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13 Apr 2020
What causes bloating? Can probiotics help relieve bloating? What are the best probiotics for bloating? Nutritional therapist Katie Wheaton explains how balancing your gut bacteria may support this common digestive symptom.
There is a wellness revolution going on, and some of the major players in this movement are the probiotics that coexist alongside us in our guts, and make up what is known as the microbiome.
The gut is made up of trillions of live organisms, collectively known as the microbiome. This ecosystem of bacteria plays a huge role in keeping us healthy and happy. You can learn more about these fascinating bacteria by reading: The microbiome - all you need to know. If you’ve done some reading about the gut, you might also have heard about probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that have co-evolved alongside humans. They have been shown in research to help with gut related issues such as bloating1, anxiety2, and immune health3.
Bacteria are no longer the enemy. Research shows that by restoring balance in your microbiome with probiotics, you may be one step closer to getting to the root cause of your bloating and other related symptoms, such as gas and constipation.
Bloating is the result of a buildup of gas in the digestive system and can lead to pain and that uncomfortable, heavy feeling after eating. Some people experience this occasionally, or for some this can be a daily occurrence.
The gut microbiome is made up of many different strains (types) of bacteria, and is influenced daily by our individual environmental and lifestyle exposures. We play host to this army of bacteria, including beneficial probiotics, which are essential for our health and wellbeing. You may like to read: Are all types (strains) of friendly bacteria the same?
A well-balanced microbiome is essential in maintaining strong, healthy digestive and immune systems. Dysbiosis occurs when there is a loss of beneficial bacteria, an overgrowth of potentially pathogenic bacteria, and an overall reduction in species diversity. An imbalance in certain species may lead to bloating as beneficial bacteria help to digest fibre-rich foods.
Research has shown that an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut (dysbiosis) can result in a number of digestive health conditions such as constipation, diarrhoea, flatulence, and bloating4. Some bacterial groups are more prone to gas production than others, including Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridia5.
Dysbiosis can be caused by a number of factors. These include poor diet, high sugar levels (as sugar feed pathogens in the gut), antibiotics, stress and genetics. If you think your bloating is a symptom of dysbiosis, taking a probiotic supplement may be a positive step towards rebalancing your body's good bacteria. By influencing the environment within your gut, you can help restore it to a healthy balance. Learn more on this topic by reading Gut Health - All You Need to Know.
Are you following a wholefood, plant-based diet? Diet is one of the most important factors in regulating the gut microbiome. The modern ‘convenience diet’ is high in refined sugars, and low in gut-supporting fibre and general variety. This can lead to an imbalance in bacteria – lower levels of good Prevotella and higher levels of potentially bad Firmicutes and Proteobacteria6. Research has shown that by increasing your consumption of high-fibre fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, you can increase your levels of beneficial butyrate. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid which is thought to have highly protective functions in the body. It’s found in higher levels in those that follow a plant-based diet. Find out more by reading: Do vegans and vegetarians have healthier gut bacteria?
Bloating can be caused by intolerances to certain food types in your diet such as wheat, gluten, dairy and sugar. Ongoing exposures to these foods can drive bacterial imbalances and impair the gut lining leading to more symptoms and discomfort. You may like to read: Could probiotics help with allergies?
You might not know that stress and gut health are actually closely connected. This is due to the relationship between your gut and brain, also known as the gut- brain axis. You may like to read our in-depth article on the gut-brain axis. When we are stressed, the body perceives this as a threat. As the fight-or-flight response is activated, our digestive system is effectively shut down. In this state, your digestion becomes compromised as food is not broken down as effectively. This can lead to symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and constipation.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition in which an abnormally large number of bacteria are found in the small intestine. This migration of bacteria interferes with normal digestion, as they feed on the undigested food. SIBO sufferers often experience bloating, and this condition is also implicated in conditions such as Irritable bowel Syndrome (IBS). Up to 78% of IBS is thought to be SIBO-related, due to the high prevalence of certain bacteria in the small intestine7. Healthcare professionals can read more about Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth on the Probiotics Professionals site.
Gut motility is so important for reducing symptoms of bloating. If you aren’t eliminating waste, then it can lead to a buildup of bacteria in the small intestine. This in turn can lead to SIBO. Stimulating digestion and the movement of food along the digestive system is important for reducing symptoms of bloating related to sluggish bowels. Healthcare professionals can read more about Probiotics for constipation on the Probiotics Professionals site.
To relieve bloating in the stomach, we need to address diet and lifestyle factors that could be contributing to the symptoms. We must also think about ways in which we can support our gut health. Here are some top tips for you to consider:
Probiotics are often referred to as your body's 'good bacteria’, and they have a commensal relationship with their host – us! The most common probiotic species and the ones with the most research are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Within these species there are many strains with different modes of action. It’s important to remember that different probiotic strains have different effects, and so must be chosen carefully for the desired benefit. Find out more about why probiotic strains matter.
Research indicates that probiotics can help those with symptoms such as gas and bloating8. As gut testing becomes more prevalent, you are now able to personalise your probiotics even more, too. Finding out which species you are lacking in and which are in abundance can help you to decide which probiotic is best for you. Companies such as Viome, Atlas Biomed, and Healthpath all offer gut testing, and for long-standing issues it may be a good place to start.
Probiotics can be consumed through the food we eat or by taking a probiotic supplement. Most people are familiar with probiotic yoghurt drinks, but these often contain lots of sugar. Fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, plain yoghurt, and miso provide an excellent, low-sugar source of probiotics.
Having your probiotics in supplement form goes one step further. This offers a more targeted therapeutic intake that can be tailored to your individual gut needs. As I stated above, this is the best way to get the most out of your probiotics.
I recommend probiotic strains that have been well researched for bloating, specifically including:
Healthcare professionals can explore the research behind Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM®, Bifidobacterium lactis HN019, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07®, Lactobacillus plantarum LP299v® and Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 on the Probiotics Database.
Prebiotics are fibres that act as ‘food’ for probiotic bacteria. Learn more by reading What are prebiotics? They are present in foods such as garlic, onions and leeks and can also be found in supplement form, often together with probiotics. A supplement combining probiotics and prebiotics is called a symbiotic. This mixture is particularly nourishing for the gut microbiome as the probiotic replenishes your gut with friendly bacteria and the prebiotic feeds both the probiotic bacteria themselves, along with your own beneficial bacteria that already naturally reside in your gut. To encourage regular bowel movements and address bloating, you may like to add some prebiotic foods to your diet or consider a daily synbiotic supplement. Some sensitive individuals may find that prebiotics cause some initial bloating, but this usually settles down in a couple of days as the microbiome adjusts, after which prebiotics can often be helpful for those who suffer with bloating. To find out more on this topic, you may like to read Do probiotics have side effects?
You may also be interested in reading the following:
Health professionals can head on over to Probiotic Professionals to find out more about using probiotics to support gut health.