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.
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.
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.