An introduction to dysbiosis and bloating
Bloating is often used as quite a general term; however, the symptoms can affect slightly different areas of the body, and can occur as a result of a variety of underlying causes.
In some cases, for example, bloating can become apparent as a result of indigestion, in this case, bloating may affect the upper abdomen, however, more often than not, it affects the lower abdomen.
If this is the case, especially if the symptoms are recurrent, it is important to consider what might be going on. One possibility, is that there is an imbalance, or a disruption in the balance of bacteria in the gut.
What is dysbiosis?
Dysbiosis is a phrase which refers to an imbalance in the bacteria in our gut. Our digestive system is naturally inhabited with billions of bacteria and these can be split very broadly into good and bad types.
Now, surprisingly we do need both, (eradicating all bad bacteria isn’t a good idea) however, crucially, we need them present in the correct balance.
Now, a number of different factors help support this. Firstly, we need sufficient stomach acid, secondly we need a supportive gut environment (correct pH) and finally we need enough ‘good bacteria’ in order to keep the bad in balance. If any of these factors become disrupted, the bad bacteria can seize the opportunity to overpopulate and symptoms can subsequently arise.
How can dysbiosis cause bloating?
Depending on the type and degree of the bacterial imbalance, we can experience a number of digestive symptoms as a result, some more serious than others. In the case of an overgrowth in Helicobacter pylori, for example, we can end up becoming really quite ill – nausea and diarrhoea are common symptoms as the bacteria irritates the lining of our digestive tract.
For other strains of bacteria (there are thought to be over 1000 different strains of bacteria throughout our digestive tract) they may just work away quietly in the background causing less acute symptoms.
Bacteria survive through a process called fermentation which involves them converting sugars into gases. Bad bacteria are thought to prefer refined sugars and carbohydrates (hence why we should avoid these as much as possible to support a healthy gut) and they are thought to release more noxious gases as a by-product of their metabolic processes.
Beyond that, dysbiosis is thought to potentially have other side effects too, such as altering the pattern of contractions within the gut. An altered transit time can also give rise to bloating; whether this means waste moves too quickly through the system (diarrhoea) or if it ends up moving too slow. Constipation can easily contribute to bloating too as a result of that extra waste building up in the system. Not only is there extra bulk there, but this waste matter then becomes subject to fermentation, which means excess gas. More gas means more bloating.
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What can I try at home to help manage dysbiosis?
There are some steps that can be taken at home to help support the balance of bacteria in your gut and curb the bloating associated with it:
- Keep that gut moving – A slow gut is the perfect environment for bad bacteria to get out of hand. There are many steps you can take to keep things working as they should. Ensure you eat plenty of fibre, remember fibre comes in the form of whole fruits and vegetables as well as wholegrains such as beans, pulses and rice. Drinking plenty of water is also important – aim to drink at least 1.5l of plain, still water daily
- Avoid refined sugar – As previously mentioned, bad bacteria love refined sugar. Therefore, if your diet is rich in sweet goods, the chances are that the balance of bacteria in your gut won’t be a happy one. Try to include complex, brown varieties of carbohydrates wherever possible and opt for fruit instead of sources of refined sugar for a sweet treat, as it contains fructose rather than sucrose
- Experiment with fermented foods – Fermented foods are the perfect ingredient to help support your gut. Fruits and vegetables naturally contain some lactic acid producing bacteria – just the type we want. In the right conditions, L+ lactic acid can form which helps support our gut environment. In turn, a happy gut means we can help support the growth of good strains of bacteria over the bad. Get experimental and try it for yourself at home!
Top tip: Watch our nutritionist Emma make some fermented tomato ketchup, so simple, delicious and great for your gut!
How can natural remedies help?
Beyond home remedies, there may be some room for a little helping hand in the way of natural remedies to help support your gut bacteria:
Can my doctor help?
In most cases doctors will give you medication to treat the symptoms of dysbiosis (such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea), but more often than not, can offer little in the way of trying to sort the underlying problem. Although these medications may help in the short-term, tackling the root of the problem is often most beneficial.