As anyone with a drawer full of stretchy pants knows, the defining feature of bloating is the appearance or feeling of a swollen or distended belly.¹ Although it is not fun to feel bloated, it is fairly common, with just over 20 percent of Americans reporting that they experienced bloating in a given week².
On top of an uncomfortably big-looking—or uncomfortably big-feeling—belly, bloating may also be accompanied by other gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.
If you’re experiencing bloating alongside crampy abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, nausea or vomiting,³ Dr. Guandalini cautions that you “should definitely see your doctor” before trying any home or natural remedies.
But as long as your doctor has confirmed that your bloating does not require further investigation, some good news: there are scientifically-proven ways to stop bloating and say goodbye to those stretchy pants (unless you just really like them).
Why is my stomach so bloated?
Ironically, a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and other high-fiber foods is a common cause of excess gas.
“Insoluble fibers are not digested by the small intestine,” explains Dr. Guandalini. “They reach the colon, where they are met by hungry bacteria who feast on them. Bypass products of this smorgasbord are gases such as methane and CO2. These gases dilate the loops of the colon, hence the bloating.”
Other possible causes include food allergies or intolerances, and constipation. Allergies and intolerances disrupt the digestive process; poorly digested food components have trouble moving through the digestive system, fermenting into gasses that then stretch and expand the colon. Meanwhile constipation results in hard, stuck stools that blocks intestinal segments, essentially causing a “traffic jam” of gas above the point of blockage.
How to stop bloating
Yes, there are steps you can take to get rid of bloating (see more below). But the best cure for a bloated stomach is preventing bloat in the first place. Here are some strategies that may help:
1. Consider your daily fiber intake
“While a diet rich in vegetables is a good thing,” says Dr. Guandalini, “the price you may end up paying by eating a lot of them is bloating. The Latins said, ‘Est modus in rebus’—everything in moderation.”
In practical terms, this could mean spacing fiber-filled treats throughout the day, rather than eating your days’ worth of veggies in one go. It could also mean approaching a plan to introduce more fruits and veggies gradually, to give your body time to get used to processing all the extra fiber.
The USDA recommends⁴ that adult women under 50 consume 25 grams of fiber each day, while men in the same age category should consume 38 grams. Most Americans eat vastly less fiber, the average being around 10 to 15 grams per day⁵.
Adequate fiber intake is the secret to painless bowel movements, as fiber both bulkens and softens the stool, making it easier to pass. But too much fiber can lead to constipation and bloating, so the key is settling on a healthy balance. The USDA offers this handy chart⁶ to help you determine how much fiber is in some of your favourite healthy foods.
2. Try not to get constipated
Regular exercise, adequate water intake and a “Goldilocks” dose of daily fiber (not too little, and not too much) can prevent constipation, itself a frequent cause of bloating. As long as you’ve ruled out a medical disorder, Dr. Guandalini also says that occasional use of over-the-counter stool softeners to ease constipation-related bloating is fine.
3. Avoid the foods you’re allergic or intolerant to
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But sometimes knowing which food or foods are causing your gas is half the battle.
As far as food intolerances go, gluten and lactose are media darlings, but just because they get a lot of press doesn’t mean they’re the cause of your distress.
Specifically, he points to wheat and other foods that contain a cluster of ingredients commonly referred to by the acronym FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-saccharides, di-saccharides, mono-saccharides and polyols). FODMAPS are a class of carbohydrates present in a wide variety of foods, including many healthy ones.
Once they hit the digestive system, FODMAPS ferment rapidly, producing gas in the process⁷. Although most studies focus on IBS patients specifically, there’s a wealth of good clinical evidence to support the idea that reduced FODMAPS consumption in people who are triggered by them can ease the frequency of digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating.⁸
The best way to determine if FODMAPS or other ingredients are the culprit behind your bloating is to try an elimination diet⁹—ideally with the support of your doctor or dietician—a practice many researchers call the “gold standard¹⁰” for diagnosing food allergies and intolerances. You can also try a home food allergy test.
4. Keep your weight in check
Bloating is not the only force that can send your waistline exploring beyond its original borders.
Bloated stomach remedies
Hit the crudite platter at the buffet bar a few too many times? It’s too late to prevent bloating, but relief may still be on the menu.
There are plenty of home remedies believed to work as bloating cures, including:
But the only popular remedy that Dr. Guandalini recommends is peppermint oil, saying it has the best clinical support¹¹. Peppermint oil capsules can be found at most pharmacies and health food stores, and can be taken as needed to help get rid of bloating and gas.
Additionally, some probiotics have been shown to reduce bloating, but Dr. Guandalini warns that not all probiotics are created equal. Do your research before buying, and consider a trial of two to three weeks to see how you do with one of the proven ones, he says.
Finally, if you’re certain that you’re among the 30 to 50 million Americans who are lactose intolerant¹², then it may help to take a supplement containing lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) whenever you eat lactose-containing foods.
The G.O.A.T* bloat advice
If there’s only one piece of advice in this article that you follow, it should be this: rule out a medical condition before self-diagnosing bloating, especially if it’s accompanied by other warning symptoms or you’re always bloated.
“Be sure to ask your doctor every time there is a ‘flag’ that may signal a medical disorder, such as diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting,” says Dr. Guandalini. “In these cases, do not waste time in trying to fix just the bloating or regarding it as an esthetic problem!”
*Greatest Of All Time