Getting to the Bottom of Bloat

When it comes to the organ we think is “responsible” for the body, says Dr. Paul Ratte, that we get everything wrong. “You’ve heard of the concept of the second brain. They have brains in their stomachs, and I often wonder if that’s not the first brain,” explains the naturopathic doctor and assistant professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University. “There’s a lot of information that goes through the gastrointestinal tract and we take it for granted.”

Translation: If we really took the time to listen to our gut, it could tell us why we’re so freaking bloated all the time.

According to a survey by American Journal of GastroenterologyBloating was one of the most commonly reported symptoms among the 60 percent of respondents who had GI discomfort over the course of a week.

The notion that more than half of Americans get bloated on a regular basis would have anyone crawling for a box of Beanos, but if you want to banish bloat for good, you’ll have to dig a little deeper. “Bloating means we end up with more air in the digestive tract. Where does this air come from?” says Rat. “I’m trying to figure out what’s causing the problem. You can treat the symptom, but the bloating is for a reason.”

A by-product of western civilization

Why doesn’t your Friday night burger and fries habit go well with your stomach? Your body probably isn’t processing the greasy, greasy food properly because — surprise! – which is not intended. The cramps, constipation, and bloating you feel after downing a Big Mac? It’s a “disease of western civilization,” as Ratte calls it, the result of the standard American diet.

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When Ratte’s patients complain of flatulence, Ratte’s first stop on the road to diagnosis is the digestive system. The stomach, small intestine, and large intestine are critical to breaking down, absorbing, and excreting the food we eat, and when these organs aren’t functioning properly, “we call it digestive or pancreatic insufficiency,” Ratte says. “It just means you don’t have enough digestive enzymes to break down food, and if you don’t break that down properly, it can start to rot in the body.” (No wonder our farts stink.)

Another culprit of trapped gas has to do with our gut microbiome, where thousands of species of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses make their camp. When this microorganism mecca is thrown out of whack, there are too many bacteria in the intestinal tract, a condition known as SIBO – small intestine bacterial overgrowth. “Feeling full is often the result of overfermentation of the bacteria,” says Ratte. “Methane is one of the byproducts of that, and methane creates gas that we either pass through or that gets stuck in that intestinal tract, especially when the intestinal tract isn’t moving very well.”

If you’re tempted to dismiss these conditions as minor inconveniences, think again: both pancreatic insufficiency and SIBO have been linked to more serious diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and obesity, so it’s important to get that down to the ground of, well, what’s coming (or not coming) out of your butt.

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SUB: Defeat Bloat

Determining your particular type of bloating could be a process of elimination – no pun intended. “When you have gas, the question is, when is it? how often is it Is it related to what you eat? Is there a pattern you’ve noticed?” says Rat, offering these tips for getting rid of gas and preventing it from coming back.

  • Keep a food and stool diary. “Most people are semi-conscious eaters. We are habitual; we don’t even pay attention until we start having symptoms,” says Ratte, who asks all his patients to start logging their meals and toilet visits. “I’m a poop doctor. I want to know how often, what it looks like, what color it is and what it smells like, because those are clues.”
  • Chew your food. Americans are notoriously eating too much too quickly, a result of our constant on-the-go lifestyle. “We swallow our food whole,” says Rat. “When you eat a piece of meat and don’t chew it properly, do you know how much more work that takes for your digestive system to break down?”
  • Experiment with your diet. If fried, greasy foods aren’t enough for you, play around with your diet (with your doctor’s approval). Increase your fiber intake; avoid common irritants like dairy, soy, and gluten; and try a low-sugar (FODMAP) diet, especially if you suspect you may have SIBO.
  • Consider a digestive support. To spur things on, your doctor may suggest supplements that support the digestive system, such as digestive enzymes, peppermint oil, ginger, and probiotics.

In most cases, the bloating will subside after a few hours or days at most, but if your stomach is persistently bloated, you won’t have regular bowel movements — at least once a day, ideally more — or the bloating will be accompanied by symptoms such as bloody stools, vomiting or unexplained weight loss, it’s time to make an appointment with the Poop Doctor, as Rat calls himself. “It’s a bit like a food detective. If you think about your symptoms, you can figure out the problem,” he says. “You’re going to get constant feedback [from your body] as long as you pay attention.”

Located in Bloomington, Northwest University of Health Sciences is a leading integrative healthcare institution preparing the next generation of healthcare professionals to deliver and advance healthcare, offering 11 areas of study. Its clinics and the TruNorth Wellness Hub are open to the public to support healthier and better lives for all. The Bloomington Clinic specializes in caring for the whole family, offering chiropractic, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine, nutrition and cupping. Sweere Clinic offers comprehensive care for complex pain conditions and trauma. The Biomechanics Lab and Human Performance Center support proper movement and recovery through gait analysis, rehabilitation, and strength and conditioning.

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