Bloating can be triggered by many things including eating reheated pasta, drinking city water, and hormone fluctuation, just to name a very few. However, researchers are discovering the biggest cause of bloating could be stress. Activities which help to reduce stress levels can also help to decrease bloating, leading to the appearance of a flatter stomach.
Peter Whorwell is a professor of medicine at the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, and an authority on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Although IBS can cause the stomach to be oversensitive to diet, stress, bacteria, and hormones, Whorwell believes that most often those symptoms, which cause bloating, are due to stress. His patients have often reported that although they have always had a sensitive stomach, the issue has gotten worse since the experiencing of a stressful event. He says that it is the stressful event itself that triggered their regular bloating.
Professor Whorwell says it can be thought of as a point system, with 100 points being the bloating point. If the stress level for a day is 30 points, and a person eats tomatoes, which are 60 points, then the 100 points have not been reached, so the tomatoes will not cause bloating that particular day. If the stress level on another day is 70 points, and a person eats tomatoes, they will experience bloating.
In truth, people understand the connection between their state of mind and the impact it has on the stomach. An example would be feeling butterflies when one is nervous or stressed, says Dr.Helene Savignac, a brain research manager for Clasado Research. She has also published many studies concerning the link between stress and probiotics. It seems that scientists are becoming aware of the link between the brain and stomach.
Dr. Savignac says the bacteria in the stomach seems to play an important part and can communicate with the central nervous system (CNS). The specific parts of the CNS involved are the endocrine, immune, and neural pathways. She also states that 60 to 70 percent of the immune system is in the stomach and intestines.
In order to create a healthy environment in the gut, it is imperative that the digestive process be stimulated in order to absorb the proper nutrients. A healthy gut environment can help build and develop the nervous system. Having a healthy stomach will slow or stop harmful as well as pathogenic bacteria, enabling the digestive system to break down any food that is poorly digested, says Dr. Savignac.
As people age they have less good bacteria, which weakens the immune system. Good bacteria helps the digestive system to digest food, absorb necessary nutrients, and fight bad bacteria. The average human’s stomach houses two pounds of microbes. Dr. Savignac says that some of these microbes aid in digestion. However, others are being linked to a person’s overall health. Conditions ranging anywhere from autism to multiple sclerosis are believed by researchers to be linked to the bacteria in the stomach. A series of experiments involving animals indicate that bacteria can also trigger depression.
According to Dr. Savignac, one of the best ways to maintain a healthy digestive system is to ingest good bacteria, which are called probiotics. Probiotics are in foods such as leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, chicory root, and banana wheat. There are also probiotic supplements that can be added to food or a hot drink.
The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics
- Prebiotics come from specific fermented carbohydrates.
- They are able to feed and encourage the growth of good bacteria.
- Prebiotics are unable to be digested, so they go all the way through the lower intestine.
- Probiotics are in lacto-fermented foods.
- They have living good bacteria.
- They are able to be digested, so they may not make it into the lower intestine.
- Foods that contain probiotics include sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, yogurt with active cultures, kombucha, kefir, and kimchi.
Researchers are starting to understand the correlation between stomach bacteria and metabolic, immunological, and neurological diseases. Foods ingested are able to alter the stomach’s composition and the function of bacteria, which affects the metabolism and brain function. It requires a healthy and active lifestyle to reduce stress and bloating and to keep the stomach flat.
There are different ways the stomach and the brain interact. The microbial compounds in the stomach are able to interact with the brain through the vagus nerve. The bacteria in the stomach interact with the immune system, which then relays the message to the brain. The stomach also releases neuroactive compounds that can communicate with the brain through the bloodstream.
The brain directly affects the digestive tract several ways.
- Thinking about eating will stimulate the salivary glands and produce gastric juices in the stomach, both of which facilitate digestion.
- When food enters the stomach, receptors send signals which cause the stomach to release more gastric juices and initiate muscular contractions.
- When the stomach has taken in enough food, the digestive system sends satiety hormones to the brain, creating a signal that the person is satisfied.
The gastrointestinal tract reacts to stress, emotion, depression, and anxiety. Feeling sad can cause stomach cramps. Fear can cause a person to get nauseous. Those who are in love may feel butterflies in their stomach. Depression can create gastrointestinal issues, which can be overlooked, and headaches. Stress can cause abdominal cramps, heartburn, and loose stools, as well as weight loss or gain.
Alongside taking prebiotics and probiotics to maintain a healthy digestive system, meditating in order to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression can also help to prevent bloating. A study was conducted at the Dalian University of Technology in China. The study results showed that practicing five 20-minute sessions of meditation will reduce the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, that is released. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md, conducted 47 meditation trials. After the trials, it was hypothesized that mindfulness meditation eases psychosocial stresses. Less psychosocial stress in a person’s lifestyle can also help prevent bloating, in order to maintain a flat stomach.
A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that participants who had gone a week with only 4 1/2 hours of sleep a night were irritated, stressed, angry, and mentally exhausted. When the participants resumed their regular sleep patterns, they responded with a great mood improvement. The improvement in mood meant stress could be handled better, keeping bloating to a minimum.
Another study conducted at the University of Georgia used exercise to reduce stress. The results of the study showed that regular 30-minute exercise sessions reduced stress by 20 percent. Researchers agree that less stress equals fewer gastrointestinal issues and less bloating, which could lead to a flatter stomach.
By Jeanette Smith
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