It is that time of year when we become both excited and stressed about the sunshine and bathing suit season. Even with all the confidence in the world, it can be a scary thing to de-robe by the water. We want to look our best but bloating may be one thing standing in our way. Does your stomach commonly feel hard and distended later in the day, your pants feel a little tighter after work, still hungry but can't think to eat anything in fear of making it worse? Yes, bloating is a pain and never makes you feel good! Well, let's start to get to the bottom of it...
- Food sensitivities - There are some foods that our bodies just aren't able to process.The most common food sensitivities I see that cause bloating are dairy, gluten, eggs, and red meat. You may not be sensitive to all of them, or it may be something different, such as prolonged exposure to processed foods, but eliminating them for 3 weeks, monitoring symptoms, and re-introducing them one at a time may give you some answers. (More on food sensitivities and elimination diets at a later date.)
- Low stomach acid - In most cases I see, heartburn is due to low stomach acid instead of high stomach acid. Yes its true...mind blown! Your digestion starts mostly in your stomach and therefore if it is impeded here, it can lead to issues further down, such as bloating.
- Low digestive enzymes - Your stomach and pancreas are the main organs that secrete necessary digestive enzymes, such at pepsin, protease and lipase. If there are not enough enzymes, food does not get digested as completely causing issues.
- Dysbiosis - A fancy term that means an imbalance in your gut between the good and bad bacteria. Probiotics (the good guys), have many health benefits, including regulating your bowels and decreasing inflammation.
- Stress - All of these issues can lead back to stress. It goes back to the "fight or flight" and "rest and digest" idea of our nervous systems. If we put all our energy into fighting stress, we prevent adequate blood flow to our digestive system, which can lead to inflammation, poor organ function and a "leaky gut". Organs that can be affected are your stomach, liver, gallbladder and intestines.
As it can be any one, or all of the above, its best to understand your digestion from the start. So...
Let's start at the very beginning...A very good place to start.
Digestion actually begins even before you take your first bite. Salivation, stimulated by hunger or smell, sends signals to your digestive track to start producing enzymes, stomach acid etc. You then take your first bite...yum! However, if your stomach is not able to produce enough stomach acid, or HCl, digestion is impeded. Heartburn is a common symptom of low HCl. At the end of the esophagus is a sphincter (an elastic band per say), and it opens and closes to let food into the stomach. Ideally, adequate stomach acid sends a signal to the sphincter to tighten, preventing any acid and food from irritating the esophagus while breaking down your food. This sphincter can become weak or lazy due to low acid (but also such things as overuse of ant-acids, stress, obesity and pregnancy), and symptoms may arise. Protein is broken down first by HCl. Have difficulty digesting red meat? This may be why! If food is not broken down properly in the stomach, your intestines have to work harder and inflammation can arise, causing bloating.
What can you do?
Bitters, such as the herb Gentiana lutea, will initiate digestion and help eliminate bloating very successfully. However, one of the best at home remedies for bloating and heartburn is organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Instead of suppressing stomach acid, it actually stimulates your bodies natural ability to produce stomach acid, while prepping your body for digestion. Even 1 tsp in water 10 minutes before meals will do the trick. Note that apple cider vinegar will not give relief if you have an ulcer or too much stomach acid. An HCl challenge, with your ND, is a useful tool to decipher if you have high or low stomach acid.
If you have any questions about elimination diets, testing stomach acid, using apple cider vinegar or your bloating concerns please don't hesitate to book an appointment with me or your local ND. (More to come on bloating in the coming month.)
In health & happiness,