We’ve all been there. When our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, when we’re eating on the run and don’t make the healthiest choices, or when we’re treating ourselves to an extra slice of birthday cake, we may experience belly bloat.
Although uncomfortable, occasional bloating is normal. But what if you can’t seem to shake that inflated, balloon-like feeling? If you spend more days wondering, “Why am I always bloated?'' than you do feeling like yourself, the issue may be more than just the food you eat.
In fact, chronic bloating may be a sign of an underlying digestive condition.
Keep reading to find out more about common causes of chronic bloating, as well as how to prevent it and how to reduce bloating.
The Difference Between Occasional Bloating and Chronic Bloating
Wondering, “Why am I so bloated?”Bloating is a common condition that affects roughly 10–25% of healthy individuals. While the symptoms of bloating will vary from person to person, it can often involve:
- Excessive gas
- Stomach distension
- Abdominal rumbling
For most people, occasional bouts of bloating resolve on their own. However, when bloating becomes a daily occurrence, it can be more painful and harder to alleviate. In these cases, the pain of bloating and the embarrassment of excessive flatulence or belching can impact your ability to participate in recreational activities, relax in social settings, enjoy food, and even work.
Why Am I Bloated All the Time?
Despite how common bloating is, the reasons for chronic bloating can vary greatly between individuals. By identifying the reason behind your chronic bloating, you can better understand what steps or probiotics you can take to get back to feeling the way you should.
Let’s have a look at some of the most common culprits behind chronic bloating.
Lactose intolerance refers to the body’s inability to digest lactose—the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. This is typically due to a lack of the small intestine-produced enzyme lactase, which is necessary for lactose digestion.
The most common type of lactose intolerance is called primary lactase deficiency. Lactase is the enzyme that allows your body to digest lactose. Less lactase production means more difficulty digesting lactose in dairy products - lactose intolerance. This intolerance typically develops during adulthood, when we’re less likely to rely on dairy products as our main source of nutrient. In fact, about 30 million American adults will have some degree of lactose intolerance by the time they’re 20 years old.
When those with lactose intolerance eat dairy, the lactose in these foods isn’t properly digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Instead, it moves to the colon where it can cause uncomfortable symptoms including:
If you’re having some of these symptoms while eating dairy, you can reduce your portion size to see if they improve, or even choose a dairy-free alternative. Before removing all dairy products from your diet, talk to your dietitian to make the appropriate substitution.
For some, the issue doesn’t lie with lactose, but rather, with gluten—a type of protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. In fact, individuals who suffer from celiac disease experience bloating after eating foods high in gluten, such as:
- Baked goods
But the problems don’t stop with bloating. With celiac disease, consuming gluten-containing foods triggers an immune response that attacks the small intestine, preventing it from digesting gluten and absorbing its nutrients. While the exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, some research suggests that celiac disease is more commonly found in people who have:
- Family with celiac disease
- Gastrointestinal infections
- Type 1 diabetes
- Autoimmune thyroid disease
If you suspect you may suffer from celiac disease, talk to your healthcare provider before removing gluten from your diet.
While we’re on the subject of food, let’s discuss some other common bloat-inducing instigators that may be lurking in your diet.
- Processed foods – Processed foods are easy to grab when you’re on-the-go and don’t have time for a proper, sit-down meal. However, processed foods are not as convenient for your stomach. This is because these foods are high in sodium, which causes your body to retain water, leading to that uncomfortable feeling of pressure and fullness. Plus, many processed foods, particularly those touted as “diet” products, also contain artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose and aspartame. Because your body doesn’t break them down as easily as sugars, they can lead to greater bloating and discomfort.
- High FODMAP foods – FODMAP foods refer to fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols—in other words, carbohydrates that are harder for your body to digest. In people with IBS, high FODMAP foods can lead to uncomfortable symptoms. However, because high FODMAP foods are usually foods containing prebiotics and fibers, it’s important not to remove them entirely from your diet without talking to your dietitian or healthcare provider.
By moderating your intake of these foods, you may be able to alleviate your bloating. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor or dietitian before starting any new diet, including a low FODMAP diet, to ensure your body still receives all the nutrients it needs.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and is often accompanied by bloating, abdominal pain, and increased gas production. Interestingly, women are two times more likely than men to develop IBS, particularly women below the age of 50.
Although doctors can’t pinpoint the exact cause of IBS, they’ve found correlations between the occurrence of IBS and other medical issues, including:
- Infections of the digestive tract – Gastrointestinal infections are caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – SIBO occurs when there is an influx of bacterial population in the small intestine which interferes with the absorption of nutrients.
- Stress – When we’re overly stressed, heightened inflammation can lead to a change in the composition of our gut microbiota, with an increased ‘bad’ bacteria population.
While IBS cannot be cured, you can manage symptoms (including bloating) by avoiding trigger foods and adding probiotics to your diet to help maintain a healthy gut microbiota.
Bacteria Overgrowth of the Small Intestine
Our bodies rely on healthy gut bacteria to help process and absorb the nutrients in the food we eat. But when there’s too much bacteria in your small intestine (which typically has relatively few bacteria compared to your large intestine), digestion can be compromised.
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) commonly occurs when external factors (such as abdominal surgery or medical conditions) slow the passage of food through the digestive tract. When food sits in the small intestine longer than it’s meant to, it can create an ideal environment for unwanted bacterial growth.
When left untreated, SIBO not only causes uncomfortable stomach pain and bloating, but also decreases absorption of essential vitamins and nutrients. Over time, this can also lead to more serious health issues, including:
- Vitamin deficiency
- Kidney stones
If your chronic bloating is accompanied by a sensation of burning in the stomach, excessive burping, or nausea, the issue may be dyspepsia—a condition of experiencing recurring symptoms of indigestion. Dyspepsia can often be caused by acid reflux, which brings acid content from your stomach into your esophagus.
If you think you may suffer from dyspepsia as well as chronic bloating, talk to your doctor about prescription medications you can take to reduce symptoms and alleviate pain.
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, which affects the body’s ability to process food. When unprocessed food reaches the colon, the bacteria there will ferment the undigested foods, , resulting in an increased production of gas—a common cause for excess bloating.
If you’ve made changes to your diet to eliminate bloat-inducing foods, and yet still find yourself asking “Why do I always feel bloated?” you may need to take a look at your daily habits. Rather than an underlying medical condition or food intolerance, the cause of your chronic bloating could be due to:
- Overeating – If you’re consistently eating past the point of feeling full, you’re more likely to deal with chronic bloating because your body can’t work as quickly to digest the extra amounts of food. Try to be more mindful when eating and listen to your body when it tells you it’s full. You can work with a dietitian to increase your mindfulness during meals.
- Sudden Diet Change- Our bodies need time to adjust after suddenly starting a new diet. For example, if you just started a Keto diet, you might experience digestive changes. Keto bloating is common when your body is first introduced to the Keto diet.
- Eating before bed – When you go to sleep, your digestive system slows down. To that end, if you try to sleep with a stomach full of food, you’ll likely wake up feeling bloated, and may even suffer from acid reflux. Rather than eating dinner right before you hit the hay, schedule your last meal for about 2–3 hours before bedtime. If you can’t resist the urge to reach for a midnight snack, be sure to keep it light to avoid bloating in the morning.
Like certain foods, certain drugs can cause excess bloating. For instance, narcotics and pain medications often affect the muscle activity in the large intestine, which increases the risk of constipation and bloating.
Other medications that may increase your likelihood of bloating include:
- Oral contraceptives – By raising levels of estrogen, oral contraceptives can cause the body to retain water and become bloated.
- Antibiotics – While working to eliminate harmful bacteria from your body, antibiotics may also negatively impact the amount and type of healthy bacteria in your gut (the bacteria that’s essential for digestion). To reduce this impact, doctors often recommend taking probiotics while on antibiotic medication.
Beat the Bloat with Bio-K+®
Eliminating painful, uncomfortable, and frustrating bloating starts with identifying your body’s specific trigger. In doing so, you can improve your digestion and overall health by adjusting lifestyle habits and reducing your intake of certain foods.
You can also give yourself (and your body) additional digestive support by incorporating Bio-K+® probiotic products into your healthy (bloat-free) new lifestyle. Our line of delicious drinkables (available in vegan options for those with lactose intolerance) and easy-to-consume capsules are packed with high quality, patented probiotic strains to support your gut health.
your bloat and enjoy your life, with Bio-K+.
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Lactose intolerance. (2021). Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000276.htm#:%7E:text=Lactose%20intolerance%20is%20very%20common,children%20older%20than%20age%205.
Celiac disease - Symptoms and causes. (2020, October 21). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352220
Definition & Facts for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (2021, June 2). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome/definition-facts
Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human–bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. (2019, August 1). PubMed Central (PMC).
Zaura, E. (2015, November 10). Same Exposure but Two Radically Different Responses to Antibiotics: Resilience of the Salivary Microbiome versus Long-Term Microbial Shifts in Feces. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26556275/