If you are feeling bloated, gassy or constipated, don’t despair. There are simple things you can do to diminish and eliminate symptoms. Being aware of foods and behaviors that cause and worsen digestive tract disturbances is a great first step. Read on for some simple solutions to your gastro woes.
Stop swallowing air
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic medicine to make gas dissolve into thin air (pun intended). But you can easily change behaviors that unknowingly produce gas. Any time you consciously or unconsciously swallow air—by doing things like chewing gum, smoking, drinking through a straw and eating quickly—you may increase gas within your GI tract.
More than just beans
Another solution is to decrease the amount of food that triggers gas production. Dairy in the form of milk, ice cream and yogurt is a big source of gas production. People that reduce or eliminate these items from their diets often see benefits within a week. Pasta, wheat, bran, or food items sweetened with artificial sweeteners such as gum and hard candy also produce gas. In addition, fruits and vegetables to watch for include stone fruits (fruits with a pit), pears, raw apples, watermelon, beans, lentils, onions, garlic, green peppers, shallots, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and artichokes. So-called “healthy foods” can cause uncomfortable symptoms in the GI tract for many people. Fiber in whole grains and whole wheat bread ferments in the gut and causes gas. This can be confusing, so we highly recommend working with a dietitian who specializes in GI health to determine what dietary changes are appropriate for you.
Get healthy bacteria back in your gut
Probiotics are good bacteria that help maintain a natural balance of organisms in the intestines. They are key in achieving a healthy atmosphere in your GI tract, decreasing gas and bloating. Probiotic bacteria reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. Probiotics can be found in foods such as yogurt with live cultures and yeast. They are also available as dietary supplements. Many people use probiotics to counteract the effects of antibiotics. In addition to killing the bacteria that was causing you illness, antibiotics have been found to kill good bacteria in your gut, which can cause a temporary disruption in your digestive system.
Is another digestive tract issue that can cause a great deal of discomfort. Fortunately, there are many ways to combat constipation. Increasing exercise and your consumption of water are two easy and basic things you can do that can produce results. If your constipation is a new change from your regular bowel habit or if your bowel habits are impacting your life and your life’s activities, we recommend seeing your primary care physician or gastroenterologist. There could be bigger issues to address, such as an obstruction, a medication side effect, or another medical problem. As always, if rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, or weight loss, accompany your other symptoms, you should see your doctor right away.
What causes constipation?
There are many different reasons people can become constipated. Constipation can be the result of other medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism. An under-active thyroid causes many of the body’s functions slow down, including the digestive tract causing constipation. Medications such as narcotic pain medications, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and iron supplements can cause constipation.The most common type of constipation is idiopathic constipation, which means you have a slow bowel not necessarily caused by any other medical problem.
- Solutions: In addition to increased water intake and exercise, stool softeners, laxatives, suppositories and enemas are all options.
- Laxatives come in two categories: osmotic and stimulant. Stimulants are among the most powerful laxatives and should be used with care. They are not for long term use and are usually recommended for occasional constipation only. Osmotic products are gentler,less habit forming and safe for long-term use. Osmotic laxatives increase water in the stool, making it easier to pass. They are commonly used in colonoscopy preps.
- Enemas and suppositories are products used to stimulate bowel movements from below. An enema is a liquid that is inserted into the rectum to relieve occasional constipation. A suppository is a small plug commonly made from glycerin that is inserted into the rectum, stimulating a bowel movement.
- Natural alternatives: Laxative teas are effective in stimulating bowel movements. They often contain ingredient called senna, which is used both in natural and pharmaceutical products. Prunes are also an effective natural remedy for constipation. They contain fiber and sorbitol, both natural laxatives.
Take the next step:
- Learn more about digestive and liver health services at U-M Health System.
Shanti L. Eswaran, MD is Clinical Lecturer of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Michigan Health System. Her clinical interests include Celiac disease, small bowel diseases, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer disease, gastrointestinal bleeding, diarrhea/constipation.
The University of Michigan Digestive and Liver Health services is one of the largest programs in the country, providing prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases involving the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Our 60-plus physicians are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of all diseases of the gastrointestinal system.