A regular excess of wind (‘flatulence’) and bloating of the tummy can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and ultimately stressful. The stress of course does not help as it may exacerbate discomfort in the gut and cause constipation.
In this article we look at the most common causes of this predicament and some natural solutions that may help.
Flatulence is predominantly produced by bacteria in the large intestine of your gut which has the job of breaking down the food and drink you ingest. This process will always produce some gas, however if you have too much ‘bad’ bacteria in your intestines you will normally produce a lot more wind and also have bloating and possibly stomach discomfort.
We all have billions of probiotic bacteria that inhabit our small and large intestine and they help us to digest food, absorb nutrients, keep pathogenic bacteria at bay and support the immune system. These bacteria comprise many different strains all competing for space and when imbalances occur certain ‘bad’ bacterial strains may ‘colonise’ and occupy more space at the expense of good bacteria.
Here are common causes of digestive discomfort resulting in wind and bloating:
Lack of digestive enzymes: The enzymes we need to digest our food are either created by the body (digestive enzymes) or are already present in the food when it is eaten (food enzymes). Digestive enzymes are catalysts which break down food into its basic components; so that our bodies can absorb the nutrients they require to build cells, tissues and organs.
Our body makes enzymes and when we are young our body has an abundant supply of enzymes. As we age, we slowly begin to lose this efficiency. We also run short of enzymes due to lifestyle problems: for example fast food and excessive intake of fat and sugars all require large quantities of enzymes.
In addition stress kills and damages cells, resulting in our enzyme-making machinery having to work overtime to help rebuild and replace them.
If you notice digestive symptoms such as bloating, wind, discomfort after eating, cramping or any other similar and related digestive symptoms, it is likely your body is not able to provide sufficient digestive enzymes for the food you eat.
It is always a good idea to modify your diet to eat as much raw, fresh (enzyme-rich) food as possible in small, frequent amounts. You might also consider taking a good, broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement.
Gas producing foods: Yes, Baked Beans springs to most peoples’ minds! Legumes and Pulses (e.g. lentils and beans) are well known for causing wind in most people. Most of us can tolerate small amounts of these foods in their diet, whereas others must avoid them completely. These foods contain enzymes called protease inhibitors that inhibit the digestion of proteins. Improperly digested proteins rapidly ferment and this process causes a build up of gas in our GI tract causing bloating and wind.
Cruciferous family vegetables such as broccoli and kale can cause excess gas for many people because of the natural sulphur compounds they contain. Of course these vegetables are very good for you however if you easily suffer from wind when eating these vegetables try not to eat them in too great a quantity, vary your ‘greens’, or take a digestive enzyme supplement when you do eat them.
Lactose intolerance: Lactose intolerance is a common sensitivity and one that is likely to cause wind and bloating. The NHS website (link to page below) states that “Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include: a bloated stomach, flatulence (wind) and diarrhoea.”
“In cases of lactose intolerance, the body does not produce enough of the lactase enzyme so lactose stays in the digestive system, where it is fermented by bacteria (in the same way that yeast is fermented to produce beer). It’s this fermentation process that causes the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.”
Gluten intolerance: Gluten intolerance is a common condition and often stated by people as a ‘food allergy’, there is in fact a big difference between food allergies and food intolerances and we have provided a helpful link to an NHS web page with more details below.
Gluten intolerance is most commonly associated with eating bread or similar foods items – the rapid result after ingestion being severe bloating and wind. Gluten is the protein naturally found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, oats (and other foods) hence it most frequently manifests itself after eating bread.
Gluten intolerance in its severe form is termed ‘Coeliac disease’ where a person has a more adverse reaction to gluten. As well as suffering stomach pain, wind and bloating they will also suffer from other symptoms including diarrhoea, weight loss and varying degrees of fatigue.
‘Candida Albicans’: Too much ‘ bad’ bacteria and yeast in your intestinal tract causes bloating, wind and fatigue amongst a range of symptoms that can become increasingly severe and hard to eradicate. A yeast infection of the stomach is termed Candida Albicans and is often caused by excess and prolonged consumptions of sugars, carbohydrates and/or alcohol.
Candida albicans is a yeast-like fungus, a single celled organism, which in normal circumstances is a harmless part of our intestinal flora. Candida albicans is normally found in the GI tract, only causing problems when overgrowth occurs. An unhealthy diet rich in sugars etc. encourages the Candida to colonise good bacteria in the gut and this starts the process of ongoing digestive discomfort.
Once Candida or other fungi have managed to multiply and outnumber our healthy intestinal flora, they become rather more aggressive and develop the ability to cling to our intestinal walls. The fungal overgrowth can irritate and damage the cells of the gut wall, allowing undigested food molecules to pass into the blood stream. This permeability of the gut has been linked to various health concerns, including allergic reactions and auto-immune conditions.
Fungi, including those of Candida albicans, give off gas and toxins resulting in a range of symptoms. The most common experience is heavy bloating, especially after eating, and an alternation of diarrhoea or constipation may occur, giving symptoms very similar to that of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
We have an excellent article specifically on this topic which includes a detailed PDF on Candida – the link can be found below.
Antibiotics: Have you had to have one or more courses of antibiotics recently? Digestive disorders caused by antibiotics can lead to symptoms similar to Candida overgrowth such as wind, bloating, discomfort (etc.).
Antibiotics have of course been of invaluable support worldwide in recent decades. Unfortunately whilst carrying out their job they do wipe out a lot of the natural good bacterial strains resident in our GI tract.
Antibiotics thus create an imbalance allowing bad bacteria to colonise in higher than normal numbers and diarrhoea and digestive upsets frequently occur. There can be longer term implications for digestive health when this happens, for example an upset tummy due to antibiotic treatment can be a trigger for conditions such as IBS, simply because the native ‘commensal microflora’ cannot recover sufficiently and become outnumbered by opportunistic pathogenic strains.
Again we have an excellent article specifically on the topic of antibiotics and digestive disorders and how research indicates how beneficial probiotics can be in treating the problem – the link can be found below.
Natural Support for Digestive Problems:
In this article we have covered a number of topics where diet, medication and food intolerances (for example) may lead to digestive disorders that include wind and bloating. There are of course many other factors that can cause the same digestive symptoms such as low stomach acid, a ‘sluggish’ liver not producing enough bile and of course on-going stress which is never good for the digestion.
I must also emphasise that regular episodes or periods of chronic or severe flatulence and/ or belching may be a symptom of a more serious medical condition and you should seek suitable professional advice – e.g. from a G.P. or health practitioner.
Please do not hesitate to contact me (Amanda) if you have any concerns regarding your digestive health, questions relating to this article or any other health matters. I can also put you in touch with a nutritional practitioner in your area should you wish.
Below are suggestions for natural nutrient supplements that may help with the digestive disorders detailed in this article:
Probiotics: Come in a capsule or powder formula and many are suitable for all ages. Ideally you want a live probiotic formula that contains as many ‘good’ strains as possible – Simply put the more complementary probiotic strains present in a supplement, the greater the beneficial sphere of activity.
Since the probiotic effect is strain dependent, with each strain serving a specific inhibition purpose, multi probiotic strains in a supplement combine to act synergistically to combat intestinal infections and to stimulate the body’s natural defences. This allows for the probiotic effects together to be exerted in both the distal end of the small intestine and throughout the colon, thus balancing the whole intestinal flora.
Digestive Enzyme Supplements: Digestive Enzyme supplements normally come in a capsule form and a good supplements will provide a broad spectrum of enzymes which digest protein, fat, fibre, dairy sugars and carbohydrates.
We would recommend a plant-sourced enzyme supplement as natural plant enzymes give high bioavailability and are readily accepted by the digestive tract.
You also want to look for a supplement that has enzymes that are active in a wide range of pH yet largely resistant to degradation by hydrochloric acid from the stomach, so they may easily reach the small intestine where digestion takes place.
Aloe Vera Liquid: Aloe Vera Liquid has a range of beneficial uses including as a natural antibacterial mouthwash. It is also excellent to take daily in support of digestive disorders primarily for its anti-inflammatory and commensal strain promoting properties, especially in the support of IBS-type symptoms.
Different Aloe Vera supplements are made from different part of the plant and for digestion look for a liquid (juice) made as a single concentrate of Aloe Vera containing only the inner leaf gel. It should be virtually a pure Aloe liquid with minimal preservatives and sourced from organic Aloe so it is grown without the use of pesticides & herbicides.