Abdominal bloating – the top 12 causes

Digestive systemAbdominal bloating is one of the most common complaints that I get from my patients. Many people seem to feel that discomfort, sluggish and bloating is a normal part of everyday life. However, this is definitely not the case. Bloating is a sign that something is wrong and that your digestive tract is not coping well.
So what exactly is abdominal bloating? I find there is usually 2 different forms of abdominal bloating that my patients explain. Abdominal bloating can involve feeling full, sluggish, soreness and swollen in the abdominal area.  This form of bloating can feel as though there is a lot of pressure inside the digestive tract. Other people explain bloating that their abdomen is ‘sticking out and making them look pregnant’. This is something I hear a lot and does not necessarily cause discomfort. It is likely that this type of bloating is not related to digestive issues.
IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome is the most common diagnosis given for people with bloating. This diagnosis is usually given once other more obvious health concerns such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or colitis have been ruled out.

So here are the top 12 causes of abdominal bloating that I see in my practice

1- Dysbiosis
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance between the good and bad strains of bacteria in the digestive tract. A healthy digestive system will contain between 2.5-5kg of bacteria and this should be made up of around 75% of the ‘good’ guys with 25% of the ‘bad’ strains. These bacteria have many important functions such as balancing our immune system, extracting nutrients and helping us to breakdown our food. Too many of the bad bugs can lead to abdominal bloating and discomfort.
2- Food intolerances
Food intolerances are incredibly common, largely due to our modern western diet, the processing of our foods, overeating of foods that we are not designed to eat and immune system problems. The most common food intolerances include wheat, gluten, yeast, soy and dairy. Food intolerance testing is the best way to determine if there are foods affecting your health, and something I do with most of my patients with poor digestive health. Having a blood test done and a list of food based reactions gives a clear list of what foods your body is not dealing with.
3- Poor stomach acid secretions
Our stomach acid secretions are vitally important to our whole digestive function. Food once swallowed is sent to our stomach and mixes with our food to break it into smaller particles and primarily digest proteins. Poor protein digestion can occur if stomach acids are not up to scratch. It is our stomach acid levels that are used to ‘kick start’ the whole digestive process further along the digestive tract therefore this can lead to a whole host of symptoms.
4- Poor bile flow
Our bodies secrete bile from the gall bladder during our meal to aid fat digestion. Bile is also used as a natural laxative to promote regular bowel movements. A sluggish bile flow can lead to feeling nauseas, bloated and sluggish after fatty foods or alcohol.
5- Irregular bowel movements or constipation
In an ideal world we would have a bowel movement every morning on waking. This is often not the case, and in part is due to our rushed lifestyle. We literally do not give ourselves time in the mornings to get the urge to go! And once we miss this window, it can be hours or days until we get the urge to go again. Abdominal bloating, pain, nausea and general feeling of unwell all result from irregular bowel movements.
6- High sugar intake
A high sugar diet causes acidity and an inflammatory reaction in the digestive tract. Sugar also feeds bacteria and yeast, so dysbiosis can be made a lot worse in people with a high sugar diet. Our bodies are not designed to breakout the high levels of found in the modern western diet and it will take its toll after a while. Bloating is a common side effect of a high sugar diet.
7- High grain intake
Gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats are notorious for causing digestive discomfort and bloating. Our digestive system is just is not designed to cope with the high levels of processed grains that are found in a western diet like breads, cereals, pastas, cakes, muffins etc. While we should be able to tolerate some, a variety of grains should be incorporated into our diets, such as rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and amaranth. These more exotic ‘grains’ are not actually grains at all, but seeds that are much more easily digested and can take the place of conventional grains. Cutting back grains and replacing with extra vegetables is a great way to reduce bloating.
8- Overeating
Simply eating too much can lead to bloating and discomfort. Our stomachs are only as big as a closed fist when empty but standard portion sizes are often much bigger than this. Overeating places a huge strain on our digestive system and is bound to lead to abdominal bloating, gas and sluggishness.
9- Inadequate movement/activity
Our large and small intestines rely heavily on movement to move through food. A sedentary lifestyle, desk job, long periods of time sitting during travel and lack of exercise all mean that there may not be enough abdominal movement to stimulate digestion. Yoga, pilates or even a gentle walk after lunch are great ways to get your digestive system moving.
10- Hormonal fluctuations
Of course, sometimes bloating is not actually caused by the digestive system. Women are prone to feeling bloating and uncomfortable both premenstrually and during menstruation. This is both due to fluid retention and a sluggish digestive system as we are more prone to constipation premenstrually and looser bowel movements with our period.
11- Spinal misalignment
This is one of the most overlooked causes  of abdominal bloating. Your digestive tract is a continuous tube of muscle that from one end to the other. In just the same way that spinal misalignment, joint injuries and osteoarthritis can lead to nerve irritation and consequent muscle spasm or weakness, so too can be the effect on the digestive tract. Many of my clients report significant improvements after chiropractic corrections to offending areas of their spine. Having your spine checked for vertebral misalignment is something I always recommend as part of a comprehensive approach to abdominal bloating.
When you are in a constant state of stress, rushed and worn out your body actually diverts blood away from your digestive system and to the other muscles of the body. Without blood supply your digestive system slows down and becomes inefficient. taking time to de-stress and slow down is absolutely vital for your health and in this case your digestion.
For further help please make a time to come and see me at Better Health ph 02 9518 0722
Hayley Stockbridge Better Health Naturopath

Hayley Stockbridge Better Health Naturopath