What is Bloat, Really?
WE SPEAK WITH A MICROBIOME AUTHORITY ON THE TRUTH, MYTHS, AND ESSENTIALS TO A HEALTHY DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Bloat. A word that no one wants to hear, let alone experience. But what is it really? And what causes it? The answer, as it turns out, is not a simple one. But what is clear is that like many of our wellness concerns (troubled sleep, lack of energy, and lackluster skin), it has a profound connection to our microbiome and how we feed the millions of bacteria that live inside us.
But first, let’s talk about bloat. Bloat is defined as a protrusion of the abdomen. The causes can be found in a myriad of reasons. And identifying the cause is key, according to Dr. Raphael Kellman, groundbreaking doctor of integrative medicine, author of The Microbiome Diet, and member of Sakara Science & Advisory Council. “Bloating is caused by air, gas, or stool in the colon and intestines,” he says. “This results in a distended stomach. Bloating can also be the result of fluid or water retention.” Finding the root of the swelling is key to treating it. In addition to a protruding or hard abdomen, bloating symptoms may include abdominal pain and gas that cause flatulence or burping. Fun. But it’s important to notice if these unpleasantries are accompanied by other symptoms. “If you experience fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, and weight gain, this can be a sign of something like an underactive thyroid, ” explains Dr. Kellman. “And that should be attended to by your doctor, as many regular blood tests can miss it.”
Bloat or Normal Digestion?
If your bloat is truly just that, then the swelling will generally ebb and flow as your digestive system goes through the motions of the day. You will most likely have a flat abdomen in the morning when you wake up and find a bit more protrusion after a day of eating. This is totally normal and Dr. Kellman notes that bloat should not be conflated with normal digestion. The fantasy of a totally flat stomach 24-7 is just that—a fantasy. “A completely flat stomach is a delusion,” explains Dr. Kellman. “We are not aiming for flat stomachs here. We want healthy digestion and a thriving microbiome. In some cultures, having a protrusion is a good thing.”
This bit of bloating after eating is a completely normal part of digestion, not something that needs to be fixed. After you eat, your stomach breaks down food into digestible-sized pieces so that it can move through the small intestine. That’s where the majority of digestion takes place. This breakdown of carbohydrates and the fermentation of dietary fiber may produce gas which expands like a balloon, resulting in a slight swell. This bloat passes after a short period of time. If the bloat becomes excessive or does not subside, it may indicate that all is not right in your gut.
We are not aiming for flat stomachs here. We want healthy digestion and a thriving microbiome. In some cultures, having a protrusion is a good thing.
Dr. Kellman believes that exaggerated bloat, like other intrusive conditions such as fatigue, inflammation, joint pain, acne, and depression can be the result of an imbalance in the microbiome. “These trillions of gut bacteria are our best ally to keep our entire systems healthy, including digestion,” he says. “If that bacteria is not healthy, we will have all kinds of problems, including bloat and more serious gastrointestinal problems.” While there are a number of reasons our microbiome can be compromised, diet is normally the first and most overarching culprit. “Stress can be a factor, certainly,” says Dr. Kellman. “Overuse of antibiotics can also be a cause, but diet is the area where we can effect real change. A healthy microbiome is a prerequisite to improving your digestive system and preventing bloat.” His Microbiome Diet is, no surprise, a plant-rich plan filled with gut-friendly foods like jicama, leeks, artichokes, and loads of leafy greens. "Eat foods that are healthy for the microbiome," says Dr. Kellman. “Both prebiotics (like jicama, radishes, and leeks) and probiotics (such as kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut) keep your body's bacteria happy and healthy.” Building a healthy gut with plants prevents bloating, excessive gas and diarrhea as well as shielding the body from more serious ailments like diverticulosis, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, and liver disease. “These problems make everyday life miserable for far too many people who don't realize they could end their suffering by improving their gut health,” says Dr. Kellman.
More Ways To Reduce Bloat
Dr. Kellman provides his tips for keeping our microbiome in harmony and feeling our best.
Say No To Bubbly: Dr. Kellman suggests cutting down on carbonated drinks as the fizzing bubbles can get trapped in your stomach.
Cut Back On Kombucha: “People think of it as a healthy drink,” says Dr. Kellman. “But it is not a good thing if you are dealing with a lot of bloating.”
Be Mindful: Listening to the body’s signals is key. “Be really focused on what you are putting in,” says Dr. Kellman. “Pay attention to when you are full. This has a significant impact on our health and that includes bloat.”
Try Peppermint Oil: Dr. Kellman recommends this supplement that can help improve digestion and relieve bloating by stimulating the secretion of digestive juices and bile.
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