Updated 11th May 2022

What causes bloating and how can you deal with it?

Most of us are familiar with the unpleasant feeling of abdominal bloating. It often occurs after a heavy meal, and many women also experience it before or during their periods. Occasionally, it can be a symptom of an underlying health condition. 

But what can you do to tackle bloating if it’s something that’s affecting you regularly, or when you need some quick relief from the discomfort?

Adding fermented foods or probiotic supplements to your diet, reducing the amount of salt you eat, and looking out for foods you find hard to digest could all help to prevent bloating.

Meanwhile, studies suggest that going for a walk after a meal or taking peppermint oil could help when bloating is making you uncomfortable.

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Read on to learn more about the possible causes of bloating and what you can do to help relieve it.

Help with long-term relief from bloating

If you regularly experience bloating, then adding fermented foods or probiotic supplements to your diet may help. 

You could also try cutting down on the amount of salt you eat and looking out for certain foods that you may find hard to digest. And don’t forget to pay attention to your bowel habits. 

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that scientists believe may have health benefits when you consume them. 

You can find them as supplements in most health food stores, but you can also get probiotics by eating fermented foods like live yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, or certain aged cheeses. 

Researchers looked at 43 different studies involving people with IBS who tried probiotic supplements. They found that probiotics were an effective treatment for symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain, and flatulence. 

However, the researchers noted that it was unclear which types of probiotic bacteria were the most beneficial. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that probiotics may not work for everyone. Experts suggest sticking to a regular probiotic routine for at least 4 weeks before drawing conclusions.

Swap salt for herbs and spices

Diets high in salt can contribute to increased water retention and feelings of bloating, so eating less salt could help to tackle this. 

That doesn’t mean your food has to be bland — herbs and spices like garlic, chili, and cumin, or rosemary, thyme, and basil can give meals a flavor boost without the need for salt.

Note that the recommended daily salt intake for adults is less than 2,300 milligrams per day.

Look out for trigger foods

Certain plant foods, such as broccoli, lentils, and oats, contain fiber and types of sugars that some people may find difficult to digest. Left to ferment in your gut, these can produce gas and cause bloating. 

They’re otherwise healthy foods — and not everyone will feel bloated after eating them — but keeping a food diary could help you to identify whether any foods affect you in this way.

Regular, full bowel movements

Pay attention to your bowel movements and notice any changes to your regular rhythm. 

If you feel bloated, it may be due to constipation. To avoid this, it’s important to regularly empty your bowels fully.

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How to get rid of bloating fast

Moving after you eat and taking peppermint oil are remedies you could try when you need quick relief from bloating.

Gentle movement

Gentle exercise can help to move trapped gas from your gut. Researchers found that a short 10–15 minute walk after a meal was as effective at reducing feelings of fullness as over-the-counter medications.

Walking isn’t your only option, though. Any gentle movement can help to dislodge trapped wind, including yoga. Yoga has also been shown to improve your gut-brain interactions, which can help overall digestion in the long term.

Peppermint oil

You’ve probably heard people recommend a cup of peppermint tea for settling your stomach. Well, early evidence suggests there could be something to this.

Researchers assessing nine studies involving people with IBS found that taking capsules containing peppermint oil, compared with taking a placebo, gave significantly better relief of symptoms including abdominal pain. 

What causes a bloated belly?

Constipation, food intolerances, the way you eat, and changes during your menstrual cycle can all lead to bloating. In some cases, bloating may also be the result of an underlying health condition.

  • Constipation: It's a key contributor to feeling bloated. Pay attention to any changes to your bowel habits. Hard, dry, or lumpy stools, pain or difficulty passing stools, fewer bowel movements than usual, or a feeling of not being able to completely empty your bowels can be signs of constipation. If you are constipated, the bacteria in your colon have more time to ferment the stool that is building up, which can lead to an increase in gas and bloating. 

  • Swallowing too much air: Sometimes, bloating can be fixed with a straightforward lifestyle change. Things like chewing gum, eating too fast, or eating with your mouth open can cause you to swallow air, which can then become trapped in your gut, leading to bloating. This also applies to the gas bubbles you swallow when drinking soda.

  • Your menstrual cycle: For many women, bloating is a common symptom during or just before their period. Research suggests that fluctuating progesterone and estrogen levels can cause the body to retain extra water and salt, which can result in a bloated feeling.

  • Eating the “wrong” foods: One of the main causes of bloating is eating food that you have an intolerance to. For many people, this may be milk, as 68% of the global population is estimated to experience some form of lactose intolerance. But other foods, such as foods high in FODMAPs, can also cause you to feel bloated. These foods aren’t necessarily bad for you, but your body is struggling to process the amount that you’re eating all at once. Understanding which foods you may struggle with can often be a matter of trial and error. Try keeping a diary to track what you eat and see if there are foods that regularly leave you feeling bloated.

  • Medical conditions: In most cases, bloating is not a sign of a serious underlying illness. However, there are some medical conditions that can increase your likelihood of bloating, from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to ovarian cancer. So, if you notice that you are feeling bloated more often than usual, or if your bowel habits suddenly change, it’s important to consult with your doctor. 

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Eating for your gut health

The foods you eat can have a significant impact on your gut health and the range of bacteria that live there.

To feed your “good” gut bugs and reduce the amount of “bad” bugs, aim to eat 30 different plants each week and try to include foods from each of the following groups:

  • fruit and vegetables

  • nuts and seeds

  • legumes

  • whole grains

  • fermented foods

Adding more plants to your diet should help to improve your gut health, but your gut microbiome and your individual responses to foods are unique.

ZOE’s at-home test looks at which bugs live in your gut, as well as your blood sugar and blood fat responses to food.

We use this detailed information to recommend the best foods for your body.

You can take a free quiz to find out more.

Summary

Swallowing too much air, eating foods you find hard to digest, hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle, and constipation are all potential causes of bloating. Sometimes bloating can be a symptom of a medical condition like IBS.

If you experience bloating regularly, you could try consuming probiotic supplements or food, eating less salt, or keeping a diary to see if certain foods are the problem.

For more rapid relief, there’s some evidence that taking peppermint oil or gentle movement like going for a walk or yoga may help.

To improve your overall gut health, you can start by adding a wider range of plants to your diet. But everyone is different.

ZOE’s at-home test analyzes your unique gut microbiome and your body’s individual responses to food, to recommend the best foods for you.

Our free quiz could be the first step toward your personal health goals.

Sources

Country, regional, and global estimates for lactose malabsorption in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28690131/

Effects of the DASH diet and sodium intake on bloating: results from the DASH–Sodium Trial. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7122060/

Efficacy of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. (2014). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25070051/ 

FODMAP diet: What you need to know. (n.d.). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fodmap-diet-what-you-need-to-know

Most people consume too much salt. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/salt/index.htm

Gastrointestinal disturbances associated with the consumption of sugar alcohols with special consideration of xylitol: scientific review and instructions for dentists and other health-care professionals. International Journal of Dentistry. (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093271/

Irritable bowel syndrome: yoga as remedial therapy. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4438173/

Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. (2014). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24100754/

Sex hormone effects on body fluid regulation. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. (2010). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2849969/

Symptoms and causes of constipation. (n.d). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/symptoms-causes

The effect of a short-term physical activity after meals on gastrointestinal symptoms in individuals with functional abdominal bloating: a randomized clinical trial. Gastroenterology and Hepatology from Bed to Bench. (2021). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8035544/