naturopathy, nutrition, medical herbalism, Bowen therapy, Reiki energy healing and meditation, and is a corporate health presenter/consultant with 19 years' experience in natural therapies. www.lyncravencorporatehealth-naturopath.com
Disclaimer: Information presented in this column is not intended as medical advice but to advance the understanding of holistic nutrition and lifestyle and its place in a balanced approach to health. Readers are encouraged to be guided by their own healthcare professionals.
Lyn Craven is a practitioner of Naturopathy, Bowen Therapy, Energy/Reiki therapist, meditation teacher and Corporate Health Consultant. She is also a health researcher/writer and has produced a meditation CD assisting people to manage anxiety and stress. She runs a private practice in Sydney and can be contacted on +61403 231 804