Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gas Bloating: The Incredible Shrinking Waistband and Exploding Intestines

If you've been through it, you know the feeling: you get dressed in the morning and all is well. You have breakfast, and maybe a mid-morning snack, and then your pants don't fit. Surely you didn't put on five pounds in two hours, you think. (I had one tweed skirt in particular that became uncomfortable around 10 a.m.) Some days, you even look like you're pregnant. (That was when my big lavender shirt-dress came in handy.) It's gas bloating--but what causes it? Can you stop it?

The short answer is that I got the bloating to go away without medication or supplements--and I had tried several. My understanding of the causes of bloating is that certain foods naturally lead to gas, and it's hard for some people to digest various foods. (There may be other causes, but these are the two I'll talk about here.)

Which foods lead to gas? According to Heartburn Cured (1) by Norm Robillard, a microbiologist, it's mostly carbohydrates. Fat and protein don't lead to much, if any, gas production. Some carbs lead to bloating more than others. Some people have had so much gas they even exploded during surgery--no kidding. Here are links to the medical journal abstracts he cites: International Journal of Clinical Practice, Gastroenterology, and Gut. (Don't worry--intestinal explosions seem rare.) Robillard says,

Fats produce little, if any, gas in the intestine due to the way they are metabolized by gut microbes...Because proteins are broken down more slowly and the amino acids used selectively by gut microbes, less gas is produced and it is produced in the more distal regions of the large intestines (further from the stomach).

As microbes metabolize carbohydrates, they rapidly produce significant amounts of acid and gas earlier in the digestive track [sic], closer to the stomach....It is known with certainty that a significant amount of gas is produced by bacteria in our intestines in response to carbohydrate metabolism. In fact, there have been explosions during intestinal surgery due to high amounts of hydrogen and methane gas production.

[Ed. - See text for endnotes.]

One of the biggest things that gave me problems was whole wheat. Time was when cooks and Mother Nature gave us a little help in this department, according to Nourishing Traditions(2) by Sally Fallon:

According to enzyme specialist Dr. Edward Howell, in the past we ate most of our grains in partially germinated form. Grain standing in sheaves and stacks in pen fields often began to sprout before it was brought into storage. Modern farming techniques prevent grains from germinating before they reach our tables.

...sprouting also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors present in all seeds. These inhibitors can neutralize our own precious enzymes in the digestive tract. Complex sugars responsible for intestinal gas are broken down during sprouting, and a portion of the starch in grain is transformed into sugar...Finally, numerous enzymes that help digestion are produced during the germination process.

Nourishing Traditions goes on to recommend eating sprouted grains, but my solution has been to stop eating wheat.

Another problem for me turned out to be apples. Jack Sparrow's nemesis Capt. Barbosa might have been able to eat apples all day without a problem--but he was actually dead, wasn't he?

Others say they get gas from cruciferous vegetables: cauliflower and broccoli. Could be, but how are cauliflower and broccoli usually prepared? With milky cheese sauce or ranch dressing, which are bad for the lactose intolerant.

Dairy is a problem for a lot of people. Some dairy products (especially milk) contain lactose, which is a sugar that's broken down by an enzyme called lactase. Yes, milk is full of sugar. It's common and normal for people to stop making lactase, and without lactase, certain dairy products aren't digested. You could try taking a lactase pill when you eat dairy, or look for low-lactose or lactose-free dairy products. According to this Wikipedia page(3), traditionally made cheese has little or no lactose, and traditional yogurt has its own lactase. And foods you don't think of as dairy can have lactose, too, like whey (which is in low-carb ice cream that I love but can't eat). Some other foods, according to Wikipedia:

Lactose (also present when labels state lactoserum, whey, milk solids, modified milk ingredients, etc.) is a commercial food additive used for its texture, flavour and adhesive qualities, and is found in foods such as processed meats (sausages/hot dogs, sliced meats, pâtés), gravy stock powder, margarines sliced breads, breakfast cereals, potato chips, processed foods, medications, pre-prepared meals, meal replacement (powders and bars), and protein supplements (powders and bars).
[Ed. - See link for footnotes.]
My suggestion to you is, if you have uncomfortable bloating, try giving up certain carbohydrate foods for awhile, maybe a day or so, and see if it helps. Re-introduce the foods, one by one, and see what happens.

UPDATE 6/27/2012: Carrageenan can also cause bloating. It's an additive in some processed meat, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, chocolate milk, infant formula, many dairy products, and other foods. In research it's used to induce inflammation and sensitivity to pain in laboratory animals. My summary post on it is here.


1. Heartburn Cured by Norm Robillard, Ph.D., pp. 65-68.
2. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, p. 112.
3. "Lactose Intolerance," Wikipedia,


Ken D. Berry said...

Great post. After years of blindness, my Heartburn bloating forced me to swear off dairy and I'm glad I did.

Ken D Berry MD

Granny Lindie said...

OMG...this is THE FIRST TIME I have read a blog where I COULD SO RELATE--it is like you are telling my story. I finally, figured out that MILK is a horrid problem..thankfully I can use the ALMOND/Coconut one's w/o problems. Now am seriously looking at sugar/grains/carbs.

Lori Miller said...

Thanks, Linda Lee. I like almond and coconut milk as well--they're staples at my house.

Anonymous said...

My husband's lifelong heartburn problem disappeared when he started eating low carb. His father also had lifelong heartburn and GERD and he died of cancer of the esophagus. This is a great blog Lori, I shall go through all posts when I have time!

Lori Miller said...

Thanks, Carole. One of my grandfathers had terrible acid reflux and died of esophageal cancer as well. It must be a terrible way to go.

I've read your blog as well--you have the patience of a saint to go through all the nonsense over at carbsane. I couldn't stomach it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori, I can't stomach it either, but I think it's useful to show where her contradictions are. I also think it's useful to extract the useful information that some commenters have put on her blog. For example Fred Hahn's email reply from Keith Frayn was particularly enlightening!

Lori Miller said...

I knew from her calories in, calories out view that she didn't know what she was talking about. You may already be aware of Dr. Richard Feinman's paper on CICO being a violation of the second law of thermodynamics. There's also a book called Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human that devotes a whole chapter to the fact that humans (and other animals) derive more calories from cooked food than from raw and later on, that caloric values of foods are just an approximation.

In my view, even if you think it's all about the calories, why not get rid of the emptiest, most problematic, totally unnecessary ones: carbs?

Rachel said...

I'm sad to say that raw vegetables are a problem for me :( I gave up gluten, dairy and soy and thought my problems were gone. Until I decided I wanted to try eating more veggies. Huge mistake. Oh well. So much for the benefits of raw veggies. My body doesn't know what's good for it.

Lori Miller said...

Bummer! I've read about quite a few people who don't feel well eating lots of vegetables.

Pat said...

Thank you for this post. I started out looking for someone who had bloating like I'm having, and bingo! you are her. I've had acid reflux and GERD, but it all went away when I gave up wheat, and began lchf. Now, I have pain from severe bloating mainly because I am now ill, and have to be on medication for my disease. My doctor's solution? Prescribing Dexilant, a proton-pump inhibitor. And now YOU are telling my story, here. Thank you so much for your insightful post, and for your other posts on this subject. You have shown me a way forward.

Lori Miller said...

Thanks, Pat. Hope you feel better soon.