In the misery loves company department, it may be comforting to know that as many as 30 percent of Americans experience frequent bloating. And as tummy troubles go, bloating really can be miserable: That buildup of gas in your GI tract is nothing if not uncomfortable. Luckily there’s a lot you can do—beyond wearing your loosest clothing—to force out trapped gas and relieve your digestive discomfort. Here’s the health version of “deflategate”: expert tips to help blast away the dreaded stomach bloat.
“Drinking lots of water is one of the best things you can do to banish bloating,” says Washington, D.C.-based gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, MD, author of The Bloat Cure. It promotes good digestion, keeping your intestines moist and the contents moving briskly, which prevents bloat-causing backups and constipation.
It might seem counterintuitive, but drinking more water may also help if you’re already bloated. “Water can soften the stool and aid in its passage, taking excess gas along with it,” says Lisa Ganjhu, DO, a gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center. Aim for the recommended nine (for women) to 11 (for men) cups of water a day—and don’t forget to count the water found in fruits and vegetables and beverages like milk, juice, coffee, and tea. Two tip-offs you’re not low on H2O: You pee a lot (four to seven times a day, says Chutkan) and your urine color is pale yellow.
Anything that causes you to swallow more air can increase GI bloating—and make you feel like you swallowed a balloon, says Dr. Ganjhu. That includes smoking, chewing gum, drinking carbonated beverages, sucking on hard candies, drinking through straws or from bottles, gulping large quantities of fluid, and wolfing down your food. (Here are other reasons it's healthy to eat more slowly.) Try banishing these bad habits and see if it helps your bloating subside.
When it comes to sweeteners, it seems your belly can’t win, as Dr. Chutkan points out in her book. For instance, some artificial sweeteners contain sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol, which aren’t well-absorbed in the small intestine. Instead, they end up in your colon, where bacteria ferment them—producing “lots of smelly gas.”
Too much regular sugar isn’t good either, since, according to Dr. Chutkan, it sends bad bacteria into a feeding frenzy that can create an imbalance in the microbiome, the community of bacteria that live inside your body—mostly in your gut. To get rid of bloating and avoid any less-than-sweet surprises, try sticking to foods that have less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. (And make sure to avoid these "healthy" foods that are high in sugar.)
“Massaging your abdomen can stimulate gastrointestinal motility, which can move fluid and stool out of the body,” says Dr. Ganjhu. That may help relieve symptoms of tightness, pressure, cramping, and bloating. The University of Michigan Health System suggests rubbing lightly with your fingertips in a clockwise motion for about 10 minutes, working from the right side of your abdomen to the left side, and then (gently) across your middle.
Who knew yoga was an effective prescription for bloating? Well, that’s the word from Vincent Pedre, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and author of Happy Gut, who says the practice helps by stimulating the intestines and gut circulation. He recommends a host of common yoga poses, including cat/cow, downward dog, bridge, and seated forward bend. Another highly appropriate move to get rid of bloating is called apanasana, which is Sanskrit for the wind-relieving pose. To do this simple stretch, lie down and hug your knees to your chest for a few breaths, release your knees, and repeat a few more times.
“Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day,” Dr. Chutkan suggests. Splitting full meals into two smaller meals a few hours apart, for instance, will lessen the amount of food that needs to move through your intestinal tract at one time—a boon for smoother digestion. Aim to eat your smallest meal at night, ideally before sunset. According to Dr. Chutkan, stomach contractility decreases after dark, which means that food stays in your stomach longer, setting the stage for bloating.
Fat tends to empty out of your belly more slowly than protein and carbs, so keeping them a minimum may help keep things, er, moving, advises Dr. Chutkan. If you’re eating a particularly heavy meal, try taking a walk between dinner and dessert to give your stomach a bit of a break—sitting for long periods can exacerbate bloating.
Many herbs are “carminative,” which means they soothe the digestive tract and minimize gas. Two of the best are ginger and peppermint. One review of the benefits of ginger found that it speeds digestion, which can help ease the discomfort of bloating by moving gases more quickly into your small intestine. In his book The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods, botanist James A. Duke, PhD, suggests making ginger tea by adding ½ teaspoon of ground or freshly grated ginger to 1 cup of hot water. (Or try this soothing lemon ginger tea recipe.) Not a tea lover? A number of studies show that peppermint can help reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including bloating. To reap the benefits, Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of IBS for Dummies, suggests opting for enteric-coated peppermint pills. “They’re most recommended because they dissolve in the intestines, where they relax interstitial smooth muscle and also act as a painkiller.”
There are lots of healthy reasons to stop at one alcoholic beverage, and getting rid of bloating is one of them. Just a single drink a day for women (two for men) could lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which may cause GI symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea, according to an American College of Gastroenterology study. Carbonated beverages can cause bloating, so when you do indulge, opt for wine or still spirits to keep bloating at bay.
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