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Banish the Bloat

by Elise Museles

Robynne Chutkan, M.D.

Let’s talk about a condition that most of us experience but are often shy about discussing. I know that the subject (and more likely the feeling) of bloating is plaguing us this time of year.  With all the festivities and parties to celebrate the holidays, it is inevitable that our bodies will respond to a little overindulgence or a break from the usual healthy routine.  What can you do to relieve the discomfort and have a flatter profile?  Fortunately, I am able to share an interview I had with a fabulous, brilliant, and successful authority on bloating, Robynne Chutkan, M.D. Dr. Chutkan is an Assistant Professor of Gastroenterology at Georgetown Hospital and Founder of the Digestive Center for Women in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  She is also a walking billboard of health and wellness and approaches her medical practice with a holistic and integrative focus.

You treat thousands of patients every year.  What would you say is the biggest complaint that you hear over and over again?

Almost every woman who walks into my office for a consultation about a specific gastrointestinal disorder at some point in the visit complains they can’t button their pants and they feel like they’re 6 months pregnant. Now more than ever before we are seeing a virtual epidemic of bloating. The vast majority of women (and many men) will be plagued by this condition at some point in their lives, and for many, the symptoms are daily, relentless, poorly controlled and have a significant impact on their quality of life. Moreover, although bloating is generally a non-specific symptom, it can be a harbinger of things to come in terms of pathology in the digestive tract so from both a physician’s and patient’s perspective it is worth paying attention to, even if the symptoms are not that severe.

Can you explain why many of us frequently feel bloated?

There are a multitude of factors that conspire to bloat us and many of them involve things we do on a daily basis, like eating, drinking and going to the bathroom. These days a trip to the grocery store requires a PhD and much of what we eat isn’t really food at all but cleverly engineered food-like edible substances with an infinite shelf-life and ingredients we’ve never heard of. The gastrointestinal tract is poorly equipped to handle this onslaught of chemicals in our food and bloating is one of the commonest ways in which it signals its displeasure. Anatomical differences are a major source of bloating: women have longer colons than men, and more twists and turns as the colon wraps around the pelvic organs, which is why women tend to be so much more bloated and constipated than their male counterparts.

Bacterial overgrowth or dysbiosis is another common cause of bloating, often caused by overuse of antibiotics which kill off a lot of the “good bacteria” and allow “bad bacteria” and yeast species to proliferate. Antacids and other anti-reflux drugs change the pH of the gastrointestinal tract, making it more hospitable to overgrowth of bacteria. Other factors that can adversely affect the delicate ecosystem within the intestines include a diet too high in sugar, protein or simple carbohydrates or too low in fiber; lack of digestive enzymes; decreased motility of the GI tract and infections. In addition to dysbiosis, bloating can be caused or worsened by a number of other conditions, including diverticulosis, endometriosis, hypothyroidism, menopause and ovarian cancer.

Are there any other dietary triggers that contribute to bloating?

More than 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant and yet dairy is the major source of fat in the American diet. If like most of the population you have some degree of lactose intolerance you may be able to tolerate hard cheeses and yogurt without experiencing significant bloating. For people who are more sensitive even small amounts of milk or milk sugars in most pre-prepared foods may cause severe symptoms of bloating and abdominal distress. Malabsorption of fructose and other poorly absorbed carbohydrates is also a major contributor to the bloating epidemic. Our bodies are designed to digest only a fraction of the fructose we consume in processed foods on a daily basis.

Artificial sweeteners, processed wheat, too much caffeine, carbonated beverages, even inadvertent swallowing of air – an underdiagnosed condition called aerophagia that causes excessive burping – can all contribute to bloating.

Will you have a more detailed description on action steps to take on how to properly address bloating through nutrition and lifestyle choices in your upcoming book?

There’s so much to talk about!  Stay tuned for The Bloating Cure, for everything you need to know about how to banish the bloat for good.

Thank you, Dr. Chutkan, we look forward to learning more on how to resolve digestive distress and banish the bloat once and for all in The Bloating Cure.

If you have any solutions to share on how you Banish the Bloat, feel free to comment here or on my Facebook page.

P.S.  I am pleased to announce that I will be working with clients and seeing patients at the Digestive Center for Women in Chevy  Chase, Maryland starting in January.   If you are looking for a comprehensive approach to support you in accomplishing those realistic New Year’s Resolutions, then the Kale & Chocolate Signature 3-Month Program is for you! Schedule your appointment for one-on-one health coaching here.


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