In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long shares tips to help readers with gas and bloating...
I have been having a problem with gas and bloating. The gas gets stuck in my lower belly and it’s painful and very hard to expel. I tried antacids but they do nothing. Sometimes laxatives help, but they’re hard on my system and cause me to have to run to the washroom. It basically happens after every meal and is the worst after supper. I try not to eat fat because I need to lose some weight, but I don’t feel it’s helping. Can you suggest anything?
Thank you for your articles! Holly
Years ago I suffered from this myself, so I know how painful and debilitating it can be! I had to take Alka-seltzer after every evening meal for months or be incapacitated by pain. Incarcerated gas like this can be caused by poor digestion or a severe emotional upset, as our digestive systems are intrinsically linked to our nervous system. In such cases, air gets trapped in the intestines, where it causes a full and bloated feeling, often with sharp pains. It can be accompanied by fatigue and mood swings, as well. The mood problem can be causative and upset the digestion - or poor digestion can cause deficiencies in nutrients that then cause mood and nervous system troubles. The two are intrinsically tied. So even though it may seem it’s just gas and taking laxatives or antacids (for some) makes it better - it’s actually a deeper issue and these remedies do nothing to address the underlying cause.
Start by assessing
To address this issue permanently, first you are going to need to assess your symptoms. This sounds difficult but it’s actually not. And no professional can do it better than we can do it for ourselves, so it’s very empowering! It requires that we learn to listen to our bodies on a different level and write down what we observe. I suggest keeping a food diary for this. In this journal you will write the day at the top, the time in the left, the meal in the middle and the symptoms on the right with the time on the far right. So, it might look like this:
7am black coffee with 2 sugar / bowel movement / 7:20am
10am / toast and jam with 1 egg / bloating, hard stomach, pain, headache / 11:02 - 1:30pm
2pm / tuna sandwich / bloating, gas, rumbling, extreme fatigue, nap, brain fog / 2:30 - 5pm
6pm / steak and salad / little bloating, good energy, gas / 6:30 - 9pm
For women it’s also helpful to note where you are in your cycle at the top, as hormones can play a role. What are you looking for with this? Patterns. You are just observing for patterns. And if you don’t see them yourself, you are now armed with information to take to a professional like myself to help you find them. For example, in the day above the bloating was better after the dinner meal, which was lower in carbohydrates than the other meals. It did not note dairy or grains. Energy was better, also. Now this is difficult to confirm from only one entry, but many entries help us to better see any pattern that is going on. We can identify any foods or emotions that can be playing a role.
Have you recently gone through a severe stress or emotional upset or had a stress or emotional upset become difficult to manage? If so, you will need to make sure you note that in your journal to see to what degree these are tied to your symptoms. If they seem to be causative you not only need the digestive measures listed below but likely some help from a licensed therapist or a good support group. As regular readers may know, I am not a fan of suppressing and/ or pathologizing psychic/ emotional/ psychological issues with pharmaceuticals. Not only does this not address the root of the problem, it often causes the problem to go deeper. These pains do not go away when the feeling of them is suppressed - the body will find a way to speak louder and make the pain heard - by producing more troublesome symptoms. This is often what digestive issues are, if we are looking at them holistically. A person has “swallowed” some pain and suppressed the emotional response and now the body cannot digest what has been swallowed. In holistic healthcare we see that this is because pain is not meant to be swallowed, but felt and processed to teach us something valuable. Only in this way can it be released.
So a good self-assessment must include looking at the health of the emotional and mental state. Next, boost digestion.
Now that you are armed with a deeper understanding of what is going on in your body, you are in a better position to help yourself. You can listen more closely as you try the following remedies to determine which may be of value to you. One may work or you may need several. But it’s best to give anything you try at least two weeks for your body to adjust and then determine if symptoms have improved. In order to boost digestion I frequently suggest trying these very safe supplements, according to which you feel best describes your symptoms and needs. They can also be used in combination.
You can find many broad-spectrum digestive enzymes on the market. You can determine the best one for you rather simply, as I will share an invaluable hack. If your gas smells you are not digesting your protein properly. If it does not, you are not digesting your carbs. Poor carb digestion requires a digestive enzyme that contains amylase, maltase, lactase, and cellulase. I typically suggest taking 1-3 of these with meals to help break down carbs. The difference should be noticeable and observable within four days. I suggest clients start with one and watch for four days. If it doesn’t improve, I add another, and so on, using up to 3 capsules. If this doesn’t help drastically, I suggest clients proceed to investigate food intolerances.
When the gas is smelly, the protein is not being digested. This requires enzymes that contain proteases and betaine HCl, often with papain and bromelain. These will help digest proteins better, starting with boosting stomach acid. Again, it can require up to three capsules for clients to notice improvements, but I increase the dose incrementally, as needed.
If a person notices that fats are difficult to digest with pain after fatty meals or pain in the shoulder blades after meals, or pain in the liver region, often with greasy or pale stools - they typically benefit from a formula that contains ox bile and lipase. These help emulsify and break down fats. Anyone without a gallbladder will also benefit from adding these to their meals. Many digestive enzymes contain a spectrum of all of these and this is good for many people. But some people get burning in the tummy with the betaine HCl. In these cases they do better with a formula that doesn’t contain this ingredient.
Food intolerances often contribute to digestive woes. Even if clients are not digesting proteins, I suggest removing starches and grains from the diet, including all traces of gluten, for a minimum of two months. These intolerances can cause complex health problems if left unchecked. To determine what is causing the issue, the foods can be added back in, one every three days, while keeping the food and symptom journal. We should see very clear triggers by doing this. If it’s too cumbersome I suggest food intolerance testing, as I offer in my practice. Skin prick testing is not reliable for determining food intolerances, in my opinion. I find blood and hair analysis to be superior by far.
As simple as it sounds, extra fibre can help with digestive bloating and pain. That is in part because fibre helps break down foods and move them along, which facilitates passing them - and gas - that can get trapped. It’s also because improper digestion often causes episodic or chronic constipation - which can present as hard feces or difficulty passing stool or irregular stool.
Everyone should pass at least one stool per day to remain in good health. If the transit time of food through the digestive system is too slow it can ferment, which can cause gasses and acid. It can also cause food intolerances and overgrowth of the wrong type of bacteria in the intestines, which contributes further to malabsorption and mood disorders.
A simple hack is to add some fibre to the diet to ensure transit time is not exacerbating the problem. The fibre can come from veggies, but I recommend ground flaxseed, as it’s particularly soothing. This can be taken in water or mixed into unsweetened yogurt. It should be freshly ground and taken daily. Up to four Tbsp may be needed. Ensuring you have enough water is essential when transit time is slow, as the number one cause of constipation is dehydration. Don’t overlook this in addressing your digestive issues.
Regular readers have heard me talk about these little wonders many times. Probiotics help us break down and absorb nutrients in our intestines. They are natural in unpasteurized fermented foods. I have several classes on making these. Alternately clients can use a supplement, of which there are many. I do recommend consulting a professional for this, as these can be expensive and only a few have demonstrated efficacy clinically, in my experience.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice is a supplement that can help with many digestive symptoms from heartburn to gas to ulcers. It comes in the form of tablets, which you chew 30 minutes before a meal. I typically see 2-3 are needed, often with each meal. It’s natural, made from the licorice root, with components removed that can cause other health issues. Look for one that has a maximum of 1-2% of glycyrrhizin. It’s very safe and effective and often helps with fatigue and stress, as well. This is because licorice is a powerful herb that supports adrenals, too. Many clients rave about this product when other things have not helped them. These therapies can be used together or individually, according to your needs. Often clients get a bit of relief from one and a bit from adding another. Together they rarely fail to give noticeable, long term improvements. But if the situation is chronic, investigating underlying food intolerances really is a must. Please reach out for help if this is something you would like to explore.
Thank you, Holly, for writing in. I am sure you will find some relief in these solutions. As always, if readers have a health or nutrition-related question, I welcome you to write to me at email@example.com. And if you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website at nonienutritionista.com, where you can contact me directly. I provide 1:1 health coaching online to help people better manage their health holistically.
Namaste! Nonie Nutritionista