Bloating is a very common issue we address with our clients. If you feel bloated about 30 minutes after eating, especially right under your rib cage, it’s likely an issue with low stomach acid. But before we get to that, let’s start at the top of the digestive system: your mouth.
Your mouth, specifically your teeth and saliva, are key parts of the digestive system. Most of us eat our food way too quickly and don’t chew it well enough. We have teeth and saliva for a reason–please chew your food 15, 20 or even 25+ times until it’s liquified. If you are having digestive issues, including bloating, you want to alleviate the work that your stomach and intestines have to do, including properly preparing your food for the rest of the digestive process.
After chewing your food thoroughly, it goes down your esophagus and into your stomach. After about 20-30 minutes, your stomach produces gastric acid to help break down your food, especially proteins. If you have low stomach acid, the food feels like it’s just “sitting in your stomach” which can leave you feeling bloated.
But what causes low stomach acid?
- Stress: if you are stressed, you predominantly live in the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and you aren’t able to go into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Your body thinks it doesn’t have the time or energy to digest, including producing stomach acid.“Oftentimes bloating can be attributed to something simple yet not so obvious, such as stress. Developing a mindfulness and/or meditation practice can help keep you feeling your best in many ways, including improving your digestion,” says Dr. Carlos Jorge.
- Low salt diets: there are certain conditions that may require you to be on a lower salt diet, like high blood pressure. But if you don’t have enough natural salt in your diet, you won’t have the chloride to help make the hydrochloric acid that’s part of your stomach acid. As an aside, we recommend sea salt.
- Low nutrients: if you are low in calcium, magnesium, zinc, or B vitamins, to name a few, you can have a hard time creating enough stomach acid.
- PPIs & Antacids: Proton Pump Inhibitors (like Nexium, Prilosec) and antacids (like Tums) are often taken to help with acid reflux. And while acid reflux is a real condition, it can actually also be caused by low stomach acid. When you produce enough stomach acid, your lower esophageal sphincter (between your esophagus and stomach) closes all the way. If there’s not enough stomach acid and, therefore, not a strong enough signal, the lower esophageal sphincter will stay open and you’ll have the “heartburn” sensation. Long-term use of PPIs have been implicated in kidney issues, micronutrient deficiency, and even dementia.
- Aging: it’s not quite as visible as the wrinkles, but we do naturally lose the ability to produce stomach acid as we age. Not to worry; there are plenty of natural ways to increase stomach acid.
What helps increase stomach acid, support strong digestion, and reduce stomach bloating?
- Take a break for your meals: While it may be tempting to work while you eat, or to scroll through the latest news or social media, relaxing over meals is key for supporting good digestion. Take a few breaths, sit down, and enjoy your meal slowly. And chew, chew, chew!
- Increase consumption of whole foods and decrease processed foods: Whole fruits and vegetables naturally have enzymes in them (which is why fresh fruits & veggies rot). Processed foods have had the enzymes stripped right out of them.
- Ginger: Having a small cup of warm (not cold) ginger tea either before or after a meal is a wonderful aid to digestion. Or if you like to have a smoothie in the morning, you can add ginger root before blending it up. A word to the wise: if you find you get a lot of heartburn after having ginger, you may have an issue with histamines (ginger is a high histamine food).
- Organic, Raw Apple Cider Vinegar: Having 1-2 tablespoons of organic and raw ACV in 6-8 oz of water before your meal can help stimulate stomach acid. We like the Bragg’s brand.
- Take a digestive enzyme supplement: These are capsules your practitioner can recommend to be taken with each meal to help your digestion. We may start a client on these if the above isn’t working, and slowly taper them off as we make other modifications to their nutrition and lifestyle.
Food sensitivities and bloating
In addition to low stomach acid, food sensitivities can cause bloating. The best way to uncover food sensitivities is through an elimination diet and / or testing. And if you feel bloated 2 – 3 hours after eating (usually around your belly button), it’s likely an issue to do with your small intestine. To diagnose issues deeper in your digestive system, we recommend gastrointestinal labs to uncover the root cause.
Remember: regulating your stress, exercising, eating plenty of whole foods, sleeping enough, and using appropriate prebiotics and probiotics will help to keep your gut functioning well.