Beating the Bloat
Have you ever had the experience that your pants suddenly and inexplicably no longer fit you? Have you had that feeling after eating that your belly has grown and distended? If you have, then you are likely dealing with abdominal bloating. To be clear, I am not talking about abdominal fat, or a beer belly, or the kind of roundness that often occurs as people age. What I am talking about is a digestive phenomenon that is impacting the intestines and causing excess gas production; that is what causes bloating.
Causes of Bloating
There are several key factors that impact this, and it comes down to understanding some of the basics of digestion. When you eat food, the digestion begins in your mouth as you chew and mix that food with saliva. Your saliva contains some digestive enzymes, like amylase, which begin breaking down the sugars and starches even in your mouth. As the food moves from your mouth to your stomach there are other digestive juices that come into play. The lining of the stomach produces hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes which start to break down proteins and protect the body from the incursion of microorganisms that are mixed in with the food that you eat. When the food moves from the stomach to the small intestine, there are additional chemicals produced by the pancreas and also by the liver, through the gallbladder, that neutralize the stomach acid and add other constituents to aid in the digestion and absorption of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. So long as you chew your food well and produce enough of the various digestive juices and enzymes, the complex molecules that make up the food you eat will be sufficiently broken down and then readily absorbed through the walls of your small intestine. These nutrients then move into your bloodstream and are transported to your cells to fuel them and all of their various processes. This is an oversimplification, but it is basically how the system works.
If, however, you are not producing sufficient digestive juices (let’s just call them that), you will not digest your food properly and it will not be absorbed in the matter that it should be. These incompletely digested foods are then acted upon and consumed by the bacteria and other organisms that reside in your intestinal tract. As a side note, and to give you some perspective, the human body consists of some 70 to 90 trillion cells. It is estimated that there are over 100 trillion organisms in the human gut at any given moment. It is a whole universe down there. Think of it like an ecosystem. When this ecosystem is out of balance because of poor digestion the bacteria and other organisms residing in it will have a field day with this poorly digested food.
There are many reasons for improper digestion and the resultant bloating. Some people simply, genetically, lack digestive enzymes like lactase, which is responsible for breaking down the sugars in milk products (lactose). If a person who is, therefore, “lactose intolerant” consumes dairy products, the lactose does not get properly digested and fermentation occurs in the gut causing bloating. The solution is to not eat dairy products if you are lactose intolerant, or to consume supplemental lactase enzymes.
As we age, and particularly under the influence of stress, we generally produce less stomach acid and other enzymes. You must realize that the production of such digestive juices is a metabolically expensive process for the body and some of this production will get sacrificed during periods of chronic stress. If you are not producing digestive enzymes because of the impact of normal aging, periods of stress, or improper eating habits, you may need to use supplemental digestive enzymes to allow you to properly digest your food. I should note that food allergy and sensitivity are becoming much more common, in large part because of declining digestive competency, stress, and the adulteration of our food sources. When a person does not digest food properly, then these incompletely digested molecules can cause inflammation of the gut lining, fermentation, bloating, and, ultimately, the development of “leaky gut” and food allergies/sensitivities. The solution is to make sure that you are not eating foods to which you are already sensitive and that you have sufficient digestive enzymes. As a side note, people with digestive problems are often prescribed antacids and proton pump inhibitors which reduce the acidity in the stomach. These products are often counterproductive and result in additional maldigestion and other digestive complications.
What Role Does Stress Play?
No discussion of digestion would be complete without mentioning that stress is fundamentally incompatible with proper digestion. This is the case because acute or chronic stress causes a fight/flight response which naturally shunts blood away from digestive organs and toward large skeletal muscles and other organs which are needed for survival. Therefore, the solution is to take time to eat, eat slowly, chew your food well, and make mealtime a special time in your day. By the way, eating with family and friends in a leisurely manner and enjoying a meal together is very helpful.
If you chew well, slowdown, compartmentalize mealtime, eat only foods that you can properly digest, eat foods to which you are not sensitive, and, when necessary, supplement with digestive enzymes, you will no longer struggle with bloating. At Chiropractic Health and Wellness our doctors specialize in helping people with just these issues. If you, a friend, or family member is struggling with abdominal bloating, please chat with one of our doctors. We are happy to help you get on the road to better health.