The effects of modern culture on bloating

The effects of modern culture on bloating

We examine the impact of how we live today on our gut health, from plant-based diets to remote working amidst COVID-19.

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Bloating can be a real pain, both literally and figuratively, affecting mental health, changing what clothes you feel comfortable in, interfering with your social life and causing considerable discomfort, especially for IBS sufferers.

While 2020’s turn of events have perhaps allowed us more privacy when it comes to bloating (it’s not such a big deal when you can pop on a pair of sweatpants and none of your colleagues will know over a Zoom call), there’s no doubt over the fact that we would all much rather do without it.

We look into how our lifestyles can contribute towards swollen tummies, and what we can do to combat the effects.

Plant-based diets

A study found that the number of Americans following a vegan or plant-based diet has increased from around 290,000 in 2004 to 9.7 million people over a period of 15 years, demonstrating the shift in consumer attitudes as environmental and health factors are taken into consideration.

However, many common plant-based ingredients like garlic, onions, broccoli, kale and lentils are high FODMAP foods (short-chain carbohydrates) which can cause considerable discomfort and bloating especially for those who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As FODMAPs are difficult to digest, they don’t break down until they reach the colon where they are fermented by gut bacteria, producing gas.

It may be worth keeping a food diary and investigating low FODMAP foods if you have recently adopted a more plant-based approached to eating and are finding you’re more bloated than usual.

Remote working

The coronavirus pandemic caused us to be more sedentary than ever as many of us were confined to our homes during lockdown, eliminating our commutes to work. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time causes our abdomens to compress, while swapping evenings out to unwind for Netflix sessions where you’re lying down can create trapped gas, both of which are a red flag for bloating.

Exercise like walking and yoga help to massage the digestive system—we even partnered with New York yoga studio SKY TING for a bespoke class to target bloating which you can take for free here.

Using straws

As we’re more conscious than ever about our dental aesthetics and environmentally-friendly metal or paper straws are now widely available, using straws to keep lipstick intact or to protect the enamel of our teeth is commonplace. However, they can cause us to swallow air leading to excess gas. When possible, stick to tooth- and gut-friendly still water and take small sips directly from the glass.

High levels of stress

The gut-brain axis is the connection between your brain and gut microbiota. Its role is to make sure that both the gut and the brain communicate regarding emotions and digestive issues, which is why an unnerving situation can often be felt in the gut as “butterflies”, and how you register the feeling of being full.

The American Psychological Association reports a significantly higher than average stress level in the U.S. in the wake of COVID-19’s impact on health, work, education and exercise. Stress can slow digestion, cause bloating, pain and constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and aggravate symptoms of IBS. Since up to 75% of our serotonin (our “happy hormone”) is produced in the gut, upset to our mood can throw things off balance.

Exercise, good quality sleep and nourishing food can be supplemented with humour and aromatherapy to help decrease stress levels so it’s important to make some time to relax and take care of your basic needs.