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Gas and bloating causes discomfort, embarrassment, pain, changes in bowel habits, and other problems in the digestive tract. Many people struggle for years to find the cause and cure for this issue. Others accept that it is normal part of their digestion. So how much gas is normal? What causes gas and bloating to be in excess? Do all gas and bloating issues come from the digestive tract? There are a few non-digestive system problems that cause gas and bloating. In this article we will address these questions and discuss the many digestive and non-digestive causes of gas and bloating.
For matter of clarity, when we say someone has gas we are referring to both belching and passing gas through the rectum. Under healthy circumstances these two sources of gas come from swallowing air during eating and the natural fermentation that occurs in the colon. These are considered abnormal when the occurrence is frequent and/or they are accompanied by other symptoms or signs like cramping and pain, irregular bowel habits, foul smell, etc.
If you are not familiar with the way a healthy and normal digestive process functions, click on the link and this section will make more sense. Looking at the normal digestive function we can see that the first place for problems arise with digestion is in the stomach. If you eat a meal and things seem to sit there or you are full easily, problems in your stomach may be the cause of bloating. If this is the case the reason this might occur is because of insufficient stomach acid and stomach enzymes. In this case the feeling of bloating is come from both the undigested food and possibly increased gas production as well.
Another one of the common causes for gas and bloating is low pancreatic enzyme production. There are multiple enzymes the pancreas secretes to help the digestive system break down the foods we eat. When these enzymes are low or insufficient the food is not fully broken down and enters into the colon. Because there is still food there, the bacteria in the colon will begin to digest and ferment the food creating gas and bloating.
In a similar scenario the third of our cause of gas an bloating, bacteria in the large intestine get into the small intestine. This is refereed to as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is exactly what it sounds like; it is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. This overgrowth cause production and release of gases methane and/or hydrogen. The patient may feel gassy but the problem is what the gases do to the digestive tract. These gases cause an increase or decrease of food moving through the digestive tract leading to constipation, diarrhea, poor absorption, and leaky gut syndrome.
Bacteria play an intrinsic role in the digestive process, but this role can be deleterious when they are not kept in balance. Under normal circumstances the large intestine has millions of bacteria and other microorganisms that assist in digestion and other key aspect of human health like immune function. The small intestine is supposed to have little to no bacteria in it. Exactly how bacteria get in the small intestine is not clear but theories include; slow transit time (or constipation), dietary factors, imbalances among the different bacteria species. When diet or other conditions cause bacterial growth to accelerate beyond the norm, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.
Many women are familiar with stomach and back pain during their menstrual cycle. This occurs because of uterine cramping and the release of a substance called prostaglandin from the uterus. Some mild to moderate cramping is normal but severe cramping and pain can be the result of hormone imbalances, like excess estrogen. In the beginning of a women’s cycle estrogens build up the uterus wall in preparation for pregnancy. When no egg is fertilized the uterine wall breaks down and sheds at the end of the cycle. The more estrogen the thicker the wall and the more breakdown. With more breakdown there is more prostaglandins and cramping. Since the cramping and prostaglandins are what cause the pain, excess estrogen may be to blame. In some cases the cramping can also effect the digestive tract causing gas, bloating, and irregular bowel habits.
Unfortunately, the stress we deal with on a day-to-day basis can have a direct effect on many aspects of our physical well-being, in particular digestion. If you are someone who carries more stress and tends to worry, stress may be the culprit or your stomach pain. Perhaps you have already noticed a relationship between certain interpersonal relationships, interactions, or scenarios that seem to trigger your pain.
Believe it or not, the optimal digestive environment requires a certain state of mind. To help explain this you need to know a little more about the nervous system. Our nervous system can be thought of as having two separate but opposite components, sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic is used for the “fight or flight” responce, ie stress. The parasympathetic is used for “rest and digest”, ie relaxation and sleep. To use an example of the effect on digestion, the stress and worry about work or home life can move your bodies energy away from digestive tract to other areas of the body. When this occurs the food you eat does not get digested. It will sit there and eventually pass through undigested or partially digested.
Fluid retention is an example more of bloating than gas and there are many reasons why this might occur. Several chronic health issues cause cause the body to hold on to more water or make it more difficult for the body to process it. These would include, liver failure or Cirrhosis, Chronic Kidney Disease, Heart Failure. Some less severe causes of fluid retention are hormonal imbalance like, progesterone deficiency and a high salt diet.
“Doc, What causes all this gas and bloating?” This statement is so common sometimes people think their gas and bloating is normal, but its not. While everyone suffers from occasional gas and bloating, for the chronic suffers identifying and treating the cause is critical. In this article we discussed the wide range of conditions, both physical and psychological, that can cause gas and bloating. When left untreated, digestive problems can lead to other more serious digestive issues and other health issues , like autoimmune problems, mental emotional problems, Crohn’s Disease, and more.
Hormonal imbalances and fluid retention could be a sign of more serious health issues as well. Understanding where your symptoms are coming and why they are there will help you identify and treat the problem quicker. Whether that means more efficient communicate with your doctor, or using home remedies, you will be better equipped.