In the first part of this two-part series on bloating, I talked about causes of bloating. Here’s the short version:
- bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
- sugars that disrupt the normal microbes in your intestines
- food intolerances and allergies
- foods that are hard to digest and produce gas
- intestinal parasites
- chemical and perfume sensitivities or intolerances
- stress and trauma
With that list in mind, let’s look at ways to prevent bloating and relieve the gas and discomfort.
At the very end, I’ve included a list of natural supplements and herbs for bloating.
1. Treat your small intestine bacterial overgrowth
How do you find out if you have small intestine bacterial overgrowth?
You can be tested for it. The most common medical test is probably the hydrogen breath test. You can also have an “aspirate” or fine needle biopsy of the cells in the jejunum, which is the middle section of the small intestine. If this shows that there are 10⁵ bacteria per millilitre or more, then you have an overgrowth. Normal is 10⁴ per millilitre. This test is considered to be the most accurate.
A third possibility is the D-Xylose test, where you drink some liquid containing the sugar D-xylose, and if it doesn’t show up in your blood or urine, chances are that your small intestine is having problems with absorption (i.e. the bacteria has taken over.)
Instead of testing, some doctors would simply put you on antibiotics.
Antibiotics are the usual medical treatment for small intestine bacterial overgrowth, and if your doctor prescribes them and your symptoms clear up, then you have saved the time and money you would have spent on the testing.
However, if you decide to go this route, please do some research on antibiotics first. Here are a couple of thoughts you may wish to consider.
One of the antibiotics recommended for dealing with bacterial overgrowth is metronidazole. This is the drug that almost killed Raymond Francis. I mentioned him in part one of this article in the section on vitamins. You may be fine with this drug. He was not.
Now, here’s a fascinating, not-so-fun fact…
What are the most common side effects of antibiotics?
DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS!!! including:
- Bloating and abdominal pain!!!
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and constipation
Now, how ironic is that? It seems odd that a drug with these specific side effects would be given to someone with IBS, doesn’t it?
Antibiotics have also been linked to yeast infections and unpleasant emotions such as depression and anxiety (probably because of the disruption in your digestive flora, which then affects your brain and mood.)
Let me pause here for a moment and say that if you really need antibiotics then do choose what is best for YOU. I am heavily slanted towards the natural approach because that is what works best for me as well as being what this site is about. Every body is different and you must do what’s right for you.
Is there a natural treatment for bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine?
Unless you have an underlying condition to deal with, like pancreatitis or complications from surgery, that makes bacteria grow in your small intestine or travel to it from your large intestine, you can try the suggestions below, especially this one…
2. Cut out sugars that disrupt your normal microbes
Try not to wince when you read that. I know that for a lot of people, self included, cutting out sugars seems like a big punishment. But here’s why it is SO important:
Those sugars are the food of the bacteria that cause bloating.
So, even if you love sweets, that bacteria loves them even more and will make you crave any form of sweet, from chocolate brownies to ice cream to apples and pears.
Anyway, you don’t have to cut out sweets forever, just long enough to starve the bacteria. I’d give it at least six weeks.
What should you avoid?
- Fruit with a high fructose-to-glucose ratio (and/or containing sorbitol), such as apples, pears, dried fruit (raisins, dates, prunes, figs, apricots, etc.), cherries, grapes, plums, peaches, mangoes, melons, coconut milk.
- Anything that contains fructose, sorbitol, sucrose, glucose, dextrose, lactose or any other sugar (Read labels!)
- Breads, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, etc. especially made from wheat flour
- Soda pop
- Alcoholic beverages, wine, beer (once the bloating ends, you may be fine with a dry wine or a plain alcohol such as vodka, but definitely avoid mixed drinks and coolers which often contain sugar or sweet alcohols)
- Other fermented foods such as vinegar, tempeh, soy sauce and foods that contain them (once the bloating stops, you may be able to eat these again)
- Dairy foods – which often cause bloating
- Processed meat products that contain sugars, like luncheon meats, hot dogs, bacon, deli meats
- Honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, agave, other syrups
You’ll want to be very focussed about starving those bacteria. And be aware that they might complain at first as they die off. That means that you could have some uncomfortable symptoms:
- Feels like you have a cold with sniffing and sneezing
- Feel a bit depressed
- Possibly some digestive discomfort
- Achy joints, miscellaneous aches and pains
But don’t worry! These symptoms won’t last and they are a sign that you are succeeding. And not everyone has symptoms. If you do, just keep in mind that you are detoxifying the excess bacteria (clearing it out), and that’s a good thing.
3. Watch out for food intolerances and allergies
Undiagnosed food allergies or intolerances may be one of the causes of your bloating. Here’s the tricky part – intolerances are often difficult to diagnose through medical tests (even allergy scratch tests are said to be only 30 percent accurate!)
What to do?
There are other methods of testing, usually through practitioners who do some form of “electro-dermal” testing. What does that mean? It means they have you hold some kind of electrode while they rapidly check you on dozens of tiny food samples in glass jars. If you react to a substance, a molecular amount is enough to show it.
Remember, according to science, everything in the universe is a vibration: sound, light, even us. So the vibration of each food affects your electrical system (yes, we humans are electrical, among other things) and the electrode will pick up on this.
Does it hurt? No, not at all.
You can also be muscle-tested by someone who does Touch for Health or Applied Kinesiology. A muscle test will show if a food weakens you (i.e. is likely to be hard on your digestion.) This process takes considerably longer than the electro-dermal method, but it is also a good one.
Note: intolerances are sometimes called “sensitivities.” A medical friend told me that so many people are reacting to so many things now that don’t show up on allergy tests, that the new phrase is “adverse reaction” instead of allergy or intolerance.
Do it yourself
If you can’t find a practitioner or prefer to do your own testing at home, here are a couple of suggestions.
1) Beware of the top food allergens/intolerances (see list below), especially dairy and wheat, which are known to cause problems with bloating and gas. If you are eating any of these foods, stop eating them one at a time and see what happens. Observe carefully – sometimes you feel worse before you feel better. (I know, it’s not fair, but it’s worth it.) It takes 4 – 5 days for a food to clear your system, so wait at least a week to make your observations before cutting out another food.
If you eat the food again after a week and suddenly feel awful that day or the following day (yes, it can take a day or two), you will know for sure that you are reacting to it. You could have physical symptoms, like gas and bloating, coughing, sneezing, headache, stomach ache, blurry vision, aches and pains. Or you could have mental and emotional symptoms, like depression, anxiety, rage, difficulty thinking clearly, trouble concentrating, etc.
Note: if you are cutting out a food, you must cut out EVERYTHING that contains that food or its ingredients. For example, if you’re stopping dairy, don’t just stop drinking milk. Also avoid milk chocolate, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and any food with dairy ingredients such as whey.
2) If you are familiar with any type of dowsing or body-asking, you can test yourself on different foods. The big caution here is that you must be scrupulous about asking for your body’s TRUE answer. If you block the answer because you really don’t want to know that you are reacting to milk products or whatever, you will get the answer you want instead of the real one.
3) Examine your blood relative’s health history – especially the older members of your family (parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents.) A surprising number of health problems are related to food intolerances.
For example, according to Dr. James Braly, cereal grains that contain gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, kamut, spelt) are linked to 150 different health conditions including arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, all kinds of digestive problems including bloating, IBS, IBD, autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis and lupus, asthma, alopecia, depression… the list goes on and on.
So, the point here is to look at those health problems in your older family members and check the links to food intolerances. This is fairly easy to do on the web. Then avoid those foods. I did this and my health improved significantly.
Top Food Allergens / Intolerances
- Wheat and corn (probably the most hybridized grains)
- Peanuts (which are a legume and grow on the ground, not in a tree. They contain a mould called aflatoxin which is known to cause liver cancer in lab rats. Aflatoxin is also found in corn.)
- Tree nuts
- Soy and soy products
- Fish and shellfish
- Coffee and chocolate
- Oranges and other citrus fruits
- Sugar; high-fructose corn syrup
- Yeast (bread, beer, etc)
- Food preservatives and additives
With DIY home testing it is not always clear whether you are reacting to a food or to the pesticide and fertilizer residues on that food. You can try organic versions of a food and see if you feel better consuming them. (See the last paragraph of number 7 below.)
4. Stop eating foods that are hard to digest and produce gas – at least temporarily
The gassiest foods are:
- Legumes or beans such as lentils, black beans, kidney beans, soy etc and their products (e.g. tofu)
- Whole grains
- Cruciferous vegetables such as: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards
Wikipedia has a full list in this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruciferous_vegetables
Yes, yes, I know whole grains and broccoli are supposed to be super-healthy. In the case of broccoli, I would agree. But until you get your bloating under control, it helps to avoid these gassy, bloat-causing foods. If you must eat broc, cook it until it’s quite tender, which will at least help to break down some of the insoluble fiber (although it won’t get rid of the raffinose which is the sugar that causes gas.)
You can also try taking a digestive enzyme with these foods but initially that may not be enough.
Most of these foods, except dairy, contain insoluble fiber, which is very hard to digest. In fact, it’s so tough it basically goes through your system undigested.
When you have IBS, you’re better off with soluble fiber foods which are much more helpful to your digestion. A good quality white bread is often recommended as a source of soluble fiber because it has had the insoluble “whole” fiber removed (and is okay as long as you don’t have a problem with gluten.)
Try starting all your meals with a soluble fiber food to “pre-condition” your digestion. Avocado, oats, mushrooms, chestnuts, rice pasta, turnip, and sweet potato are sources.
BTW, you’ve probably read articles on the web that tell you that beans or legumes and broccoli are sources of soluble fiber. That may be so, but they also contain large amounts of insoluble fiber and the dreaded raffinose, that indigestible sugar that gives you gas and bloating.
A final thought: I don’t know whether multivitamins cause bloating, but they are often hard to digest. Kathy and I have found that people with digestive problems usually react to their multivitamin because it contains one or more ingredients that don’t work for that person.
So if you are taking a multi, try going off it until you get your bloating under control. According to vitamin expert, Raymond Francis, the vast majority of vitamins are of very poor quality and contain so little of the active ingredients (and so much filler) that you’re not getting any benefit from them anyway.
5. Kill off intestinal parasites
An estimated 70 – 90 percent of us have parasites. Some researchers believe that parasites are either at the root of most health problems or they help to make health problems worse.
Humans get parasites from various sources:
- Contaminated water. Even in North America, much of our water is contaminated with Giardia which is not killed by chlorine.
- Undercooked or raw meat or fish
- Fruits and vegetables from countries that use feces as fertilizer
- Walking barefoot around animals
- People who don’t wash their hands after you-know-what
You can be tested for parasites, but my understanding is that they may or may not show up. There are hundreds of different types of parasites, but only about 40 are tested for.
Parasites have cycles inside you because they lay their eggs and die off and then the next generation hatches. They are known to be more active around the full moon as this is apparently their hatching time.
This is why, if you have parasites, sometimes you feel fine and other times not so great. Bloating and gas are classic symptoms of parasites in your system, as are violent bowel movements.
What to do?
1) Your home water may be fine, especially if you filter it. You can have it tested to make sure – usually your local municipal office will have water tests available.
However, if you are going out in public, camping, or going to places where the water quality is unknown, boil water before drinking and don’t brush your teeth with tap water. Use bottled or boiled water. In a restaurant or when travelling, order tea (because the water is usually boiled) or boiled water.
2) Wash your hands regularly, especially when you are out in public (shopping, going to school or work, whatever). Keep your hands off your face and OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!!! Parasites can live under your fingernails for weeks.
Teach your children to wash their hands regularly, especially after using the washroom.
3) Wear shoes in outdoor areas where pets have defecated. Do not allow your pets to lick you in the mouth. (Sorry, but you know where else they like to lick themselves.)
4) Wash all fruits and vegetables to remove fertilizer residues before consuming.
(Note: Feces have been used as fertilizer since the dawn of time. They are part of the cycle of life. The problem is, they need to be well-composted to remove all the pathogens. It is impossible to know whether this has been done, unless it is your own garden.)
5) Cook meat before eating. Avoid sushi. Avoid ground meats, hot dogs and luncheon meats which may be poorly or partially cooked and may be contaminated with feces. If you buy ground meat, cook it thoroughly.
6) Use a parasite cleanse or time-tested herbs that are known to combat parasites. Not recommended for pregnant women except under the supervision of a health care professional.
Natural parasite fighters:
- Black walnut hulls
- Senna (if you have diarrhea, be careful with this one as it is a laxative)
- Thyme (oil of thyme is a powerful anti-fungal as well as being anti-parasitic, so will help to reduce an overgrowth of Candida)
- Grapefruit Seed Extract
- Olive Leaf Extract (do not use if you have high blood pressure)
- Peppermint oil
You probably noticed that several of these are used in cooking. The cuisine from hot climates often includes herbs and spices (cayenne, garlic, ginger) that are anti-parasitic. These herbs not only taste good but help keep us healthy!
Be sure to buy good quality herbs from a reputable company and take them over a 30-day period, morning and evening, so you stop the breeding cycle of the parasites. Taking a mixture of natural parasite fighters is probably your best bet to address a range of different parasites, rather than relying on a single herb.
There may be some discomfort with killing off parasites so, although intense 7-day cleanses are available, you will probably want to avoid such extreme processes.
6. Escape from mercury
As I mentioned in part one of this series, mercury acts like an antibiotic, interfering with your intestinal flora and digestive processes, your immune system, your nervous system, your cardiovascular system and blood pressure… the list goes on and on. As you can see, bloating is one of the many possible negative results.
For most of us, probably the most significant source of mercury is fish. The smaller the fish, the less mercury it is likely to contain, so the best fish choices are small ocean fish such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel and sole. The most contaminated fish are big, oily fish such as tuna, halibut, swordfish and shark.
Another source of mercury is fabric softener (which often contains formaldehyde) – whether you are using the liquid, or the dryer sheets. Either buy a natural version or just put vinegar into the fabric softener cup in your washing machine. It works very well and will NOT make your clothes smell like vinegar.
Most vaccines are now mercury-free but up until recently they contained Thimerosal, a preservative that is also found in contact lens solutions. This mercury-based preservative has been blamed for many of the vaccine-related problems in children such as ADD and autism.
Although dental filling materials have changed significantly since the twentieth century, many dentists still use mercury to fill cavities. If you have mercury fillings, sometimes called “silver” fillings, and want to change them to composite, find a “mercury-free” dentist in your area and make sure they use proper protocols for removing the mercury.
This involves protecting the patient from both the fumes of the mercury that arise when it is drilled out, and the particles that could go down your throat. My dentist put an oxygen mask on my face and a “dental dam” in my mouth that protected me from flying debris.
While having fillings changed can be somewhat stressful (it’s not easy to have someone messing around in your mouth!), my own experience was that it improved my health enormously. Unfortunately, mercury in your teeth is not dormant. It ends up going all through your body.
Getting it out of your body
Even if you’re not going to change your mercury fillings right away, there IS something you can do. Dr James LaValle says that the most powerful detoxifier of mercury is glutathione. You can’t take straight glutathione – it won’t work. So the nutrients you would purchase to increase your levels of glutathione are:
- N-acetylcysteine or NAC, which is the precursor to glutathione
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
- Milk Thistle (also helps to clear the liver)
If you can only afford one, get the NAC and eat some garlic with your meals.
7. Choose household and personal care products that support your digestion
Products made from chemicals often upset the balance of microbes in your intestines, which is another reason bloating happens. Products that you accidentally inhale, or that you put on your skin or clothing, affect you just as much as if you put them into your mouth! Pets and children are even more affected than adults.
To prevent problems, choose natural products for your home, laundry, and personal care. Especially avoid products containing chemical scents. How do you know which these are? Anything with the red flag word “fragrance” in the ingredient list contains chemical scents, even if it is in the health food store. It’s always a good idea to read labels.
In particular, look for natural source, unscented or low-toxin versions of the following:
- cleaning products, polishing products
- laundry products, fabric softener
- personal care products
- fragranced products of any type (unless naturally scented)
- air fresheners and sprays
- home renovation products (for example, if buying paint, look for low VOC paint and DO NOT use indoor paint if you are pregnant!)
Avoid dry cleaning. If you must have something dry-cleaned, after you bring the clothing home, take off the bag and hang the garment out in the garage or on an outdoor clothesline – somewhere that is not connected with your household air. Allow it to outgas (release its fumes) for several hours (or days!)
Beware of pesticides and insecticides both on foods and on your garden and lawn. This means choosing organically-grown foods whenever possible, or at least avoiding the most heavily pesticided crops such as strawberries, raspberries, apples, pears, grapes, red and green peppers, cucumber, celery, potatoes (which are often sprayed with a toxic chemical called Bud Nip to keep them from sprouting), green beans, lettuce and spinach.
Pesticide residues on food create some strange effects. For example, when Kathy and I used to test people with allergies and intolerances (using muscle testing or Applied Kinesiology), we often found that a person who was wiped out by conventionally-grown coffee (one of the most pesticided crops) would be fine with organic coffee. Food for thought.
8. De-stress and clear trauma that triggers digestive reactions
A lot of people think that a pill or a dietary change is the only way to improve their digestion and stop the bloating. They mistakenly believe that dealing with stress and trauma…
- Will not help their digestion
- Is silly and woo-woo
They could not be more wrong! Since you’re reading this, I know that YOU are not one of those people!
To your body, stress and trauma basically boil down to fear. When you are fearful (even if you don’t consciously realize it), your digestive system either shuts down or over-reacts.
The reality is: clearing stress and trauma is one of the MOST important ways to make sure your digestive system is relaxed and easily able to do its job. Without gas and bloating.
But how are you going to make that happen?
If you have been following our site or have our ebook, you know that Kathy and I are big fans of tapping.
What is tapping?
Tapping is a technique where you lightly tap on specific points on your face and body while you say simple phrases to focus your mind on the issue of your choice. It is based on the ancient science of Chinese acupressure. Tapping is one of the most effective stress relievers on the planet today. And anyone can learn to do it!
If you’re not familiar with tapping, watch the video below. In it, Kathy demonstrates how to tap to relieve anxiety. This is a good place to start relieving stress, as anxiety and stress are closely linked (anxiety produces stress and stress produces anxiety.)
You can change the words to suit your situation.
First, choose a specific incident or memory that troubles you. Then, when Kathy says “Even though I have this anxiety…”, you can say, “Even though I have this problem [or this stress]…” while you think of your incident. At each of the tapping points, repeat the words, “This problem” or “This stress” instead of “This anxiety.”
For more detailed information on how this works and how to apply it to the physical and emotional symptoms of IBS, try out the No IBS Program.
Other ways to de-stress include meditation, yoga, deep breathing, exercise, and positive thinking: affirming to yourself that all is well.
Affirmations tend to work much better once you have tapped away some of the negative memories that block you from being able to believe in the affirmations.
Unfortunately, because of past experiences, many of us have a little voice inside our heads that is quick to deny our good. When you say to yourself, “All is well,” another thought might quickly pop up that says, “No, it isn’t!” Usually that negative voice is MUCH louder. Tapping will help to turn down the volume.
Whatever method you choose, the process of releasing stress and trauma will benefit your digestive system and help to relieve bloating. This is because you are training yourself to have a more relaxed nervous system. Since your nervous system governs your digestive system, that relaxation translates into more comfort and less bloat.
9. Natural supplements and herbs for bloating relief
- Fennel – you can chew a few seeds or make tea
- Ginger – tea or capsules
- Peppermint tea for tummy
- Peppermint oil (capsules) for intestinal gas
- Digestive enzymes – look for one with a full range of enzymes, including bile, if possible
- Probiotics or probiotic foods such as sauerkraut. If kraut is too much for you initially, start with a teaspoon of the juice. If you don’t care for the taste, mix it in with another food.
Adding some of these to your meals will not only enhance the taste but help with gas and bloating.
Where to begin?
If the information in this article seems overwhelming to you, choose ONE simple thing – whatever is easiest for you to do – and begin with that.
Perhaps it would be buying a good digestive enzyme and/or using some herbs like fennel and peppermint and spices like cinnamon.
See how that works for you. If it is not enough, try something else. For example, stop eating gas-causing foods. Spend a week or two doing that. See what happens.
Then start buying natural and/or unscented products to replace your regular chemical-based products.
And don’t put pressure on yourself! That will just add to your stress levels. Do the easy things first.
If your bloating continues, then move on to actions like checking for food intolerances, parasites, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth. These last two may be particularly important if you have been camping, travelling and/or have had food poisoning or a bad virus (which upsets the natural flora of the intestines.)
Please do not feel you have to do everything in this article! Just start simply, trying one thing at a time, and continue with the intention that you WILL succeed.
Most of all, encourage yourself and relax your nervous system with positive statements. Remember, your body is listening!
Instead of thinking or saying, “This bloating will never go away,” or “I’m so sick of this”, or “I can’t cope,” tell yourself:
- “I am radiantly healthy”
- “I relax into comfort and so does my digestion”
- “I am safe and I digest easily and comfortably.”
Tapping on the points on your face and torso while saying these affirmations will make them even more powerful.
More help from the authors…
Hi. We are Karen Alison and Kathy Bell and we help people self-heal their IBS naturally, with a doctor-recommended method that addresses the least-recognized aspect of this hellish condition – the way the brain triggers uncontrollable symptoms in the gut.
IBS is a lot like having PTSD (also once believed to be untreatable) but, in a few short sessions, you can learn how to retrain your brain so you shut down the neural pathways that lead straight to diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, and anxiety.
If you don’t deal with this underlying root cause of your problem, you’ll have to spend the rest of your life at the mercy of your Irritable Bowel… and it usually gets worse.
But you can make it stop NOW. Just click on this link for more information and follow the instructions to access the program.
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Go to Part One: What Causes Bloating?