Bloating is a common digestive symptom, which happens when the stomach feels tight, swollen and uncomfortable (1,2). More often than not, bloating doesn’t occur by itself. Bloating can often be paired alongside flatulence (i.e. farting!), stomach pain and even nausea (2). Whilst more common in women, men can also suffer with this painful symptom.
When is bloating ‘normal’?
You mustn't forget that bloating can be a totally normal bodily function. You’d probably struggle to find someone who doesn’t feel at least slightly bloated after eating a meal - particularly a large meal. But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s suffering from digestive problems.
Nor is the bloating that occurs around your period necessarily a digestive problem. The hormone progesterone increases before your period, which can lead to bloating (2).
However, bloating becomes a problem when it’s consistent. Do you find yourself waking up in the morning completely fine but gradually, throughout the day, you become more bloated? Are you so uncomfortable you have to unbutton your trousers or even change into comfier ones? If this describes your day-to-day routine, know that you aren’t alone.
Why am I becoming bloated?
There are lots of factors that may be contributing towards your bloating. Predominantly, bloating is linked with the gas that sits in your gut. This gas doesn’t just appear from nowhere. It enters the gut when you swallow, when you eat certain foods or it can also be made by your gut bacteria (3). Let’s have a look at a few of the more specific causes of this build up of gas:
Your gut bacteria
Your gut is home to nearly 2kg of gut bacteria (4). Whilst we often think of bacteria as bad, these little bugs are essential for maintaining good health. Fibre is the main ‘food’ for your gut bacteria, but when they break this fibre down, they produce gas. This happens to everyone. However, it’s thought that those with irritable bowel syndrome are more sensitive to this gas, and experience bloating and pain as a result (2).
Your stress levels
Your gut and brain are connected through a system called the gut-brain axis. You’ve probably felt its effects before but didn’t really think much of it. That feeling you get in your stomach when you’re nervous before a job interview or work presentation is often a result of the gut-brain axis. When in stressful situations, the gut-brain axis is negatively affected, which can result in changes to the rate of digestion (2). These changes to the speed of your gut can lead to the build up of gas. For example, constipation causes your poo to stay in your gut for a long time. This allows bacteria more time to produce (even more) gas.
Eating lots of fibrous foods can lead to your gut bugs producing more gases. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be eating fibre - you might just need to review how much and how often you’re having it. Some people find fizzy drinks lead to bloating too. Food intolerances can also lead to bloating. Intolerances occur when you lack an enzyme to break down a food. (Note: be wary of intolerance tests you purchase online since many aren’t evidence-backed.)
From the food you feed your gut bacteria to your stress levels, there are so many lifestyle factors that can lead to bloating. However, the above aren’t the only potential causes of bloating. We’re all unique, meaning what triggers your bloating may completely differ to somebody else. Regardless of the cause, working together to investigate the cause(s) of your bloating and help manage your symptoms can give you back control of your life.