Bloating is common — as many as 25 percent of people experience it from time to time, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable. Fortunately, when GI troubles strike, bloating remedies can help you ease that too-full feeling.
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Although bloating is common, it typically signals that something unusual is happening in your digestive tract, says Brooks Cash, MD, professor of gastroenterology at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School.
For instance, lifestyle habits may be to blame. "Eating quickly, chewing gum, using straws and smoking are all associated with swallowing air, which can cause bloating," Dr. Cash says. Your diet is another potential cause of bloat, as some people report gas and bloating after eating foods that contain lactose, sucrose, starch, excessive fiber or sweeteners, according to the Mayo Clinic.
For others, bloating can be a sign of gastrointestinal disorders including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Bloating is so widespread, in fact, that professionals experience it too. That's why we asked gut health experts about their tried-and-true methods for how to debloat.
1. Get Moving
Physical activity may improve your bloating, Dr. Cash says. He recommends starting gently with a 15- to 30-minute walk to see how it makes your stomach feel.
Other gentle activities may also help relieve bloating. Take yoga, for instance — it has been found to safely decrease IBS symptoms, including bloating, according to a December 2016 review in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The review analyzed various styles of yoga and frequency and duration of practice, so try different kinds of yoga to see what works best for your body and schedule.
Although strenuous exercise like running or interval training can be great for your body, it may not be the best when it comes to bloating. That's because intense activity can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea, per a June 2017 study in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
2. Bring Out the Bitters
"Bloating can be brought on by a miscommunication in the digestive process," says Abigail Hueber, RD, LDN, an integrative functional dietitian specializing in digestive health and owner of Above Health Nutrition. "Bitters can jumpstart the digestive process."
Bitters are — much like the name implies — liquids made of bitter-tasting plant extracts, and typically contain alcohol. They're commonly used in plant-based medical systems to treat indigestion, per May 2015 research in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
And there's a reason for that — according to the research, sipping bitters may stimulate digestion in a number of ways:
- The bitter taste hits receptors at the back of your mouth, which increases saliva and stimulates your digestive organs.
- The bitter taste hits receptors at the back of your mouth and in your digestive tract, which increases digestive juices to process your food.
- The alcohol in bitters helps you digest better.
- Bitters improve circulation in your abdomen, which supports better digestion.
You can take bitters before, during, after or between meals, Hueber says.
3. Drink Ginger Tea
Ginger is a known digestive aid, and it can be helpful for bloating and an upset stomach. "Ginger is a great motility agent, meaning it helps move food down and through the GI system. It's also soothing and anti-inflammatory," Hueber says.
She either drinks ginger tea or puts slices of fresh ginger into a bottom of a mug and pours hot water over it to steep.
Don't have ginger on hand? Other teas that may ease bloating include peppermint, fennel, turmeric and chamomile.
4. Manage Stress
It's common to be stressed during the day. But those worries can do a number on your gut.
"During stressful situations, blood is shunted away from the digestive system to muscles because your body considers that the priority," says Heather Finley, DCN, RD, a gut health expert and registered dietitian.
In other words, your body is preparing to fight or flee a threat. Although this response is helpful in life-or-death situations where you do indeed need to fight or flee, it may not be so handy if the stressor is your overloaded email inbox.
And because your body diverts most of its resources to your muscles during the fight-or-flight response, your digestive system slows or stops and leaves food sitting in your stomach, according to Harvard Health Publishing. The result? Bloating.
Relaxing your nervous system can help your digestive processes rev back up. Here are some tips to help:
5. Try a Breathing Exercise
Deep breathing isn't just a useful tool to release stress. Hueber says it's also a wonderful way to stimulate motility.
There are numerous types of breathing exercises you can try, but her favorite is the box breath. To do it, inhale for a count of four, then hold your breath for a count of four. Exhale for a count of four, then hold your breath for a count of four. Repeat as needed.
6. Activate Your Vagus Nerve
Your vagus nerve starts in your brain and travels throughout your body, according to Harvard Health Publishing. And it's linked to your nervous system. "Your gut and brain are connected via the vagus nerve. When your mind is anxious, your gut is anxious, and vice versa," Finley says. "Reducing stress on both sides can help these two systems work together."
Stimulating the vagus nerve is a bloating remedy because it can promote GI contraction to move things along, she says. You can trigger it with activities like:
- Deep breathing
7. Eat Gentle Foods
If you're bloated, the last thing you may want to do is tuck into a big meal. But eventually, you'll need to eat.
"Your body needs fuel regardless if you're bloated or not," Finley says. What's more, skipping your next meal can increase your body's stress response, which could actually make things worse.
Instead, Finley recommends eating foods that are easy to digest and therefore gentle to your GI tract, like well-cooked, mashed or pureed foods. Specific options include:
- Cooked or canned vegetables
- Skinless, seedless and cooked fruits like baked apples or applesauce
- Pulp-free fruit juices and vegetable juices
- Refined, hot cereals like cream of wheat
- Lean, tender cuts of meat like skinless poultry, ground meats and whitefish
- Creamy peanut butter
- Soup or broth
Chewing your food thoroughly can also aid digestion, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which may help prevent further bloating.
8. Give Yourself a Massage
A self-massage is another bloating remedy that can relax and aid GI function, Finley says. She recommends trying her "I Love U" massage. Here's how to do it:
- Start underneath your left rib and massage in a circular motion down to your left hip for about 15 to 30 seconds. (That's the "I.")
- Next, start underneath your right rib and massage in a circular motion to your left rib and then down to your left hip for about 30 seconds. (That's the "L.")
- Finally, start at your right hip and massage in a circular motion up to your right rib, across to your left rib and down to your left hip for about 30 seconds. (That's the "U.")
This self-massage helps the muscles around your colon contract, which may expel waste and trapped air that can contribute to bloating or constipation, Finley says.
- Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology: “Effect of Yoga in the Therapy of Irritable Bowel Syndrome”
- Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: "Systematic review: exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome—implications for health and intestinal disease"
- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Bitters: Time for a New Paradigm"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Stress and the sensitive gut"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Ease anxiety and stress: Take a (belly) breather"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Digestive System"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gas and gas pains"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Bloated Stomach"