11 Causes of Bloating Pain in the Stomach + Proven Remedies - Nikki Yelton RD

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11 Causes of Bloating Pain in the Stomach + Proven Remedies

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Chronic bloating is a sign of a deeper issue. If your bloat feels hard and extends the stomach uncomfortably, it’s time to look into the cause.

A balloon symbolizing bloating

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Bloat is no joke. And if you’ve ever experienced chronic bloating, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. If bloat is chronic, you can bet it’s accompanied by its besties: pressure, pain, gurgling, and gas. 

While some bloating is inevitable and normal, chronic bloating may be a sign of a deeper issue. If your bloat feels hard and extends the stomach to an uncomfortable place, it is time to look into the cause because: 1) No one should have to suffer from such discomfort and 2) This kind of bloat is not normal. 

Experiencing chronic bloat and discomfort is definitely frustrating, always inconvenient, and often embarrassing. To heal your bloat once and for all, it’s important to determine the underlying cause. After all, Gas-X and Pepto Bismol only work to temporarily mask symptoms, not treat the root issue.

So, what could be causing your bloat?  

11 CONTRIBUTORS TO CHRONIC BLOATING
Major contributors to chronic bloating
Unbalanced Microbiome (Dysbiosis)

Dysbiosis is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. In a healthy gut, your microbes are diverse and mostly consist of good, beneficial strains. There will always be bad microbes present, such as yeast, viruses, and bad bacteria. However the key is to have MORE good microbes to fight off the bad. When there are more bad gut bugs than good, this imbalance causes all sorts of dysfunction in our digestive tract. The diversity of microbes in the gut control most functions in the body. If your gut bacteria is out of whack, there’s a good chance you feel it pretty much everywhere— especially in the form of bloating.

Leaky Gut

Leaky gut occurs when the balance of bacteria in your microbiome is off, causing the gut lining to loosen and allow food, toxins, and other particles to leak into your bloodstream. This leads to gut infections, food sensitivities, and nutrient deficiencies. As a result, inflammation and bloating in the gut increase, as it’s your immune system’s response to any threat. Leaky gut occurs in a vicious cycle that is referred to as the Leaky Gut Cycle. The imbalance of gut bacteria causes leaky gut, leaky gut causes inflammation, inflammation causes damage to the lining of the intestines, which then creates the ideal environment for more imbalanced bacteria in the gut. This results in the digestive system being chronically unhappy, hence chronic bloating. 

Undiagnosed Celiac Disease or NCGS (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity)

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with Celiac disease, gluten isn’t necessarily “beneficial” to eat. Some people can eat gluten consistently without experiencing any issues, while many others can’t due to it causing an adverse reaction in their bodies. This occurs especially when eating gluten in large quantities. Sensitivities or intolerances to gluten will almost always cause bloating, in addition to other unwanted symptoms. The immune system detects undigested proteins from gluten (gliadin and glutenin) in our gut, causing an inflammatory response throughout the body. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is extremely common and is becoming more and more prevalent. This increase is likely due to the addition of new types of wheat and other food items that include gluten.

Unknown Food Sensitivities and Intolerances

Similar to gluten sensitivity, other food intolerances can be to blame for your chronic bloat. Common food sensitivities include: dairy, soy, MSGs, GMOs, food dyes, artificial sweeteners, gums, and more. When a food sensitivity is present, the immune system reacts to proteins that cause the release of chemicals called mediators (such as histamine, prostaglandins, cytokines) from the white blood cells in the body. This mediator release causes inflammation, which leads to chronic bloating. Unlike a food allergy, symptoms of food sensitivities can have delayed reactions and can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 days to cause symptoms like bloating. To learn more about food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances, click here for a breakdown of each and learn how discovering your food sensitivities can lead to a health breakthrough! 

Stress

Despite common belief, stress affects every aspect of our health, including mental, emotional, and physical. Chronic, unmanaged stress wreaks havoc on our gut and digestive system. Chronic stress that is ongoing for a long period of time can actually FEED harmful microbes and lead to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. Plus, the gut is also known as the second brain due to the gut-brain axis. Studies show that exposure to stress directly results in changes in the brain-gut interactions, which leads to the development of GI disorders  including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and intestinal permeability (leaky gut). 

Low Stomach Acid

Without adequate stomach acid, your body cannot properly digest food. This means large particles of undigested protein and other foods ferment in the stomach. All the fermentation causes excess air- AKA bloating! Also, stomach acid acts as defense against bad pathogens that you ingest. If you lack stomach acid, these pathogens grow in our gut as they aren’t being killed off. This leads to an imbalanced gut microbiome, which we know is a huge contributor to chronic bloating. There are many factors that may cause low stomach acid, two main ones including stress and poor diet.

Constipation

When bowel movements aren’t regular (at least once per day), your body isn’t able to detoxify properly. Toxins build up, stool backs up, and before you know, your tummy becomes distended and uncomfortable. Oftentimes you could even be unaware that you’re even constipated. Even if you are going once per day, you could be suffering from incomplete bowel movements. Your stool should be snake shaped, smooth, and soft. If your bowel movements are dry or difficult to pass, you’re constipated, which can cause chronic bloating. It’s so important to pay attention to the texture, consistency, and ease of your bowel movements. 

Hormone Imbalances 

Hormones play a major role in the functioning of several organ systems throughout the body, including the gut microbiome and the digestive system. For example, the thyroid secretes essential hormones that affect the metabolism. When the thyroid hormones are imbalanced, it can cause what’s known as “hormonal belly.” Stress hormones are also a major factor when it comes to the gut. When stressed, cortisol levels spike and your body goes into survival mode. This is due to the fight or flight response. High cortisol levels can cause dysbiosis in the gut which leads to chronic inflammation and bloating. Hormonal imbalances are also particularly common in females. During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, estrogen dips and then begins to rise and remains high. This affects water retention, which leads to bloat. 

Food additives

Artificial food products, like preservatives, artificial sweeteners, gums, fillers, and chemicals mess with our gut in more ways than one. These are commonly used in processed foods typical of the standard American diet. These fillers can affect the balance of bacteria in your gut microbiome, allowing for increases in bad bacteria and decreases in good bacteria. For this reason, a whole food diet is best- especially when bloating is a concern.

SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)

SIBO occurs when bacteria travels backwards, from the large intestine to the small intestine. This causes small intestine bacterial overgrowth. When bacteria arrives where it isn’t welcome, bloating, gas, stomach pains, etc will arise. The bacteria feeds on and ferments the undigested carbohydrates in your small intestine, which causes a buildup of gases such as hydrogen and methane. This buildup causes chronic and painful bloating. This condition can also cause malnutrition as the bacteria use up the body’s essential nutrients. To figure out if you have SIBO, it’s best to test not guess. The remedy would be to start a protocol to rebalance the bacteria and depending on the severity, complete a course of antibiotics. 

Eating Too Fast

With every bite, you should chew at least 20 times. Slow down, savor each bite, and allow your teeth to mechanically break down your food before swallowing. Put your fork down between bites to pace yourself.Chewing is the first and one of the  most important steps to digestion. Properly chewing your food puts less stress on the digestive system as it doesn’t need to work as hard to break down your food. However, eating too fast causes gas to build up in the stomach. When we chew too quickly or not enough, the digestive system can’t digest well, leaving you bloated, gassy, and likely, in pain. We live in a society where we’re always on the go, and this can be detrimental to our digestive health. 

Tips to eat slower to prevent chronic bloating
HOW TO OVERCOME BLOAT FOR GOOD

First and foremost, you have to get to the root cause of your bloating. This first step is KEY.  In order to determine the root cause, it’s best to start working with a healthcare practitioner who has experience with gut health, like myself. I work with clients every day, who struggle with bloating and other gut dysfunctions. However, whether you work with me or another practitioner, make sure they are qualified, trustworthy, and a great listener! 

Once you find a practitioner you trust, consider performing a GI map stool analysis. This is my tried and true examination. I frequently use it to identify the main contributors of bloating in my clients. These tests provide us with key insight about the gut, including the presence of any bacterial or pathogenic infections (parasites, salmonella, e coli, H.pylori, worms, etc). They show us if you have been exposed to gluten and if it is affecting you negatively. Finally, with these tests, we can look at your digestion, enzyme production, and even inflammation in the gut.

Customization is key! Once the root cause is found, work with your practitioner to determine the best protocol for you. And remember: there is no quick fix. It takes time to heal.  Try to stay patient and keep your end goal in mind. 

TOP FOODS TO BEAT BLOAT

While the key to beating bloat is to get to the root cause, there are natural remedies that are effective in easing the symptom such as foods rich in potassium and foods with diuretic properties. Potassium helps to regulate fluid balance. It flushes out sodium and water from the body, which helps to decrease bloating. Foods with diuretic properties also draw water out of the body and assists with bloating and gas. It’s also essential to fight inflammation with food, as inflammation is a main contributor to bloating and gastrointestinal issues. Anti-inflammatory foods reduce inflammation, helping to soothe the gut and ease bloat.

Things to look for in foods to eat to help ease bloat
Top foods that contain high potassium content or have a significant diuretic effect include— 
  • Celery 
  • Bananas
  • Ginger
  • Spinach
  • Cucumber
  • Fennel 
  • Papaya
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
FOODS TO AVOID WHEN GOING THROUGH A BAD BOUT OF BLOATING

There are foods that help to alleviate bloat, however there are also foods that exacerbate symptoms and make chronic bloating significantly worse. Foods I typically recommend avoiding if you suffer from bloating or GI symptoms include—

  • Legumes 
  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Nightshades
  • Carbonated drinks
  • High fiber foods
  • High fodmap foods
  • Salt 

These foods cause an inflammatory response in the body. They are the most common trigger foods when it comes to gastrointestinal distress and are best avoided, especially when trying to combat chronic bloating. 

SIMPLE TIPS FOR QUICK RELIEF
  • Avoid packaged and processed foods.
  • Eat more high quality real foods (ie. grass fed, organic, pasture-raised, wild caught, etc).
  • Don’t cut out major food groups.
  • Eat balanced meals (including protein, carbs, and fats) and stick to 3 meals a day. Skip the snacking to allow your body enough time to digest.
  • Learn to effectively manage your stress and practice relaxation techniques. 
  • Sit down for your meals, eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and practice mindfulness. Create a peaceful meal environment and don’t multitask while eating.
  • Start your  day with a nutrient-dense smoothie with predigested fiber, vegetables, antioxidants, healthy fats, amino acids, and fruits (ie. chia seeds, kale, berries, nut butter, collagen)
  • Sip on peppermint, ginger, and fennel tea after meals to soothe the digestive tract.

Bloating can be a result of various underlying causes. Until you accurately confirm the cause, bloating will be here to stay. It’s wise to work with a trustworthy practitioner to determine the root and create an effective protocol, while implementing home remedies for symptom relief. I recommend working with a practitioner that uses state of the art functional medicine testing to identify any underlying infections, imbalances, or sensitivities. Testing is the best way to inform a plan of action that addresses your unique chemistry and truly gets to the root of your symptoms. 

If you’re looking for a practitioner to help you get to the bottom of your chronic bloat, I would love to help. I encourage you to check out my programs here. Test don’t guess! 

Woman suffering from chronic bloating
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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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