Fight the Bloat: Dr. Will Cole’s Tips
- Written By:Dr. Will Cole
We’ve all been there. The uncomfortable feeling of bloat immediately, or shortly after, eating. Not only can it be painful, but it can diminish self-confidence and make you second-guess the outfit you planned on wearing.
See, gas and bloating is normal and can happen when air is trapped in the digestive system produced from gut bacteria during digestion. However, chronic bloating is another issue entirely. As a functional medicine practitioner, I see countless patients struggle with this issue on a daily basis and it’s my job to help them alleviate it and uncover what is triggering it in the first place. So if you find yourself dealing with excessive bloating, read on to learn how to finally fight the bloat once and for all.
Uncover your triggers
When it comes to bloating - just like all other aspects of health - a person’s specific triggers can vary but in general it can be caused by food intolerances or an overload of hard-to-digest foods.
An elimination diet is a tool that I utilize in my clinic to really determine the specific foods that are contributing to your bloat. By taking out certain foods that are most likely to trigger a reaction such as legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy, and grains for a period of time and then slowly reintroducing them back in, you’ll be able to see what foods are contributing to your bloating.
Rule out FODMAP Intolerance
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. In short: fermentable sugars. These short-chain sugars are contained in many different foods and are not fully digested in the gut, which can cause them to be excessively fermented by gut bacteria.
This fermentation releases hydrogen gas that could lead to distension of the intestines, which can cause bloating. Some foods that are high in FODMAPs are onions, cabbage, beans, apples, and rye. Monash University, a leader in research on this topic, has a great app to help you stick to low FODMAPs. Since certain FODMAP vegetables and fruits aren’t ones you’d necessarily avoid on an elimination diet, if you are still experiencing symptoms on an elimination diet, a FODMAP intolerance is something to consider.
Try flexible intermittent fasting
The gut microbiome has its own circadian rhythm and is constantly cycling between different colonies of bacteria throughout the day. When we are sleeping, certain populations of bacteria increase. When we are awake and eat food, others may increase and flourish. This normal microbiome circadian cycle repeats every day but can be hurt when we are eating and snacking incessantly, especially if the food is unhealthy. Intermittent fasting can help reset the microbiome’s natural rhythm. In fact, studies have shown that fasting can reduce the absorption of specific bacterial endotoxins, which have been linked to an increased risk for obesity and insulin resistance. This is particularly relevant if you come into the plan with gut health or digestive issues. In fact, studies have shown that intermittent fasting lowers gut inflammation to help improve inflammatory gut disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. This is something I talk about in detail in my new book, Intuitive Fasting. https://drwillcole.com/intuitive-fasting
Certain conditions such as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) can be the cause of chronic gas and bloating. In a normal functioning gut, when you are not eating (during the night and in between meals), the migrating motor complex (MMC) pushes gut bacteria down into the large intestines, where most of it lives. However, sometimes this process can fail. In cases of decreased MMC function, bacteria meant to migrate grows up into the small intestines where it doesn’t belong. This wayward bacteria will eat what you eat, fermenting the food in the wrong area, causing gas, swelling, and SIBO.
A SIBO breath test measures the gases (methane, hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide) released by the bacterial overgrowth. This can determine whether you have those bacteria growing in the wrong place and if SIBO is an issue for you. These are labs that I run for patients around the world at my functional medicine telehealth center.
Like most other gut problems, bloating can be caused by an imbalance in the ratio of good and bad bacteria in the microbiome. A probiotic can rebalance the microbiome and help alleviate symptoms of bloat.
Add in digestive enzymes
We all naturally produce small proteins called digestive enzymes that break down the food you eat into smaller pieces that are easier for your body to absorb and utilize. However, some of us may lack the specific enzymes necessary to digest certain foods such as lactose in dairy or legumes. Even though it can be most beneficial to avoid these foods entirely, a digestive enzyme supplement can help if you decide to eat a meal that contains one of these foods. Also, some people don’t make enough enzymes altogether so a digestive enzyme supplement can help mitigate uncomfortable bloating that comes after eating a meal.
Reevaluate your alternative sweeteners
You may think you are doing yourself a favor by avoiding regular sugar (which also feeds bad gut bacteria), what you replace it with can matter just as much when it comes to bloating. An overload of sugar alcohols such as xylitol or mannitol can perpetuate bloating as they are difficult for the body to digest.
Practice mindful eating
The faster you eat, the more air you swallow. By slowing down and taking your time to eat with no distractions (yes, working through lunch counts) you’ll not avoid taking in more air, you’re less likely to overeat and contribute to added fullness and bloat.
Ginger naturally contains digestive enzymes and have been used for centuries as a natural digestive aid to help alleviate gas and bloating, and lower inflammation in the gut.
So if you are struggling with constant bloating, use these tips to get to the root cause of why you feel bloated and in the meantime, lean into some of these healing tools to mitigate symptoms. Afterall, mealtime should be enjoyed, not filled with dread for what comes after.