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What is bloating?

Bloating
Regularly getting a feeling of fullness or tightness in your tummy? It’s likely your stomach is bloated. Find out exactly what bloating is and more here
Bloating can make you feel sluggish and uncomfortable. Find out more about the common triggers and whether changing your lifestyle may help.

We need to eat, but the after-effects of a heavy meal aren’t always so enjoyable – in fact, nearly one in three of us experience an uncomfortable, bloated feeling after meals.1

This guide will explain what bloating is, some of the common causes, and give you the information you need to tackle it.

What is bloating?

Bloating is a feeling of fullness or tightness in your tummy, usually caused by a buildup of gas in the gastrointestinal tract.2  Bloating is often uncomfortable but in most cases can be tackled easily.

Symptoms of bloating can include:3,4
  • an uncomfortable, full stomach
  • tummy pain or discomfort
  • stomach cramps
  • burping and passing wind more than normal

What causes bloating?

Bloating is typically caused by excess air or gas inside the gut, but this is not always the case. There are many common causes of bloating, but it can be caused by certain foods or drinks, such as vegetables or carbonated drinks, or even digestive issues, such as constipation.3 Bloating that does not go away can be a sign of something more serious, which is why you should speak to your doctor if this is an ongoing issue.

Hormones and bloating

A 2019 study reported that women are more likely to experience a bloated stomach than men, and that their symptoms were more likely to be severe, versus the symptoms that men experience.

This is thought to be caused by hormones, particularly during both the premenstrual phase of the period, as well as during menopause. Fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone levels prompt cells to retain more salt and water, resulting in a bloated sensation.6

How to reduce bloating

Bloating is most often caused by diet, so if you are experiencing frequent and uncomfortable bloating, the best thing to do is change your diet.3 The first step should be to keep a food diary, so you know which foods are potentially causing a bloated stomach. Then, work towards cutting down or removing these problem foods from your diet.
Still wondering how to get rid of bloating? You could also try the following:

1. Be cautious with gas-promoting foods

Several studies have indicated that people who experience frequent or severe bloating should avoid high FODMAP foods, as these foods are not digested in the stomach and are then fermented by the gut bacteria in the colon.6,7,8 Gas is a common byproduct of this process.

Examples of FODMAP foods include:9
  • cruciferous veg, like broccoli and cabbage
  • baked beans
  • dried fruit
  • pulses and lentils
  • certain seeds, including fennel and sunflower
  • dairy foods
However, if you are thinking about switching to a low FODMAP diet, you should consult a dietitian. FODMAP foods are good for the gut microbiome, and reducing or entirely removing FODMAP foods from your diet can have negative impacts on the gut microbiome.10

The trick is to build up your tolerance slowly, gradually increasing portion size so you don’t overwhelm your gut. Try soaking beans before cooking and lightly cook vegetables before eating to reduce gas. Some gas-promoting foods, like sugar and artificial sweeteners, should be avoided altogether.

2. Increase your fibre carefully

Fibre is incredibly important as part of a healthy, balanced diet – but a study found that high-fibre foods are frequently reported to worsen a bloated stomach.11,12  If you’re increasing your fibre intake for other reasons, try to increase it gradually over time.

3. Balance your gut bacteria

Your gut microbiome sometimes needs a little helping hand. Try introducing ‘friendly’ good bacteria into your diet through fermented foods and drinks, such as kefir and sauerkraut. A 2019 study found that these fermented foods were helpful in reducing the number of bacteria in your gut that are associated with bloating.13

4. Avoid swallowing extra air

A 2023 study found that bloating is a symptom of swallowing ‘extra’ air, or aerophagia. Aerophagia can be triggered by any of the following:14 
  • anxiety
  • rapid eating
  • chewing gum
If you suspect aerophagia is the cause of your bloating, there’s good news! Aerophagia is thought to be a behaviour rather than a condition. This means that psychotherapies, such as counselling, can help.

If you’re in need of further advice, we’ve got a whole page about how to reduce bloating. But if you suspect food intolerances or a gastrointestinal condition, like coeliac disease, make sure to see your GP for testing.

How to reduce bloating

If you’re experiencing bloating, there are a few different things you could try to alleviate your symptoms. 
  • Try activated charcoal – 1g of activated charcoal at least 30 minutes before a meal and another 1g after the meal can ease excess gas, says the European Food Safety Authority.15
  • Try peppermint oil – a comprehensive 2019 study in the BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies found that peppermint oil was shown to be safe and effective in adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).16
  • Go for a short walk – a 2021 study concluded that a 10-15 minute walk could be effective in relieving the symptoms of bloating. What’s more, you don’t need any equipment or medication to do this.17
  • Try kiwi extract – a 2014 study found that kiwi promotes gastric motility and that those who took it in a randomised trial found a significant reduction in bloating.18
  • Consider digestive enzymes – a 2023 study found that products containing digestive enzymes were effective at reducing post-meal bloating.19

When to see a GP

Typically, bloating isn’t usually anything to worry about, but can sometimes be a sign of more serious health conditions.20  If you have tried the tips on how to reduce bloating above and your symptoms persist, you should speak to your GP.

You should see your GP if your bloating continues or you also have unexplained weight loss, blood in your stools, or persistent diarrhoea.

The final say

Understanding the relationship between bloating and gut health can be difficult, as there are a lot of factors. If you’re experiencing frequent or painful bloating, a good first step is to start a food journal to track which foods, if any, are causing the bloating.

Before making any drastic changes to your diet, make sure that you consult either your GP or a dietitian (or both).

If you’re looking to understand bloating in more detail, we’ve got more information on what causes bloating and how to reduce bloating.

Sources

1. Brian E. Lacy, David Cangemi, Maria Vazquez-Roque. Management of Chronic Abdominal Distension and Bloating. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2021. Available from: https://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(20)30433-X/fulltext
2. Micaela Atkins, Helen Burton Murray, Kyle Staller, Assessment and management of disorders of gut–brain interaction in patients with eating disorders, Journal of Eating Disorders. 2023. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/nmo.14333
3. NHS Choices. Bloating [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bloating/
4. Said, Hyder MD*; Nee, Judy MD†; Iturrino, Johanna MD†; Rangan, Vikram MD†; Singh, Prashant MD‡; Lembo, Anthony MD†; Ballou, Sarah PhD†. Clinical Characteristics of Patients Presenting With Bloating as a Predominant Symptom. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2023. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/jcge/abstract/2023/09000/clinical_characteristics_of_patients_presenting.13.aspx
5. Mari, A., Abu Backer, F., Mahamid, M. et al. Bloating and Abdominal Distension: Clinical Approach and Management. Adv Therapy. 2019. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12325-019-00924-7
6. F. Fernández-Bañares, M. Rosinach, et al. Sugar malabsorption in functional abdominal bloating: a pilot study on the long-term effect of dietary treatment. Clin Nutr. 2006. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0261561405002219
7. J.R. Biesiekierski, E.D. Newnham, P.M. Irving, et al. Gluten causes gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without celiac disease: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/ajg/abstract/2011/03000/gluten_causes_gastrointestinal_symptoms_in.21.aspx
8. W.D. Chey, J.G. Hashash, L. Manning, et al. AGA clinical practice update on the role of diet in irritable bowel syndrome: expert review. Gastroenterology. 2022. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016508521040841
9. FODMAP Food List [Internet]. IBS Diets. 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 13]. Available from: https://www.ibsdiets.org/fodmap-diet/fodmap-food-list/
10. Baha Moshiree, Douglas Drossman, Aasma Shaukat. AGA Clinical Practice Update on Evaluation and Management of Belching, Abdominal Bloating, and Distention: Expert Review. Gastroenterology. 2023. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016508523008235
11. Barber TM, Kabisch S, Pfeiffer AFH, Weickert MO. The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients. 2020. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/10/3209
12. Fernando Azpiroz, Juan–R. Malagelada. Abdominal Bloating. Gastroenterology. 2005. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S001650850501348X
13. Yılmaz İ, Dolar ME, Özpınar H. Effect of administering kefir on the changes in fecal microbiota and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease: A randomized controlled trial. Turk J Gastroenterol. 2019. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6428516
14. Ambartsumyan L, Di Lorenzo C. Aerophagia. InPediatric Neurogastroenterology: Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders and Disorders of Gut Brain Interaction in Children. 2023. Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-031-15229-0_39
15. Ambartsumyan L, Di Lorenzo C. Aerophagia. InPediatric Neurogastroenterology: Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders and Disorders of Gut Brain Interaction in Children. 2023. Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-031-15229-0_39
16. Alammar N, Wang L, Saberi B, Nanavati J, Holtmann G, Shinohara RT, Mullin GE. The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6337770/
17. Hosseini-Asl MK, Taherifard E, Mousavi MR. The effect of a short-term physical activity after meals on gastrointestinal symptoms in individuals with functional abdominal bloating: a randomized clinical trial. Gastroenterol Hepatol Bed Bench. 2021. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8035544/
18. Anna Foley, MBBS, FRACP, Rebecca Burgell, MBBS, FRACP, Jacqueline S. Barrett, MNutDiet, PhD, and Peter R. Gibson, MD, FRACP. Management Strategies for Abdominal Bloating and Distension. 2014. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991532/
19. Jennifer Martin-Biggers. A digestive enzyme and herbal dietary supplement reduces bloating in a single use in healthy adults: A randomized, placebo-controlled, cross over study. 2024. Available at: https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-3416887/v1 
 

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