5 Reasons Behind Your Bloated Belly
Does Your Bloated Belly Make You Appear Larger Than Life?
Are you chronically bloated?
Do you have a tummy bump that makes you appear larger than you actually are, and hides all of your dietary and exercise efforts?
Are you sick and tired of your uncomfortable belly determining your wardrobe and standing in the way of the body you want (and deserve)?
Well then, let’s chat about how to change that.
Finding out What’s Causing Your Bloating
There can be many reasons behind your belly bloat which yields some pros and cons.
The most obvious con, of course, is the challenge in diagnosis. As quoted by one of my lecturers during my Master’s degree in Nutrition: “There is an infinite number of insults that can occur to our biology, producing a finite number of responses” – Dr. M. Ash. In other words, when taking into account genetic, environmental and psychological influences, combined with the vast array of systems, nutrients, hormones, etc. within our body, there becomes an infinite combination of problems that can occur within our biology.
As symptoms are generally confined to something physically visual or painful, we only carry the capacity to produce a limited number of symptoms, therefore leading to a lot of identical symptoms for opposing problems. This leads to a lot of overlap, particularly concerning bloating, and is the reason why misdiagnosis is so common.
On the bright side, this array of diagnoses means that if one method hasn’t worked for you, there are several other avenues to explore and, in fact, there is a long list of interventions that go way deeper than diet and exercise to fix your bloating woes
Today I’m going to run you through a brief list of some common underlying reasons that may be contributing to your bloated belly.
5 Reasons Behind Your Belly Bloat
- Bacterial Imbalances – Bacterial imbalances, scientifically referred to as “intestinal dysbiosis”, has come to be recognized as a key contributor to digestive disturbances1,2. Imbalanced bacteria can result in increased colonic fermentation and gas production3, and produce puffy and uncomfortable feeling and visible distention in your abdomen.
Numerous factors can contribute to intestinal dysbiosis, including the use of antibiotics, diet, birthing mode, breastfeeding, pathogenic infections, etc.4,5. The good news is that it can be easy to identify and eradicate ongoing exposures in your life, and there’s plenty of testing available to explore your current bacterial balance and pinpoint areas of focus. Methods for improving your bacterial status include eradication of problematic bacterial populations using dietary alterations to modify and continually support a healthy intestinal environment6,7, and the use of carefully selected prebiotics and probiotics to repopulate commensal bacteria8.
- Food sensitivities/intolerances – Did you know there’s a huge difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity or intolerance? Many people react to certain foods (commonly gluten9,10 and lactose11,12,13 without actually being allergic, and therefore consume these regularly due to lack of awareness. Since these two culprits are in a huge percentage of foods (even ones you wouldn’t expect, like deli meats and soup!), you may be consuming them way more frequently than you’re aware of, which could be contributing to an on-going feeling of bloating, lethargy, acne, and other digestive upsets. Reactions to foods can be caused by compounds that you may not know about or expect, such as histamine14,15 or even fructose16,17, so keeping a food/symptom diary can act as a highly useful tool for identifying what foods are setting off your symptoms.
- Hormones gone haywire – Hormones have a lot to do with our digestive system. In fact, there’s an entire hormonal system operating within your gut known scientifically as the “enteroendocrine system”. These hormones play a huge role in the biological systems involved in appetite regulation, blood sugar control18, weight gain19, and even – you guessed it – digestive symptoms20! This is one of the reasons for which women experience bloating surrounding menstruation, and if thrown out of whack can contribute to chronic bloating and distention.
Hormonal dysregulation can stem from numerous dysfunctions including thyroid dysfunction, stress exposures and adrenal activity, or even excess fat in your midsection which can disrupt hormonal signaling. Measuring serum hormone levels through simple blood testing can be an informative indicator of whether or not this system has been thrown out of balance.
- Low stomach acid – Low stomach acid, clinically known as hypochloridia, can have a huge impact on digestive functioning. Stomach acid is important early step in helping to break down foods for further digestion. If your stomach acid is low, digestion becomes hindered and you may not be able to break down food into small enough particles to appropriately extract nutrients. This can cause digestive discomfort following a difficult to digest meal (such as those containing high levels of fats or proteins), and can contribute to bacterial overgrowths and nutrient deficiencies which further interfere with nearly all bodily functions21.
To check your stomach acid status, The Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test is the most accurate and informative method available, however can be quite costly. There’s an easy way to do an at-home “test” for low stomach acid, which involves consuming 1 tablet of Betaine HCl with pepsin in the middle of a high protein meal (such as an 8oz steak), and paying attention to the symptoms following. According to this method, if your stomach acid is sufficient, you should begin to feel a burning sensation due to the addition of excess acid. If you do not feel a burning sensation, you may have low acid levels. It’s important to be aware that although this method has been reportedly used in practice, its accuracy has not been scientifically validated. Additionally, this test should not be performed while taking any other medications unless drug-nutrient interactions have been assessed.
- Damaged intestinal lining – The intestinal lining is the barrier between the external environment and your internal biology. Intestinal cells are held together by connectors called tight junctions, which ensure your intestinal tract acts as a selectively permeable barrier, appropriately allowing nutrients to pass into your body while keeping any unwanted substances out. Unfortunately, due to influences such as poor diet or pathogenic invasions, these tight junctions may loosen or pry apart and widen the spaces between your intestinal cells. If this occurs, foreign substances, such as whole food particles, become able to cross the intestinal barrier and enter your bloodstream. As your body does not recognize these foreign substances, the immune system becomes activated in order to defend your body from what is perceived as an attack. The result is an inflammatory response following food consumption, which can leave you feeling exhausted, uncomfortable and, contribute to digestive symptoms22,23,24.
It is worthy of noting that this is not a comprehensive list, however these reasons contributing to bloating are surprisingly common, and nearly all individuals with digestive distress are experiencing some combination of these imbalances. Although other individuals may possess additional or more serious dysfunctions, this list provides a good jumping off point and, in fact, many people with digestive discomfort do feel better within weeks following the elimination of gluten, dairy, and pathogen-supporting foods such as sugars, and the addition of high quality probiotics and foods to support a healthy gut flora and intestinal barrier, such as high fiber vegetables and glutamine-containing proteins.
If you’re experiencing digestive distress, I encourage you to begin by exploring some of the steps outlined above and keep track of your improvements.
Good luck on your journey!! Let me know how it goes in the comments below ☺
Health begins in the gut,
MSc Personalized Nutrition; BSc Genetic & Molecular Biology
Personal Training Specialist; Canadian Register of Exercise and Fitness Professionals
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