Is Bloating Normal?
Bloating is a common symptom of many health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and can also result from lifestyle factors and dietary choices. It can be uncomfortable and even painful if it reaches a certain severity.
Some people are more prone to negative digestive symptoms than others. Two people who consume the same meals may experience completely different levels of bloating because of differences in their lifestyles, physical health, and genetics.
Bloating is something that many of us think we have to accept as a normal part of life. While it is very common for people to experience bloating, excess gas, and other digestive issues, in some cases, it isn't necessarily "normal" - but perhaps "common".
Bloating is a sign that something is unbalanced, and we’re going to cover the main causes of this common digestive issue later in this article. First, let’s talk about what bloating is, before covering whether it’s normal, how common it is, and how to relieve bloating with positive lifestyle changes.
What Is Bloating?
Bloating refers to the feeling of fullness or tightness in the abdomen, usually accompanied by swelling or distension in the lower torso. It can be uncomfortable and painful, and may be associated with abdominal cramping.
A variety of factors can cause bloating, including gas buildup, increased food intake, water retention, hormonal changes, digestive issues, constipation, and underlying medical conditions (read on to learn more about each of these).
As individuals, it's essential that you understand your body and recognise when you get bloated and what the potential triggers may be. Pay attention to the frequency and severity of your bloating and accompanying symptoms to determine whether you need to contact a medical professional. You can write these things down if you find it helpful to remember them.
You might experience bloating every so often if you eat a particularly large meal or are having a particularly stressful week. However, you could be someone who bloats daily, regardless of what you eat. Persistent blowing warrants further investigation, so if you’re the latter, make sure to contact your doctor or a dietician for guidance.
What Causes Bloating?
We’ve all heard somebody say, ‘I feel so bloated today’, and you’ve probably said it yourself at some point (or at many points) in the past.
Bloating is such a common digestive symptom because there are so many things that cause it. Some of these causes are minor and transient, while others are more serious and long-term.
Expansion of your stomach and lower digestive tract can result from lots of different things, including the following.
1. Chronic medical conditions and digestive disorders
Lots of different health conditions and digestive disorders are causes of frequent bloating, such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which comprises ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease or gluten intolerance
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GORD or GERD)
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
- Nutrition absorption issues
- Reduced gut motility
- Gut dysbiosis
- Ascites (fluid in the abdominal cavity)
- Liver disease or liver failure
- Kidney disease or kidney failure
If you have one or more of the above conditions, you’ll need expert advice from a healthcare professional to manage your condition. Proper management of your condition should minimise bloating and other digestive issues.
2. Increased food intake or food volume
Eating more food than usual can cause your stomach and intestines to expand to accommodate this increased food volume. After eating a large meal, you may notice bloating within the first couple of hours. However, this should subside with no intervention.
You’ll be more prone to bloating after eating a meal that is high in gas-producing foods and drinks, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, fermented foods, protein powders, sodas, and caffeinated beverages.
3. Eating too quickly and swallowing excess air
Eating too quickly can cause you to swallow more air than usual, causing gas to build up in the digestive tract and bloating. Similarly, wearing poorly fitted dentures and chewing gum can cause you to swallow more air and experience excessive bloating.
4. Hormonal changes (especially in women)
Women’s reproductive hormones fluctuate throughout the course of the month, and this can cause a range of symptoms, including bloating. It’s mostly the changes in oestrogen and progesterone that cause increased water retention and bloating.
Women with reproductive health problems, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or uterine fibroids, may experience worsening bloating, especially around their period.
Sometimes, something as simple as forgetting to drink enough water during the day can lead to bloating. This is probably one of the most common causes of bloating and, thankfully, it’s really easy to fix.
Your body needs water to function properly, and if you’re dehydrated, your digestion will suffer. Plus, dehydration will harden your stool, making it more difficult and painful to pass, and causing constipation.
6. High levels of psychological stress
Bloating can rear its ugly head when you’re feeling burnt out, stressed, and overwhelmed. Whether you’ve got an increased workload or are dealing with family or relationship issues, you might feel more stressed than usual.
Psychological stress causes the body to activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing a ‘fight or flight’ response and high cortisol levels. When your body is focusing on keeping you safe from perceived danger (such as stress and anxiety), it can’t focus on proper digestion. As a result, digestion slows down, and you can experience boosting and other negative symptoms.
7. Physical inactivity
When you’re sedentary, blood flow to your digestive tract decreases, and food moves more slowly through the intestines. This is why when you’re travelling on a long-haul flight or sitting at a desk all day, you can easily become constipated and bloated.
Is Bloating Normal?
Bloating is common. However, it’s not necessarily normal. Regular bloating is not something that you should ignore. Even if it’s caused by something benign like eating a high volume of gas-producing foods or constantly rushing through your meals and swallowing too much air, you need to identify the cause of your digestive issues in order to eliminate them.
You must always consult a doctor if you’re experiencing ongoing severe bloating, as this could be a sign of something sinister. Your doctor can perform a range of tests to identify the potential causes of your bloating and provide treatment if needed.
There is a lot of confusion around whether its "normal" because of social media saying it is - however, normal, by definition, is the regular and expected response your body should have. Bloating is excess gas build up, most commonly speaking, and it's not a normal response to food - although it may be common! The language we use is important because "normal" suggests you shouldn't seek help or understand why it's happening.
How Common Is Bloating?
Bloating is a relatively common occurrence, and most people experience it at multiple points in their lifetime (again, we want to reiterate that just because bloating is common, it doesn’t mean it’s normal!).
Generally, bloating affects between 10 and 30 percent of the population, although this range varies depending on the population in question. Up to 90% of people with IBS may experience regular bloating. Up to three-quarters of women will experience bloating before and during their period.
Bloating may be more common in women than men due to the unique hormone profiles that each sex has. Women’s reproductive hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, can cause increased water retention and changes in electrolyte levels that lead to increased bloating frequency and severity.
It's important to note that the frequency and severity of bloating can vary greatly among individuals. Some people may experience occasional mild bloating, while others may have more persistent or severe symptoms.
Bloating depends on so many different factors, which is why it is so individualised. It depends on your dietary habits, physical activity levels, health status, and other lifestyle choices.
How to Relieve Bloating
Whether you bloat daily or it’s something you only experience every once in a while, there are plenty of things you can do to tackle your symptoms. Try the following techniques for reducing bloating quickly and other digestive symptoms.
1. Take a probiotic or digestive enzyme supplement (or both)
Supplementation is great for rapid bloating relief. We highly recommend taking a probiotic
supplement to support your gut bugs and a digestive enzyme supplement to improve your digestion.
Even better, you can take a supplement containing probiotics and digestive enzymes for a double whammy.
Probiotics are live bacteria that are found naturally in the gut. They are extremely beneficial for digestion as they help to break down foods and drinks to increase nutrient absorption, produce beneficial compounds, and reduce digestive symptoms.
Probiotic bacteria are also essential for immune function (did you know that up to 95% of your immune system resides in your gut?). There is also research to suggest their role in communicating with the brain to facilitate neurotransmitter and hormone production.
Although probiotic bacteria, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are already present in your gut, you can take a probiotic supplement to increase the number of probiotic bacteria in your gut and support your digestion as much as possible.
Digestive enzymes are also produced naturally in the body, and, again, you can supplement to support your body’s natural digestive processes. Digestive enzymes include amylase, proteases, and lipases. They increase digestive efficiency by helping your body to break down ingested foods into their constituents.
Take your probiotic and digestive enzyme supplement once daily to minimise the risk of bloating and keep other digestive symptoms at bay.
You may particularly benefit from a digestive enzyme supplement if you suffer from IBS, IBD, EPI, or another health condition that reduces your digestive enzyme production.
2. Modify your diet and avoid bloating triggers
Certain foods can trigger digestive issues and exacerbate bloating, particularly those that cause high gas production in the gut. Modifying your diet can help to minimise your digestive symptoms.
Here are some foods to avoid if you’re prone to bloating:
- High-sugar fruits, such as bananas, pears, and apples
- Cruciferous vegetables like bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale Beans and legumes
- Fermented foods
- Protein powder supplements
- Sodas and other carbonated drinks
- Energy drinks
- Fruit juice
As you limit your intake of the above foods, try to increase your intake of potassium-rich foods and lower your intake of sodium-abundant foods. Potassium and sodium regulate fluid levels in your body, so making adjustments to your dietary intake of these minerals can help to reduce water retention and bloating.
Potassium increases water excretion, and sodium decreases it, so a high-potassium, low-sodium meal is best for minimising the risk of bloating.
Potassium-rich foods include avocados, bananas, dried fruit, lentils, and potatoes. Sodium is abundant in processed foods like pre-packaged foods and ready meals, so try and avoid these if you’re experiencing lots of bloating.
Another dietary modification that you can take when trying to eliminate bloating is increasing your intake of dietary fibre.
3. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is one of the best natural bloating remedies. It involves eating without distractions and focusing fully on the food in front of you. When you eat mindfully, you chew your food properly and enjoy every bite.
With slower chewing, you will swallow less air and give your digestive system more time to break down the food you’re ingesting. As a result, you’ll experience less bloating and more enjoyable mealtimes.
4. Take a short walk after eating meals and snacks
Physical activity can encourage the movement of food through the digestive tract, keeping bloating to a minimum. Taking a short walk around the block after eating your meals and snacks can speed up digestion and prevent you from feeling sluggish and full.
5. Drink more water throughout the day
Water is essential for healthy digestion. It aids in the breakdown of foods and softens the stool, making it easier to pass. If you’re dehydrated, food will move more slowly through your digestive tract and you’re more likely to get bloated and constipated.
Increasing your fluid intake will reduce the risk of bloating and other digestive issues. Ideally, you should aim for two litres a day at the very least. Note that you might need more than this depending on your unique physiology and lifestyle.
Always drink water during and after working out, and particularly on hot sunny days when you’re sweating more than usual.