Have you ever suffered from sudden abdominal distention after a light meal or even after drinking a glass of water or two?
What causes a bloated stomach? Did you wake up with a flat stomach, and only an hour later, your belly is like a balloon even without eating or drinking anything unusually thick? We’ve probably all been there.
The bloated or swollen stomach is caused by the sudden production or entry of gas into the gastrointestinal tract. It is widespread and, in most cases, does not represent any danger. Still, when it occurs too often or comes with other symptoms, we must take action.
Beyond a negative aesthetic factor, as the swollen belly does not look good on anyone, abdominal distension is also a symptom.
The excessive presence of gas in the stomach or colon can be associated with certain diseases. There may also be alterations with the diet, disorders with nutrition, or intolerance to certain foods.
Causes of a swollen stomach
Strangely enough, swallowing air is one of the most common causes of abdominal distention. That usually occurs when we eat very quickly and under stress or if we chew with our mouths open.
We can also swallow air when we gulp water down, which is common after strenuous exercise or training.
Chewing gum makes us swallow air without realizing it, and some of its components can produce more gas.
We usually resolve air swallowing by burping. It is not a very social activity, but it eliminates the excess air in the esophagus.
However, when the air already reaches the stomach, the solution is different. The peristaltic movements of the gastrointestinal tract push the air into the intestines, and once there, it cannot exit through the mouth.
The gases accumulate in the lower abdomen, causing the already mentioned distension, and leave our organism as flatus or when we defecate. If they spend a lot of time in the stomach, we can eliminate them by diffusion.
There is no doubt that there are foods that encourage the formation of gases. Carbohydrates high in fiber, such as cauliflower, carrots, whole grains, and various pulses, cause the stomach to generate and retain more gas than with low-fiber foods.
A single apple or a tiny salad, which barely takes up any space in the stomach, has enough fiber to cause bloating.
The amount of food we eat can also be associated with the occurrence of bloating. Very abundant diets or famous binges have almost always bloating side effect.
That is because food spends more time inside the stomach lining and ferments more than it should, generating more gas.
Liquids with carbonic acids, such as sodas and energy drinks, emit carbon dioxide when heated inside our bodies, causing us to accumulate gases.
That happens even with sugar-free soft drinks, despite the low-calorie load and the feeling of fullness produced by the bubbles.
The same goes for beer. When we feel full or relaxed after drinking some beers, it is because of the accumulation of gases caused by the fermentation of barley and sugars, as well as hops.
Grains or beans
Any discussion of bloating and gas would not be complete if we didn’t talk about beans.
Bean’s high content of complex carbohydrates makes them a complete and inexpensive food, but also a great producer of gas.
Products known generically as beans or grains (beans, soya, peas, beans) are rich in oligosaccharides.
These particular carbohydrates are difficult to process by digestive enzymes and pass almost intact into the intestine.
There, they are processed by intestinal bacteria, releasing hydrogen and carbon dioxide that can build up in the lower abdomen, causing a swollen stomach.
Hormonal changes in pregnancy appear to be the cause of increased gas during pregnancy. Increased progesterone levels affect the normal functioning of the digestive system from the beginning of pregnancy.
Gas is most likely an early symptom of pregnancy, as it occurs when there are no visible external signs of pregnancy yet.
As the months go by, when the fetus increases in size, the gases worsen due to a mechanical effect.
The pressure exerted by the pregnant uterus on the abdominal viscera causes the air inside to travel chaotically and the belly to swell even more.
Both hormonal and physical causes improve immediately after giving birth.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
One of the most frequent and annoying gastrointestinal pathologies is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is related to swelling in the belly.
The typical clinical picture is the alternation between diarrhea and constipation, often associated with abdominal pain and distension.
The characteristic pain of this disease is the colic type, with full and short term crises.
Pain attacks are not only produced by the colics but also by the distension. Hence they are relieved by the expulsion of flatus.
Belly swelling may be due to reasons other than gas.
- The presence of fluid associated with liver cirrhosis or cancer diseases is frequent in severe cases.
- The same is true for patients with severe congestive heart failure.
- Finally, we should not forget that intra-abdominal fat in the obese person also increases the size of the belly, without the need for gas or liquid inside.
Bloated stomach-Treatment, and remedies for abdominal distension
The range of treatments that are useful for belly swelling is extensive, and they are usually simpler and more natural than we could imagine.
Here are some of these remedies, starting with the most common and easy to apply to the most complex or elaborate.
While some fruits like apples can increase gas production, others can prevent the swollen stomach.
Papaya and pineapple contain digestive enzymes that help process the proteins in food.
Pharmaceuticals use these enzymes – bromelain and papain – as components in certain antiflatulent and digestive drugs.
Kiwi and figs also possess proteolytic enzymes that help digest food. We can eat them directly or prepared as juices.
The essential oils in fruits do not work in the same way, but they can also work.
Avoiding industrial baking
These products are rich in fats and sugars, which are very difficult for the body to process and which generate a large amount of gas during the process.
Also, they recognized them as harmful to health from other points of view, such as the cardiovascular and endocrine spheres, favoring weight gain, and the accumulation of fat in the abdomen.
Homemade pastries may be less harmful, but they are still detrimental to health.
The fact that they do not use preservatives or artificial additives makes them less harmful, but the amount of fat and sugar remains high.
We understand that because of their taste, they are delicious, but if you suffer from abdominal distension or bloated stomach, you should avoid them.
Decrease your fat intake
Fats and oils bring great taste to foods but can be harmful if consumed in excess.
The enzymes that process them, contained in bile, work well when the amount of fat is low, but they have a hard time doing so if there is too much.
Delayed gastric emptying causes gas from digestion to remain in the stomach longer and causes the belly to swell.
Drinking green tea offers numerous benefits to the human body, including relief from a bloated stomach. Tannins, essential components of tea, increase stomach acid production, and this helps digestion of both fat and protein.
However, excess tea can cause problems. Too many tannins can cause digestive disorders such as constipation or diarrhea. If drunk on an empty stomach, the acid can cause dyspepsia and gastroesophageal reflux.
Zingiber officinale, the scientific name of ginger, has many medicinal properties, being immensely appreciated in the world of health, as well as in gastronomy.
The rhizome of the plant has been used since time immemorial to treat gastric problems, including gas and abdominal distension, or bloated stomach.
Gingerols, abundant compounds within ginger, are activated by cooking and provide many digestive benefits.
In addition to preventing the production of intestinal gas, it increases the secretion of saliva, helping to swallow and digest food.
Inside the intestine, some bacteria perform digestive functions. These bacteria are known as “intestinal flora or gut bacteria.”
Some foods help with the average growth of these microorganisms. These foods are known as “probiotics” and naturally boost the digestion process.
One of the best-known probiotics is yogurt. They obtain this product of milk fermentation thanks to the action of several bacteria, including the lactobacillus family.
They seem to improve the digestive action of the healthy intestinal flora and prevent the belly from filling with gas.
Other recognized probiotics are kefir – very similar to yogurt, although processed more by fungi than bacteria – jocoque, kimchi, and sauerkraut. However, the latter seems more likely to generate gas than to prevent it.
Changing the water in legumes
We mentioned before that legumes are among the foods that produce the most gas and bloating.
Yet they are very nutritious, and their consumption is universal. Therefore there are some tricks when cooking them that will help to avoid this annoying sensation.
- When we prepare vegetables or grains, we must drain the cooking water completely, thus eliminating a large number of complex sugars that are difficult to digest.
- You can also change the water in the middle of cooking and replace it with fresh water. Even though it is not a legume, this same technique works when cooking the carrot.
- In people who suffer from bloating very often but still enjoy a good meal of beans, another option is to remove the skin when cooking them. This process is somewhat tedious, but it eliminates one of the most important causes of gas production, such as the carbohydrates present in the skin of legumes.
Nauli Kriya or vacuum
Nauli Kriya is one of the classic yoga exercises and very useful for the swollen or bloated stomach. Those who practice it claim that it is helpful to “clean” or “purify” the abdominal area and the digestive organs.
It is the massage on the internal viscera that we do through the circular movement of the abdominal muscles.
This exercise requires a lot of previous training, and it is not easy to achieve. Yogis don’t teach this movement to beginners.
But if you succeed, the benefits are many: it strengthens the abdominal muscles, stimulates the internal organs, prevents indigestion and constipation, stimulates the inner energy, and, of course, improves the swelling of the belly.
Water with lemon
The juice of a lemon diluted in a glass of water helps to reduce the formation of gas and to lower the swollen stomach. That is thanks to the effect of citric acid on the food we digest, shortening the time, and avoiding exaggerated fermentation.
Its consumption should not be exaggerated, as excess acid can be counterproductive.
The mechanical effect of the massage helps to release the gas retained in the belly, expelling it through the anus. This practice is common in babies and small children, but in adults, it can be handy.
When we retain gas in the abdomen, a proper technique consists of lying on your back and bending your knees over the belly, pressing periodically like a press.
Another option is to massage the abdominal wall with circular movements in a clockwise direction, directing the gas towards the rectum and then expelling it.
10 to 30 minutes is enough to decrease abdominal distension.
Walking is probably the most straightforward remedy for removing the gases that are inside us.
When we have eaten and feel full or relaxed, taking a walk will surely help.
Walking a short distance stimulates the peristaltic movements of the intestine and helps to expel the gases that cause the swelling of the belly.
The same applies to people who have just undergone surgery and have retained gas inside, suffering from a swollen belly.
When none of the above options seem to work for a swollen or bloated stomach, taking some medication may help.
Some of these are over-the-counter such as simethicone, dimethicone, or charcoal.
There are also digestive enzymes in capsules that support the digestive process.
We have to use them after a large intake of food or if we have a congenital deficit of these enzymes.