Bloating is a common phenomenon experienced by both men and women with estimates suggesting that as much as 30% of the population deals with it from time to time.[1,2]
Feeling overly stuffed, uncomfortable, and “puffy” are all hallmark signs of bloating, but why does it happen?
What specifically causes bloating?
Is it something you ate, or could it be something related to your hormones?
We’ll answer that and also tell you how to cure bloating ahead.
Let’s start with the answer to what causes bloating first.
What Causes Bloating?
While you might think that bloating is just another way to describe water retention and/or stomach distention, they are all actually very different from one another.
First off, every person who feels bloated doesn’t necessarily exhibit an increase in abdominal girth (a.k.a. Stomach distension) or increased pressure.[2,3]
Feeling bloated is just that -- a feeling or subjective measure.
The most common cause of bloating is excessive gas in the digestive tract, which can happen from swallowing too much air or drinking one too many carbonated beverages.
Carbonated beverages get their “fizz” from carbon dioxide. When you drink these bubbly beverages, the gas can get released from the liquid into your stomach, leading to extra gas in the GI tract.
Additionally, not completely chewing your food (i.e. scarfing your food down), drinking through a straw, and chewing gum may all contribute to excessive air entering your system...resulting in that quintessential bloated feeling.
The quick fix here is to make sure that you slow down when eating by chewing your food more thoroughly. If you are prone to feeling bloated, also consider eating smaller meals and/or not drinking your beverage through a straw.
Other Common Causes of Bloating
Food Sensitivities & Intolerances
Food sensitivities and intolerances are fairly common these days.
What this means is that when an individual eats something that they have a sensitivity to, they may experience bloating, cramping, gassiness, and other GI-related issues.
Some of the most common food sensitivities and intolerances are:
- Vegetable oils
FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides And Polyols.
They are a family of short-chain carbohydrates readily found in a number of foods common to the diet, including:
In certain individuals, FODMAPs are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, meaning they will head to large intestine and are fermented by gut bacteria. And, gas is a by-product of the fermentation process.
Another common cause of bloating can be infections.
Infections are caused by pathogenic bacteria that harm the body and can produce the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
The two primary bacteria associated with stomach infections are Escherichia coli (E. coli) or Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).
A number of common over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications have reported side effects that include bloating as well as other unwanted GI symptoms including gas, nausea, and diarrhea when taken.
One of the most notable culprits of medicine that is associated with bloating is antibiotics.
Antibiotics are typically prescribed to kill harmful bacteria that cause infections. However, in addition to killing off the bad bacteria, certain broad-spectrum antibiotics also kill the “good” bacteria.
This leads to a significant shift in the makeup of your gut bacteria, which can lead to a number of GI-related issues, including bloating.
To help promote gut health and increase the number of good gut bacteria, you can consume probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kimchi, or try a probiotic supplement.
It’s also important to remember that gut bacteria require their own special source of nutrition -- fiber. As we mentioned above, fiber serves as the food for gut bacteria, and if you’re not getting enough daily fiber in your diet, you’re starving the good bacteria, which can also lead to an imbalance in the gut.
If you’re not getting enough dietary fiber, start eating more fruits and veggies. You may also want to consider an all-natural fiber supplement, such as Fiber Plus, which contains 8 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
Several different gastrointestinal disorders have bloating as a symptom, including:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- celiac disease, and
- ulcerative colitis (UC)
Research indicates that bloating may occur in between 23-96% of people with IBS (quite a wide discrepancy).[4,5]
Additionally, 50% of individuals with “functional dyspepsia” -- a chronic form of indigestion where a person experiences the sensation (and movement) of food in the upper digestive tract.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
Abbreviated as SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is a condition that happens when there is an abnormal or excessive level of bacteria in the small intestine.
This bad bacteria bounty can result from a number of things, including:
- Using antibiotics
- Poor digestion
SIBO can also damage the stomach lining, which may lead to further gut problems as well as the malabsorption of essential nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals).
Constipation and Bowel Obstruction
Bloating can also occur as a result of constipation or bowel obstruction.
Bowel obstructions may happen due to the buildup of scar tissue in the small intestine or colon.
As these bowel blockages mount, they press against your innards, leading to the accumulation of fluid and stool in the intestines, which can cause bloating and abdominal pain.
Other common (not to mention less severe) causes of constipation include:
- Inadequate fiber intake
- Insufficient fluid (water) consumption
- Lack of physical activity
If constipation persists in the face of you addressing these deficiencies, it’s imperative that you seek medical attention as a bowel obstruction can result in a ruptured bowel.
Hormonal fluctuations accompanying a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle as well as endometriosis can both lead to bloating, cramping, and fluid retention.
How to Prevent Bloating
Bloating may be one of the easier GI-related symptoms to avoid if it’s due to eating too much or too quickly.
If your bloating is due to this (or something like swallowing too much air), the simple fix is to eat smaller meals as well as to take your time when eating (i.e. chew your food more slowly). You can also drink your fluids from the glass (or bottle) as opposed to using a straw.
If you start to realize that you feel bloated after eating certain foods (like those containing FODMAPs), simply remove them from your diet and substitute them with other healthy foods.
Also, remember that being sedentary is a contributing factor to bloating. As such, make sure you’re moving around enough during the day. If you have a desk job, get up and stretch or take a walk around the office once an hour to get the blood flowing and help eliminate any potential bloating, that may lay in wait.
Additionally, you can try using some all-natural remedies, like probiotics or peppermint oil.
Peppermint, in particular, has been highlighted as an all-natural alternative that functions similar to antispasmodic medications, which are commonly prescribed to treat IBS related symptoms.
Research even notes that supplementing with peppermint may help reduce bloating.[8,9]
This is why we’ve included peppermint as one of the foundational ingredients in our Daily Cleanse supplement. Daily Cleanse was formulated specifically to help support digestive health and reduce abdominal bloating.
Lastly, remember to chill out and relax.
Stress increases cortisol levels which impairs sleep, muscle recovery, glucose metabolism, and fat loss. Chronic stress can also exacerbate GI symptoms, contributing to abdominal bloating.
Learning to relax can help tame cortisol as well as help fight belly bloat.
The Bottom Line on What Causes Bloating
Bloating is an incredibly common occurrence that can result from a number of things. The “cure” or prevention for bloating ultimately hinges on what is the root cause.
Use the suggestions outlined in this article to help identify the triggers that may be causing you to feel bloated and address them so you can start feeling better sooner rather than feel discomfort and tightness any more.
- Jiang X, Locke GR 3rd, Choung RS, Zinsmeister AR, Schleck CD, Talley NJ. Prevalence and risk factors for abdominal bloating and visible distention: a population-based study. Gut. 2008;57(6):756–763. doi:10.1136/gut.2007.142810
- AGRAWAL, A. and WHORWELL, P. J. (2008), Review article: abdominal bloating and distension in functional gastrointestinal disorders – epidemiology and exploration of possible mechanisms. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 27: 2-10. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2007.03549.x
- Agrawal, A., Houghton, L. A., Lea, R., Morris, J., Reilly, B., & Whorwell, P. J. (2008). Bloating and distention in irritable bowel syndrome: the role of visceral sensation. Gastroenterology, 134(7), 1882–1889. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2008.02.096
- Seo AY, Kim N, Oh DH. Abdominal bloating: pathophysiology and treatment. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2013;19(4):433–453. doi:10.5056/jnm.2013.19.4.433
- Iovino P, Bucci C, Tremolaterra F, Santonicola A, Chiarini G. Bloating and functional gastrointestinal disorders: where are we and where are we going?. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(39):14407–14419. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i39.14407
- Dukowicz AC, Lacy BE, Levine GM. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a comprehensive review. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2007;3(2):112-22.
- Lacy BE, Gabbard SL, Crowell MD. Pathophysiology, evaluation, and treatment of bloating: hope, hype, or hot air?. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2011;7(11):729-39.
- Ford AC, Talley NJ, Spiegel BM, et al. Effect of fibre, antispasmodics, and peppermint oil in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2008;337:a2313. Published 2008 Nov 13. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2313
- Khanna, R., MacDonald, J. K., & Levesque, B. G. (2014). Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 48(6), 505–512.