Bloating, for many, can be a right royal pain. Whether you bloat around your time of the month, because of eating certain foods, or as a physical response to stress, there can be a whole host of reasons as to why you're regularly feeling puffy.
Unexpected bloat occurring more frequently can make you feel seriously grumpy, frustrated, and low. That's because it can actually be really painful, and prevent you from enjoying your normal day-to-day activities. If you've ever tried wearing tight jeans or smashing a HIIT session while bloated, then you'll know what we mean.
So what is it that makes you bloat, and can things like dehydration actually cause bloating? To get the answer once and for all, we touched base with Dr. Ayesha Akbar, consultant gastroenterologist at St. Mark's Hospital and the St. Mark's Institute for Bowel Disease.
Here, she explains the many reasons you may sometimes look like you're sporting a five-months-pregnant belly come the end of the day.
Can dehydration cause bloat? Plus 9 other causes:
You asked, we answered. Short answer: yes, dehydration can cause bloating.
How? "Drinking lots of water can potentially reduce the likelihood of bloating because dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can halt digestion," explains Dr. Akbar. She goes on to explain that when your body attempts to counter-balance the effects of being dehydrated, it holds on to excess water. Cue: a big round belly.
We're always told to drink our two liters daily but who knew it could ward off the bloat, too?
2. Lack of sleep
It turns out not getting enough kip at night doesn't just make us grumpy the next day, but it can play havoc with our digestive systems, too. "With lack of sleep, our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol," says Dr. Akbar. "Cortisol can disturb our digestive system to cause things like bloating and constipation."
3. Hormonal changes
"Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can lead to a bloated stomach, as it makes you prone to constipation and fluid retention," notes Dr. Akbar. But it can occur at any stage before, during, or after the menstrual cycle, and for some women, it doesn't have an effect at all.
"In the early days of a women's cycle, estrogen levels rise while the uterine lining thickens. This can lead to bloating, which can become stronger as ovulation occurs and more fluids and blood build up. Usually, the bloating goes away when the excess fluid and blood is shed when the woman has her period," explains Dr. Akbar.
4. Food allergies (or sensitivities)
Food allergies, sensitives, or intolerances can lead to bloating; the problem is, it's just so damn hard to detect which foods are causing the problem. But as a heads up, "the two most common forms of food that lead to bloating are dairy products and foods containing gluten," says Dr. Akbar.
"Even people who are not officially diagnosed as being 'gluten allergic' (coeliac disease) can often experience sensitivity to these foods and can experience constipation and bloating."
She also notes that other foods that frequently induce a bout of bloat are apples and avocados, so you might have to bump those down your list of favorite foods. Read up on which foods help reduce bloating, now.
"Constipation may be the most obvious reason as to why you have a bloated stomach," notes Dr. Akbar. "Constipation can lead to stool remaining in the intestines, therefore giving you a hard-feeling stomach, pain, discomfort, and gas."
But why do we become constipated in the first place? According to Dr. Akbar, it could be:
- eating too little fiber
- not drinking enough water
- a lack of physical exercise
- side effects of medication
6. Eating too fast
Raise your hand if you're guilty of inhaling your food when you've got a delicious plate in front of you? Us, too.
"If we eat too quickly, it is possible that we inhale a lot of air. Therefore, we end up with large volumes of gas sitting in our stomach that can manifest as bloating," says Dr. Akbar. Who knew?
There's been extensive discussion around the link between IBS and stress, and it's all to do with how many nerves the guts contain. "The guts are very richly innervated, and stress can lead to prolonged stimulation of the bowel. Even if not related to IBS, stress can put pressure on your stomach, leading to bloating," says Dr. Akbar.
8. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
"Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the gut, and includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis," explains Dr. Akbar.
If you've noticed symptoms such as:
- blood in the stool
- tummy pains
- weight loss
- chronic bloating.
Then you may be struggling with IBD. Dr. Akbar says it's worth going to get checked out if you're worried. IBD can cause bloating thanks to scarring tissue caused by previous surgery and gas trapped in your bowels.
9. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Our digestive systems are made up of a complicated system of nerves, explains Dr. Akbar. "IBS is caused by a loss of coordination within this system and the way the bowel works," she adds.
While IBS sufferers have nothing structurally wrong—it all looks okay down there—they do have something functionally wrong. Like "constipation, diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain," says our medical expert.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.