Stomach bloating: Doing this activity in ‘moderation’ can still cause you grief

Stomach bloating is caused by too much gas filling up the gastrointestinal tract. The feeling can cause intense discomfort, resulting in a stretched tummy and abdominal cramps. It is usually brought on by overindulging in gassy foods and fizzy drinks. One study reveals the extent to which alcohol can pose a risk.

According to research presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, DC, just one drink per day for women – two for men – could lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and subsequently cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea

The retrospective review, “Moderate Alcohol Consumption is Associated with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth,” looked at the charts of 198 patients who underwent lactulose hydrogen breath testing (LHBT) to determine the presence of SIBO, and found that any current alcohol consumption was significantly associated with the presence of SIBO – and neither smoking nor use of heartburn drugs called PPIs was associated with an increased risk of SIBO.

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is a condition where abnormally large numbers of bacteria grow in the small intestine.

Normally the small intestine contains a relatively low number of bacteria in contrast to the large intestine, which should contain a larger number of bacteria.

In patients with SIBO, the abnormally large numbers of bacteria in the small intestine use for their growth many of the nutrients that would otherwise be absorbed.

A person with small bowel bacterial overgrowth may not absorb enough nutrients

As a result, a person with small bowel bacterial overgrowth may not absorb enough nutrients and become malnourished.

In addition, the breakdown of nutrients by the bacteria in the small intestines can produce gas as well as lead to a change in bowel habits – common triggers of bloating.

While previous studies have focused on alcoholics, who were found to have high rates of SIBO, this study by Scott Gabbard, MD and colleagues at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic, is one of the first to look at the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and SIBO.

The current UK guidelines advise limiting alcohol intake to 14 units a week for women and men.

This is equivalent to drinking no more than six pints of average-strength beer (4 per cent ABV) or seven medium-sized glasses of wine (175ml, 12 per cent ABV) a week, said the NHS.

An overwhelming majority (95 per cent) of the 198 patients in the study drank a moderate amount of alcohol, sometimes less than one drink per day, said Dr. Gabbard, who also indicated that only four of the patients drank more alcohol – a finding he noted indicates that consumption of even the slightest amount of alcohol could have an impact on gut health.

“These findings are significant because we now know that any bit of alcohol consumption – not just the amount consumed by alcoholics – is a strong predictor of a positive lactulose hydrogen breath testing and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth,” said Dr. Gabbard.

He added: ”While typical treatment for SIBO has been antibiotics, probiotics or a combination of the two, the question now becomes what is the exact association between moderate alcohol consumption and SIBO and whether alcohol cessation can be used as a treatment for this potentially harmful condition.”

Certain gassy foods can also encourage bloating, these include:

  • Beans
  • Onions
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Sprouts
  • Cauliflower

Cutting down on these culprits can help to alleviate symptoms but people should make sure they are still eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, said the NHS.

Swallowing too much air can also disturb the gut.

The NHS recommends trying not too swallow too much air.

There are a number of ways to do this, including:

  • Don’t talk and eat at the same time
  • Sit down to eat (sitting upright and not slumped over)
  • Reduce the amount of fizzy drinks you consume
  • Stop chewing gum and chew with your mouth closed so that you’re not taking in excess air

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