If you’ve ever felt like you’ve got an expanding balloon lodged inside your belly, you know the unwelcome experience of bloating all too well. As much of a bummer as it can be, though, bloating is pretty common.
Usually, bloating results from excess production of intestinal gas caused by eating too fast, swallowing air, not chewing your food well enough, or reduced production of enzymes and improper digestion, explains naturopath Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., director of Arizona Natural Medicine. Additionally, in the cases of food intolerances or medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain foods—even when eaten in small amounts—can cause your belly to swell.
Despite being common, bloating is usually something worth investigating, according to Canada-based naturopathic doctor Sarah Connors, N.D. “We usually take bloating into account as a symptom of something else, since bloating is not considered a diagnosis, but rather a part of the symptom picture that we take into consideration,” she explains.
Feeling puffed-up all the time is a good reason to get examined, but if underlying issues are ruled out and you’re given the greenlight by your healthcare provider, there are plenty of all-natural remedies that can help you deflate.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., is a naturopath and the director of Arizona Natural Medicine. Sarah Connors, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor based in Canada. Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P., is a functional nutritional therapy practitioner.
1. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes live within our stomach, small intestine, and pancreas, where they help break down the components of the foods we eat, such as fats, carbs, proteins, and even gluten, explains functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P. “Certain people struggle to make enough of these digestive enzymes, including those who’ve recently had an injury to or surgery on the pancreas and those with chronic health conditions like pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis,” she says. “If your body struggles to break down foods due to a lack of digestive enzymes, it can cause the food to sit in your digestive tract, ferment, and cause bloating.” The other serious issue here is that you won’t fully absorb all the nutrients of the foods you eat.
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Digestive enzymes are considered safe, although it’s a good idea to run them by your healthcare provider to make sure you’re not taking any drug they could negatively react with. Those with acid reflux should also avoid any enzyme supplements that contain hydrochloric acid (HCL), which can aggravate symptoms, notes Lane. If you’ve got the all-clear, take your digestive enzymes alongside meals.
This flower in the Asteraceae family is perhaps most popular for promoting relaxation and reducing feelings of anxiety, but chamomile has also been shown to alleviate gastrointestinal issues, including gas and upset stomach, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “The oils in chamomile have what’s known as a carminative effect, which means they help break up gas in the stomach,” explains Connors.
Chamomile can be dried and made into a tea, encapsulated, or made into a tincture. Connors recommends incorporating it shortly after eating or at the onset of indigestion. “If using tea, a cup or two should be sufficient for most cases of bloating,” she says.
Ginger has been used for thousands of years in cooking as well as for myriad medicinal purposes, including upset stomach and bloating. “Due to its carminative effects, ginger helps to calm the stomach and may help with moving food through the digestive tract more efficiently,” says Connors. One study published in the journal Food Science & Nutrition found that consuming ginger (in this case, in combination with artichoke extract) prior to eating significantly improved symptoms of indigestion.
“For occasional bloating, you could take ginger prepared as a tea, in capsules, or as a tincture after the onset of symptoms,” Connors suggests. “The dose would depend on what form is being used, but a cup of tea or the recommended dose on the supplement bottle will often be effective.”
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in our gut microbiome and help us break down food more optimally, among other important functions, explains Rodgers. “Unfortunately, sometimes—often as a result of taking antibiotics or consuming certain foods—the bad bacteria outnumber the good, which can impact how food and liquids are digested, ultimately causing more bloating,” she says.
There are more than 500 different types of probiotics out there and each is unique in what it offers, which can make supplement shopping a little tricky. According to Lane, the two most well-understood beneficial bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, so look for those on product labels. In the case of bloating, she recommends starting with a low amount (like one billion CFU), as going all-in right off the bat can actually aggravate bloating. As long as you feel adjusted to that amount, slowly work your way up to 10 to 20 billion CFUs over the course of a couple of weeks, continuing to increase only if you’re side-effect-free, Lane suggests. Any sudden stomach issues may be a reason to decrease your amount or consider switching to a different product or strain.
Turmeric, which is famous for its golden hue, is an antioxidant-rich herb native to Southeast Asia. It’s been used for thousands of years both as a culinary spice and a medicinal remedy for everything from eye issues to burns to bug bites. The main active component in turmeric, curcumin, has also been shown to improve the health of the gut by supporting the balance of good bacteria, per research published in the journal nutrients.
Dosage recommendations can be tricky when using turmeric to help ease bloating since it comes in many forms (powder, capsules, tea, root, etc.). “If you are using turmeric powder, for example, you’ll have to consume a bit more to obtain the same amount of curcumin you would a supplement,” Rodgers says. While supplements are often concentrated to 95 percent curcumin, the whole spice itself is only about three percent curcumin, she explains.
This hybrid mint, which comes from a cross between spearmint and watermint and is often used in gums, toothpaste, and teas, has been shown to help soothe an upset stomach and ease bloating. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, for example, found that it helped relieve issues such as pesky recurrent bloating after two weeks of use. “In relation to indigestion and bloating, peppermint is thought to provide relief by calming the smooth muscles of the stomach and digestive tract,” Connors says.
Peppermint can be taken in many forms including concentrated oil, as a tea, in capsules, or as a tincture. Ideally, you’ll take it at the initial onset of bloating or prior to eating, according to Connors. Try a cup of tea or follow the instructions on supplement packaging for best results.