Gas, bloating, fiber?

Dear Alice,

After every meal, I get serious gas, bloating, and other yucky stuff. This is with ALL kinds of foods. I'm taking fiber for constipation, which is cool, but I get messed up even long after I take my fiber. What's the story?

— Pooped out

Dear Pooped out,

Having gas can be quite an uncomfortable experience, so kudos to you for trying to learn about new ways to manage it! There could be several reasons why you may be having gas — can you pinpoint when your stomach started getting fussy? Was it after you began the fiber supplements? Increasing fiber intake too quickly is certainly one route to bloating or gas. Additionally, you could consider getting fiber from whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, rather than using a supplement, which may help prevent a fiber overload. Taking note of when you experience it may provide some clues as to the cause. Gastrointestinal (GI) upset that occurs after every meal could also be a sign of a medical condition. So, with that in mind, you may want to consider making an appointment with your health care provider.

One relatively common condition is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a GI disorder with no identifiable cause and is experienced by 10 to 15 percent of people in the United States. It can produce chronic abdominal pain, constipation, gas, diarrhea, and bloating. Other IBS symptoms may include mucus in the stool and feeling like you need to have a bowel movement even after you've had one. For people with IBS, the intestines contract too hard or not hard enough, making food move too quickly or too slowly through the digestive tract. Moreover, having large meals or stress can also exacerbate symptoms. Additionally, certain foods can aggravate your GI tract and cause symptoms. These include carbonated beverages, caffeine, wheat, fat, beans, cabbage, and dairy products (if you're lactose intolerant). Less common, Crohn's disease is another condition that may bring on some of the symptoms you describe.

Food allergies and intolerances can cause GI distress in many people as well. Common food allergens include dairy, wheat, gluten, peanuts (and many other nuts), legumes, soy, eggs, fish, and a slew of other foods. Fortunately, with help from a health care provider, testing, and careful food journaling, many people with allergies are able to isolate the foods that bother them and cut them out of their diet. Furthermore, Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, is another food-related ailment that can cause gas; people with celiac disease can't tolerate gluten (the protein in wheat, barley, and rye). Some people with celiac experience GI symptoms such as gas and bloating, as well as a number of other symptoms.

Finally, stress, anxiety, excitement, and other sources of emotional upheaval can lead to many somatic symptoms, including gas. In these cases, stress management activities, such as regular physical activity, meditation, yoga, and talking to friends, or mental health professionals, may be useful.

While there is no sure way to diagnose your internal grumblings over the Internet, some behavior changes may help alleviate symptoms. Here are some places to start:

  • Eat a balanced diet low in fat and high in fiber (but remember to increase your fiber intake gradually to avoid shocking your system!).
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Experiment with eating several small meals a day instead of three large ones.
  • Work on managing stress.
  • Avoid laxatives — they may weaken the intestines or cause dependence.

Knowing what to do to alleviate your gas is one thing; actually making the changes is another. If you need assistance identifying the root of your symptoms, or support in making changes to help get rid of the gas, you may want to visit your health care provider or a registered dietitian.

Best of luck identifying the culprit and achieving gastrointestinal comfort,

Last updated Dec 17, 2021
Originally published May 01, 1994

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