We all know that stuffed, bloated feeling which leaves us feeling blown up and sluggish. Indeed it can be a sign that our digestive system is sluggish. It’s the migrating motor complex in the gut that is responsible for keeping things moving in the right direction, culminating in exiting the body, and this can be sluggish for many reasons.
But usually bloating is caused by a build-up of gas in the gut, and this gas is produced by the gut bacteria (also known as the microbiome – for more info on this, and to see the wonderful array of bacteria in your gut – see more information on the Microbiome here). So having your gut bacteria out of balance will often be a reason for feeling bloated. Any imbalance in gut bacteria (dysbiosis) will have an effect on our gut health, as these amazing bacteria play such a vital role in breaking down our food, extracting nutrients from it, producing vitamins, metabolising cholesterol, regulating immunity, creating ant parasitic and anti viral effects.
Poor digestion and absorption efficiency may lead to symptoms of
- stomach pains and cramps
These symptoms are signs of general irritability of the digestive system. If left untreated, they can lead to leaky gut, food allergies, bacterial overgrowth, yeast overgrowth (such as candida), and the production of toxins. This will all impact the gut lining, resulting in toxic molecules entering the bloodstream outside of the gut, leading to all sorts of disorders, from anxiety, depression and fatigue to allergies, fibromyalgia and neurological disorders.
Often the first port of call would often be a good probiotic, to help get the gut bacteria back in to balance. This can be in the form of fermented foods, (such as kefir, kimchi and kombucha) where the probiotics (such as bifidobacterium and lactobacillus) are more bioavailable for the body to use. Alternatively, there are many probiotic supplements on the market – and finding the right one to suit your gut is key. It’s important to use the right probiotic, depending what strain/s you might be lacking in. You can determine this by taking a stool test which shows some of the main families of bacteria (good and bad) that are living in your gut.
There are so many probiotics on the market that it can be really difficult to know which one is right for you – and so taking advice from a nutritionist is always best before you supplement.
This can often be enough to correct any imbalance in the gut microbiome, however taking supplements it is not a long term fix. Probiotics are transient – they don’t remain in your gut, and so the best long term approach is to alter your gut environment and nurture the ‘soil’, before we add the beneficial bacteria. This is something that can be done by taking a holistic approach to your diet and lifestyle, since stress itself can alter your gut bacteria as well as the foods we feed it.
If the condition SIBO is present (small intestine bacteria overgrowth) where the bacteria grow in the small intestine as well as the large intestine, then probiotics may make the situation worse. If there is bacterial overgrowth and then we add more bacteria to the mix with a probiotic, then we are adding fuel to the fire.
Often we need to restore balance, digestion, absorption, perhaps eliminate pathogenic bacteria or parasites, before we add in the beneficial bacteria of probiotics.
Prebiotics are also very important, as they will provide food for the good bacteria to feed off (foods include asparagus, leeks, onions, green bananas). So once we have the good bacteria there, we need to look after it! Similarly, fibre is really important to the gut, and will also provide food for the bacteria and help keep things moving in the right direction. Try to include a variety of different coloured vegetables in your daily diet – eat the rainbow!
Another useful step is to see if there are any trigger foods that can be identified for you. We all have these and it is very individual. Some people may find that gluten bloats them, but it could be sugar, dairy, artificial sweeteners for example.
Additionally there are foods that are high FODMAP – high in Fermentable Oligo-,Di- and Mono Saccharides and Polyols. These can be poorly absorbed in the gut and release gas by products when being digested – so contributing to the bloat. Examples of high FODMAP foods include apples, pears, fruits with stones, onions, garlic, so this gives an idea of how restrictive it can be.
There are benefits to following a low FODMAP diet as it can relieve the bloating and discomfort, but this should be done under the guidance of a nutritional therapist since it’s a very restrictive diet, and should only be used in the very short term to get symptoms under control. Foods should then be reintroduced gradually once trigger foods have been identified.
Meditation, good sleep, many yoga poses (such as cat/cow and child’s pose) are all found to be beneficial to managing stress and thereby reducing the negative knock on effects that stress has on the body. When we are stressed, in fight/flight mode, our body releases cortisol, and the presence of cortisol can encourage the growth of pathogenic (‘bad’) bacteria in the gut.
Finally, keep hydrated, drink some herbal teas such as mint, nettle, chamomile and plenty of clean, filtered water.
Please be aware that this is not medical advice and it is always worth visiting your GP if you’re concerned about any bodily changes. Once medical conditions have been ruled out, if you are still experience bloating and discomfort, the umbrella term for this is IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome). This is a diagnosis of exclusion and something that a nutritionist can advise on to get the nutrition right, eliminate pathogens, suggest lifestyle changes, stress managed and, most importantly, rebalance gut bacteria.
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