Whether it’s that irritating gassy feeling you get after eating certain foods, or struggling to get your pants done up over a swollen belly, bloating is something most people experience at least once in their lives.
The condition is caused by a build-up of gas in the gut, which causes the stomach to swell, and while common, there are a number of factors that increase the risk of bloating.
“Sudden development of bloating needs to be investigated immediately,” Dr Rajaraman Eri, head of biomedical sciences at the University of Tasmania, tells Starts at 60. “The major cause could be the type of food you eat but bloating can be due to underlying gastrointestinal conditions.”
Gastrointestinal conditions linked to bloating range from inflammatory bowel disease, dyspepsia (poor digestion) and constipation to irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease and gastroparesis – where the stomach can’t empty itself as it normally should. While less common, bloating can also be associated with ovarian cancer and gastrointestinal cancers.
It’s also possible for certain medications to cause bloating. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – which are used to manage pain, inflammation and as blood-thinners – can cause bloating, while opiate painkiller medication can have the same effect.
Health professionals may be able to offer alternatives and will assess whether the benefits outweigh the risks when prescribing these medications.
For other people, it’s the foods they consume that cause tummy troubles and bloating.
“All of us produce certain amount of gas after eating food but some people produce increased amounts due to an overreaction,” Eri says. “Prolonged usage of unsuitable food seems to cause an overgrowth of gas-producing bacteria in the small intestine.”
The major group of foods that cause bloating are FODMAP foods. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are chemical names of sugars that the small intestine struggles to digest. Some of the major culprits include artificial sweeteners, onion, garlic, legumes, cashews and fructose drinks, while certain breads, baked goods, alcohol, dairy products and pickled vegetables can also cause bloating.
Common foods that are in the low FODMAP group and better for gut health include lettuce, carrots, celery, zucchini, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, gluten- and wheat-free breads, oats, almond milk. A recent study of runners found that 69 per cent of participants following a low FODMAP diet experienced an improvement in symptoms such as stomach cramps and bloating. They were also able to exercise more frequently and at a higher intensity.
“The most important aspect to think about in the older age group is diet,” Eri says. “Consult with the doctor about the right diet to keep the gut healthy.”
Supplements may also play a role in beating the bloat, but this can vary between individual cases.
“For example, people with lactose intolerance can use lactase enzymes. For some people, over-the-counter medications such as activated charcoal or similar ones may help,” Eri says.
Physical activity can also improve gut health. Research published in the Frontiers in Microbiology Journal found that after six weeks of endurance exercise training (such as walking, jogging, swimming, and biking), potentially inflammation-causing gut microbes decreased and microbes associated with enhanced metabolism increased.
“Exercise is good for gut health because the improved oxygenation helps in better blood flow to the colon and there is evidence for good diversity of the beneficial bugs in the gut,” Eri says.
Experts recommend at between 20-40 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. This could be swimming, a brisk walk, cycling, or some heavy-duty household chores, such as vacuuming or mopping.
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.