By Dr. Joseph Mercola,
Many people often say they’re bloated when they feel full after eating a large meal, but this digestive problem is actually more than just feeling satiated. Almost everyone will experience it at some point, regardless of age or gender. So the question is: What exactly is bloating?
What Is Bloating?
According to John Hopkins Medicine, bloating is a common condition wherein the belly feels tight and may even be distended or visibly larger than the usual abdominal size. This may cause discomfort and pain, which could affect quality of life.
Bloating is commonly associated with the accumulation of gas in the intestines, although there are many other possible causes behind it such as food intolerances, constipation and digestive disorders, to name a few. For some people, bloating is more of a chronic issue, as opposed to an occasional inconvenience. However, for most cases, bloating may be managed with simple lifestyle and dietary changes.1
How to Get Rid of Bloating
Unless it is caused by an underlying medical condition, stomach bloating usually resolves on its own after several hours. The good news is that there are short- and long-term methods that can speed up the recovery process, as well as relieve the pain and discomfort caused by stomach bloating.2 Follow these tips to get rid of bloating fast:
• Go for a walk — Walking helps improve the intestinal transit of gas in your body, as it keeps your body in an upright position. This helps reduce the symptoms of bloating.3
• Do yoga — The postures and breathing techniques in some yoga routines may help relieve bloating by stretching your belly muscles and stimulating the digestive system.4 According to Reader's Digest, the recommended yoga poses for bloating relief including the downward-facing dog, upward-facing dog, knees-to-chest, child's pose and forward bend, among others.5
• Massage your abdomen — Massaging your belly may help improve your bowel movement and relieve the feeling of tightness, fullness and pain associated with bloating. You can do this massage yourself by following these steps:6
1. Place your hand just above your right hipbone then move it upward to the right side of your rib cage, rubbing in circular motion and exerting light pressure all the while.
2. Without stopping the circular rubbing motion, move your hand slowly across your upper belly area toward the left rib cage.
3. From the left rib cage, move your hand down toward the left hipbone, and then move your hand upward to the belly button.
4. Repeat the routine as necessary, always in a clockwise motion. Be sure to massage every section mentioned for at least a minute before moving on to the next.
• Take a warm bath — The heat from a warm bath may help relieve the pain from a bloated stomach. It may also help lower your stress levels, which are known to cause bloating.7
• Drink water instead of fizzy beverages — The bubbles in fizzy drinks can contribute to the gas in your stomach and worsen bloating, so it's best to avoid these and drink water instead. Water also helps relieve constipation, which is one of the potential causes of bloating.
• Perform light exercises — According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, light exercises may help avoid the retention of intestinal gas.8
• Take probiotics — Probiotic supplements may help improve your digestive process by restoring the balance of good-to-bad bacteria in your gut.9
• Eat more fiber — Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool, making it move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination. Meanwhile, soluble fiber helps feed the good bacteria in your gut, which promotes proper digestion.
• Cut down on chewing gum — Chewing on gum while you're bloated may exacerbate your symptoms, as it causes you to swallow air.10
• Remove artificial sweeteners from your diet — Artificial sweeteners can be hard for your stomach to digest, causing an accumulation of gas in the intestines.11
• Consume the right amount sodium — If you're eating mostly processed foods, then you're likely consuming too much sodium, which can cause your body to retain fluids and make you feel bloated.12
While I don’t recommend removing sodium entirely from your diet because of its metabolic benefits, it’s still ideal to limit your sodium intake, especially when you’re bloated, in order to help alleviate your symptoms and keep your condition from worsening.
If you’re planning to have salt in your diet, be sure to choose salt that’s unrefined, minimally processed and derived from healthy sources, like Himalayan pink salt.
• Increase your potassium intake — Consuming potassium-rich foods is one of the ways to counteract the effect of too much sodium in your diet.13 I generally recommend eating five times more potassium than sodium. This nutrient is available from a variety of vegetables such as Swiss chard, avocado and beets.
• Lower your stress levels — Stress can exacerbate belly bloat and cause other digestive issues.14 Some of the ways to manage stress levels include practicing Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), meditating, spending time in nature, listening to music and doing aromatherapy.
12 Natural Bloating Remedies You Can Find at Home
Here are some natural home remedies that may help relieve your bloated stomach:
• Lemon water — Drinking lemon water may help stimulate the digestive process. It also has diuretic properties, which may help normalize the sodium level in your body and reduce fluid retention.15
• Fermented foods — Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are excellent sources of good bacteria that may help improve your gut microbiome and digestion.
• Organic yogurt — Just like fermented foods, yogurt also provides your gut with healthy bacteria that can help improve your digestive process, fight inflammation and lower the risk for gas buildup in the abdomen.
• Tea — Sipping on hot peppermint or chamomile tea may help relieve bloating by soothing your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and improving your digestive process.16 Other teas that may help ease belly bloat include ginger, fennel and green tea.17,18
• Psyllium — Study shows that the fiber in psyllium may help relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), one of which is bloating.19
• Ginger — According to a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, ginger may help relieve bloating by improving gastric emptying and stimulating antral contractions.20
• Apple cider vinegar — If your bloated stomach is caused by acid reflux (a condition that's often triggered by too little stomach acid), then drinking a cup of water with a teaspoon of organic, raw apple cider vinegar may help relieve your symptoms, as it neutralizes the stomach pH.
• Avocado — Aside from being a good source of fiber that may help alleviate constipation-induced belly bloat, avocado is rich in potassium, which aids in reducing water retention due to high sodium levels.21,22
• Cucumber — This vegetable contains water and fiber, which are both necessary for promoting proper digestion. Cucumber may also help alleviate inflammation, acid reflux and stress, which are all possible causes of bloating.23
• Asparagus — Aside from having a mild diuretic property that may help fight against water retention, asparagus is a good source of dietary fiber, which helps move food through your digestive system more quickly, reducing the risk of belly bloat.24
• Papaya — An enzyme in papaya called papain helps break down the proteins inside your GI tract, making digestion easier. Papaya also has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help alleviate inflammation in your GI system and promote proper digestion.25
• Celery — According to a study published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, celery is one of the traditional herbal remedies that may help reduce the buildup of gas in the stomach.26This food may also help inhibit fluid retention with its diuretic properties.27
While the natural remedies mentioned above have been used time and again to relieve non-serious cases of abdominal bloating, I still recommend that you consult your physician regarding your condition, especially if it gets worse over time or does not go away within a day or two, as this could indicate more serious issues than food intolerance or overindulgence.28
What Are the Causes of Bloating?
If your bloated stomach is not related to the foods you ate, then it could be caused by any of the following conditions:
• Intestinal gas buildup — The accumulation of gas in the stomach is the most common reason behind bloating. This is often caused by the metabolism of food products by colonic bacteria. Increased intestinal gas may also be caused by chemical reactions within the GI tract and swallowed air when drinking or chewing.29
• Indigestion — Also known as dyspepsia or upset stomach, indigestion is a general term that's used to refer to discomfort in the upper abdomen. It may be caused by overeating, smoking, anxiety and digestive issues. Bloating that's caused by indigestion may be accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, belching and a burning sensation in the abdomen.30
• Infection — Stomach infections caused by bacteria, like Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and E. coli, and viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus, may lead to bloating, along with diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.31,32,33,34
• Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) — This is a condition characterized by excessive bacteria in the small intestines. People with metabolic disorders or IBS are more likely to experience this. In addition to bloating, you may also experience chronic diarrhea, weight loss and malabsorption if you have SIBO.35
• Fluid retention — Bloating is one of the ways that fluid or water retention can manifest. This may be caused by excess sodium in your diet or having a sedentary lifestyle.36 Some women may also experience this right before their menstrual period due to fluctuating hormones.37
• Food intolerance — This condition occurs when your stomach has difficulty digesting certain foods. Its symptoms, which include bloating, usually manifest a few hours after eating. Some of the common triggers of food intolerance are dairy, wheat and gluten. Bloating that's caused by sensitivity to certain foods are usually accompanied by abdominal pain and diarrhea.38
• Constipation — When you're constipated, your stool sits longer in your colon, giving bacteria more time to ferment it. These bacteria produce gas as a byproduct, which will eventually accumulate in your abdomen and cause bloating. Other symptoms that you may experience from constipation include fewer bowel movement and small, hard stools.39
• Gynecological issues — Bloating may be a warning sign of an underlying problem with the uterus or ovaries.40
• Irritable bowel syndrome — IBS is caused by poor digestion, oversensitive nerves in the gut and stress. Aside from bloating, you may also experience diarrhea or constipation, incontinence, flatulence, nausea and lack of energy.41
• Gastroparesis — This disorder is characterized by weakness of the stomach muscles, causing food to pass slowly through the GI tract. Some of the other symptoms of gastroparesis include constipation, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.42
Although rare, there are cases of bloating that are caused by life-threatening health problems, including bowel obstruction, liver disease, gallbladder disease, and cancers of the digestive tract or reproductive organs.43
6 Foods That Can Cause Bloating
In addition to knowing the foods that help reduce bloating, you should also be aware of the foods that can cause it, so that you can balance your diet properly. Foods that cause bloating are often hard for the stomach to digest, causing them to stay inside your GI tract longer, where they’re metabolized by gas-producing bacteria.44 Here are some of the foods that may be the culprit behind your bloated stomach:45,46
• Beans and legumes
• Processed foods
• Carbonated beverages
• Alcoholic beverages
• Whole grains like wheat, rye and barley
• Artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol
Foods that contain high amounts of fiber are often linked to bloating. However, it’s not the fibrous foods themselves that cause bloating, but rather the amount you eat in a single meal, along with how accustomed your stomach is to fiber.
If you don’t eat high-fiber foods regularly, then eating plenty of them all at once may strain your digestive system and lead to bloating. The good news is that consuming high-fiber foods frequently eventually lowers your risk for stomach bloat.47,48
Bloating Symptoms You Should Watch Out For
As mentioned above, abdominal bloat is described as the feeling of fullness or pressure in the abdomen. Bloating itself is often a symptom of an underlying health issue, whether it’s something as simple as indigestion or as serious as cancer. It may occur with other symptoms, including:49,50
• Distention or the visible increase in the size of your stomach
• Passing gas or flatulence
• Burping or belching
• Abdominal pain or cramps
Depending on the cause, bloating may occur with symptoms that require urgent medical care such as chest pain, prolonged abdominal pain, bloody stools and persistent vomiting.
How to Prevent Bloating
Although bloating is a common digestive issue, it’s absolutely preventable. Here some strategies that may help reduce your risk of having a bloated stomach:
• Chew your food thoroughly — When improperly chewed food enters your stomach, your GI tract may not be able to break it down in an efficient manner, causing it to remain undigested as it enters your intestines. This not only causes your digestive system to work harder, but also increases the bacteria lingering in your intestines.
To optimize your digestive process and lessen your gas-producing colonic bacteria, make sure you chew your food properly. Take smaller bites of food, and chew slowly and steadily until your food has been liquefied or has lost its texture. Be sure to swallow your mouthful of food completely before taking another bite. You should also avoid talking while your chew, as this will cause you to swallow air.
• Eat smaller meals — Instead of eating three big meals per day, eating smaller meals at regular intervals may make it easier for your digestive tract to process what you've eaten.51
• Identify food intolerances — Keep a food diary to keep track of what you eat and drink. This makes it easier for you to determine the specific foods that you may be sensitive to.52
• Don't drink alcohol — Alcoholic drinks may cause the lining of your gastrointestinal tract to become inflamed and irritated, resulting in bloating.53
• Quit smoking — According to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, smoking can cause bloating, as well as other gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation and abdominal pain.54 To avoid these digestive problems and lengthen your lifespan, adopt a smoke-free lifestyle as early as you can.
• Avoid eating processed foods — Processed foods like chips and canned soups contain high amounts of table salt, causing you to consume excessive sodium and very little potassium. You can lower your risk of water retention and bloating by removing processed foods from your diet.
• Introduce fibrous foods slowly to your diet — Eating plenty of fibrous foods all at once when your stomach is not accustomed to a high-fiber diet can lead to bloating, so make sure that you incorporate fiber into your diet slowly.55,56
• Adopt a low-fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP) diet — A low-FODMAP diet is very low in prebiotic-rich vegetables and fruits that feed bacteria in your colon. It has been shown to help provide significant improvement in bloating, as well as other IBS symptoms like abdominal pain and flatulence.57
Should You Take Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicines to Relieve Bloating?
There are several OTC medicines for bloating, including laxatives, simethicone and bismuth subsalicylate (also commonly known as Pepto-Bismol).58 However, before you consider taking any of these to get rid of a bloated stomach, you should be aware of their possible side effects.
I recommend laxatives to be avoided at all costs (if possible), as they decrease your colon’s ability to contract and can eventually damage the nerves, muscles and tissues of your large intestine. Simethicone, on the other hand, may cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and headache,59 while bismuth subsalicylate can cause persistent vomiting and diarrhea that could lead to dehydration.60
Mild cases of bloating can be resolved without resorting to OTC drugs. Follow the strategies mentioned above to relieve a bloated stomach and keep it from occurring again. If your stomach bloat does not resolve on its own after a few days, seek the help of a medical professional.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Bloating
Q: Why am I so bloated?
A: There are many possible causes behind a bloated stomach, with the most common reason being excess intestinal gas due to swallowed air or the foods you ate. Some of the other potential reasons include poor digestive process, bacterial or viral stomach infection, underlying gastrointestinal disorders, food intolerance and fluid retention.61
Q: What does bloating feel like?
A: A bloated stomach feels uncomfortably full and tight, and may even be visibly distended or larger than the usual size of the abdomen. It may also be accompanied with burping, flatulence and abdominal pain.62
Q: Is bloating a sign of pregnancy?
A: Yes, bloating can be an early sign that you're pregnant. It's caused by higher levels of progesterone hormone, which is responsible for relaxing your intestinal muscles, consequently slowing down the digestive process.63
Q: What foods cause bloating?
A: Some of the foods that are known to cause bloating include beans and legumes, processed foods, carbonated beverages, alcoholic beverages, whole grains like wheat, rye and barley, and artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol.64,65
Q: How long does bloating last?
A: Mild cases of bloating usually resolve on their own within a day or two.66