Most people describe abdominal bloating as feeling tight, full, uncomfortable, or swollen in the abdominal region. Bloating occurs when the gastrointestinal tract is filled with gas and is often accompanied by burping, flatulence or pain.
Besides causing physical discomfort, it can affect the outward appearance too. Today, bloating is a surprisingly common symptom faced by many.
What are the Common Causes of Bloating?
- Irregular eating habits
- Eating too fast
- Eating too much bloat-inducing food such as:
– Legumes (beans and lentils)
– Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage)
– Carbonated drinks
- Wheat allergies
- Lactose intolerance (milk and dairy products)
- Occurs 1-2 weeks before and during your menstrual cycle
- Consuming food high in FODMAPs
FODMAPs is an acronym for a group of carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that are poorly digested by many people.
In some individuals, this group of poorly digested carbohydrates reach the end of the intestine and get fermented by the hydrogen-producing gut bacteria. Studies show strong links that the excess hydrogen produced can lead to digestive symptoms like bloating, flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea.
- Fruits: Apple, Apricot, Blackberry, Cherry, Peach, Pear, Prune, Watermelon
- Vegetables: Asparagus, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Garlic, Mushroom, Shallot
- Legumes: Baked beans, Chickpeas, Kidney beans, Lentils
- Grains: Wheat, Barley or Rye
- Dairy: Milk (from cows, goats and sheep), yoghurt, ice cream
- Sweeteners: Sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, xylitol, high fructose corn syrup
Types of Bloating in TCM
Commonly occurs after overeating.
Symptoms: Nausea, flatulence, bad breath, smelly stools, and aggravated abdominal distention after food.
Liver Stomach Disharmony（肝胃不和）
Symptoms: Expanding feeling of bloating (often triggered by stress or negative emotions), excessive sighing, prone to mood swings, loss of appetite, bitter taste in the mouth, and irregular bowel movements.
Dampness and Phlegm Retention（痰湿中阻）
Symptoms: Abdominal and chest discomfort, prone to excessive sebum secretions on the face and scalp, often have cravings for food high in fat and sugar, aversion to humid and wet weather, and sticky stools.
Spleen Qi Deficiency（脾胃虚弱）
Symptoms: Bloating persists throughout the day (especially after a meal), easily fatigued, decreased appetite, puffiness around the eyes or face (especially in the morning), and loose stools.
TCM Approach to Bloating
Depending on the cause, duration, and symptoms diagnosed by the TCM practitioner, the following combination of methods are used to treat abdominal distention.
- Herbal medication
- Dietary and Lifestyle modifications
DIY Massages to Reduce Bloating
Rub the tummy clockwise 36 times daily
You can do this before you sleep or just after waking up.
Lie comfortably on your back. Place one hand above your belly button, and place the other hand on top of the first hand. Then move your hands together in a circle with light pressure clockwise around your belly button.
This improves the gut motility and circulation, which helps to relieve bloating, indigestion or constipation.
Note: Those who are suffering from diarrhoea should avoid the tummy massages as it promotes intestinal motility.
Massage Zu San Li 足三里 (ST36) on both legs for 1 minute daily
It is also known as the “point of longevity”.
Massaging it daily improves gastrointestinal function and function of the spleen.
Location: 3 inches (or 4 finger widths) down from the dent of the anterolateral of the knee cap
Ways to Reduce or Eliminate Bloating
- Chew your food (at least 20 chews per bite).
- Eat mindfully – drink and eat slowly.
- Have a regular meal time.
- Be aware of your intolerances to certain food. Maintain a food diary and keep track of the food that causes you to bloat.
- Drink warm water or ginger/cinnamon tea. Avoid cold drinks and/or cold food.
- Exercise regularly. Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise at least twice a week. This helps to improve the qi and circulation of the body, as well as intestinal motility.
Bloating has many possible reasons.
In rare cases, it can also be caused by abdominal masses such as tumours.
If the bloating persists and causes discomfort for more than 6 weeks, or it significantly affects your daily life, it is advisable to seek medical treatment.