What's causing my bloated belly?
There are many reasons as to why we suffer from bloating. Digestive dysfunction (dyspepsia or indigestion) is one of the main reasons as to why this is occurring but there are many more contributing factors.
For some people, this is an all-day problem that starts the moment they wake up (with a nice flat tummy) and gradually gets worse throughout the day and for others, it comes and goes – maybe related to a food trigger, maybe low stomach acid or low amounts of digestive enzymes are to blame. But there is definitely an imbalance of good gut bacteria within your digestive tract!
For some people (including men), they can suffer from what is termed as having a 'bloat baby' - you look like you are pregnant but you are not! This is caused by the incubation of food (fermentation) not a baby and can be embarrassing to both if someone feels the need to ask if you are expecting and you are not.
What can be causing your 'bloat baby'?
- Stress - high cortisol levels cause bloating;
- Low stomach acid - this shows as bloating even when you are not hungry. Do you have trouble digesting meat (especially red meat)?
- Digestive enzymes - a sluggish digestion often requires digestive enzymes to boost the breakdown of your food into amino acids (protein) leading to weight loss, reducing inflammation and upper digestive tract health;
- Eating too quickly - Do you scoff down your food within a few moments of receiving it? Do you eat quickly because you are on a short break at work? This might be to blame for your abdominal distention and/or bloated belly. Without being mindful of what you're eating, you're likely to overwhelm the body with more food than it can handle;
- Shallow breathing - abdominal bloating can affect the diaphragm, a muscular partition between the chest and abdomen. The diaphragm assists in breathing, which means bloating can lead to shortness of breath;
- Not enough sleep - our bodies need 7-8 hours of sleep each night so that it can re-boot itself. Lack of sleep can cause weight gain;
- Alcohol consumption - men tend to be quiet proud of their 'beer belly' but having too many high calorie alcoholic beverages isn't good for your gut or your liver. It's important to have at least three alcohol free days per week;
- Sluggish liver - this can be termed as non-alcoholic liver disease - your liver isn't clearing the toxins out effectively and the toxins are building up in your digestive system and throughout your body;
For others, it comes and goes – this can be related to:-
- Food triggers - gluten, onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables, dairy products, eating too many raw foods;
- Food sensitivity - salicylates, histamine, oxalates and sulphates; and
- Medications - antacids, Imodium, pain medications, fibre supplements (Metamucil) and some types of iron tablets.
Oestrogen and Progesterone
The role of hormones and gastrointestinal issues like bloating is well documented. Oestrogen and progesterone are the main ones that contribute to bloating but high cortisol and high insulin are also main contributors as well.
Whilst having too much oestrogen is linked to bloating, having too little can also lead to water retention. This is because oestrogen has a direct effect on the production of bile. When oestrogen levels are low, bile production decreases. Bile is produced by the liver to help with digestion and is a lubricant for the small intestines. Without adequate bile, water products from food accumulate in the small intestines and bloating and/or constipation can occur.
Oestrogen and progesterone directly impact fluid retention. When oestrogen levels are elevated, more water retention occurs. This is why bloating is common the days leading up to the menstrual cycle. During perimenopause and menopause, oestrogen and progesterone levels dramatically fluctuate and bloating can become more regular.
Cortisol is made in our adrenal glands and is known as our 'flight or fight' hormone. The effects of long term stress can definitely show on your abdominal region. When you are stressed, cortisol levels are higher, and the surge in cortisol will lead to bloating, predominately around your belly. Too much cortisol can also lead to diarrhoea or loose bowels (especially after you have just eaten a meal.)
What is known as the 'muffin top' - this affects many women especially those who are in their forties due to signs of perimenopause (transitioning into menopause). This can be hard to shift as what used to work for us when we were younger, doesn't seem to anymore but the good news is it is treatable, especially by a natural medicine practitioner. If left untreated this can lead to Metabolic Syndrome and then onto Diabetes Type II;
Candida albicans and Candida glabrata
Candida albicans and Candida glabrata are common yeasts that lives in our digestive system. An overgrowth of Candida glabrata will produce ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide as they digest sugars - causing bloating and flatulence. Research indicates that single yeast cells produce the most carbon dioxide.
Some species of Candida also can change form and become long germ tubes (known as hyphae). The germ tube form of Candida produces far less carbon dioxide and more ethanol. Germ tube developing Candida species, such as Candida albicans, may not be what is causing your bloating as it is the main cause of vaginal thrush.
An overgrowth of both of these Candida's can cause problematic fungal infections, a good sign that you have an overgrowth is having a bloated stomach that doesn't go down at night. Candida can also present by having a thick white covering on your tongue, brain fog, along with re-occurring bouts of vaginal thrush (these are the more obvious signs.)
Getting your digestive microbiota in line, is one way you can alleviate your gas and bloating along with using herbs and essential oils which area available in clinic in capsule form to kill the overgrowth. Probiotics and prebiotics are used to rebuild your 'healthy' microbiome.
On top of your bloating you may also suffer from constipation - meaning three or fewer trips to the bathroom in a week. Do you suffer from constipation? Did your Mum (or doctor) advise you to eat more fibre and drink more water which made the bloating worse?
So what’s behind this bloating and constipation and why is it so hard to treat? The answer may surprise you… It’s possible your bloating is caused by methane. Yes, we’re talking CH4, otherwise known by chemists as a colourless, odourless, volatile inert gas.
- Humans produce methane in their intestines through a process called methanogenesis. And when this occurs, the result can be really uncomfortable gas and bloating. Methanogenesis depends on the presence of a special type of bacteria in the colon called methanogens.
- While it is normal and healthy to have a diverse bacteria in your colon – including the presence of methanogens – if you’re primarily a methane-producer, it can help to explain why you struggle with bloating.
- Methane producers suffer more frequently from bloating than non-producers. Methane producers also suffer more frequently with abdominal pain and gas (farting.)
- Methane acts as a paralytic to slow down gastrointestinal transit time (eating small meals frequently is not for you! It can actually make your symptoms worse.
- You may be at the other end of the scale and suffer from diarrhoea– the type of diarrhoea that strikes soon after a meal and leaves them scrambling to find the closest bathroom.
- If you are bloated and suffer from frequent episodes of diarrhoea then you may be producing too much hydrogen gas.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
If you experience any of these above symptoms you may have SIBO. The bloating is often occurring as a result of fermentation. Fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases or alcohol. The gas build up leads to the bloat and can be very painful (abdominal pain.) The fermentation causes methane and/or hydrogen gas to build up in your gut.
The favourite food that the bacteria like to ferment are certain types of carbohydrates, namely fructose and sorbitol in fruits, lactose in dairy, and fructans in wheat, onions and garlic.
What happens next?
In clinic I recommend that all of my adult and teenage clients who have two or more of these symptoms be tested for SIBO. This is done by doing the SIBO breath test as this gives a reading on how much methane and hydrogen along with a combination of both gases is in your gut. It is currently the only correct way to have confirmation of SIBO. I don’t usually get my little clients to do this (but they certainly can) - my youngest client was six years old when they did the test.
Want to find out more???
As a Naturopath who has suffered from the 'baby bloat' and SIBO for most of my life, I know exactly what you are going through. I treated my SIBO last year and I am now SIBO free.
You can book online for your consultation and lets find out what’s going on in your tummy and STOP this BLOATING! I am now offering online consultations as well as face to face - online allows me to assist you whether you are interstate, overseas or in lock down.
Candida treatment is slightly different to my SIBO treatment program, most people with find that they will have both candida and SIBO or digestive dysfunction and they can be treated at the same time.
I now have my Facebook Group up and running - it's all about digestive and hormonal health (freedom). I would love you to be part of this growing community, here is the link to join my Facebook group
Yours in health and wellness,