Ugh, bloating. There is nothing pleasant about feeling like there’s an unpopped balloon in your stomach, and it’s not exactly a sign of something particularly good going on with your gut health. However, you don’t need to expect to be bloated after every meal until the end of time. There are a few potential solutions—some of them include evaluating your diet and other lifestyle factors like your exercise, how you space your meals, and even your sleep—and another might be taking stock of the supplements you’re taking, like probiotics.
Before you grab a bottle of good bacteria, note that no supplement is going to be a magic bullet to fix your bloating. And if you’re dealing with any new or concerning G.I. symptoms, you should run them by your doctor first. Just like you can’t exercise your way out of bad health, it’s the same with probiotics in relation to gut health, says Christine Bishara, MD, an integrative physician focused on gut health and founder of From Within Medical. “If you heal your gut through food and use probiotics as [something] supplemental, then you can help the bloating,” she says.
Keep on reading to better understand what causes bloating in the first place, and how certain types of probiotics (coupled with the right eating patterns, exercise, and other wellness habits) may help you beat the bloat.
The Relationship Between Gut Health and Bloating
So why is your stomach doing this to you anyway, all the tightness, pain, and pressure? Well, there are a few different causes of bloating. The most common causes are temporary water retention related to PMS or overeating fried or salty foods and eating too many sugary processed foods, which feed bad bacteria in your gut. You may also have an intolerance to something like dairy (bloating is common with lactose intolerance due to difficulty digesting) or to gluten, which could be a symptom of a more serious condition like Celiac disease.
“Sometimes bloating is also a sign of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), an enzyme deficiency, or other medical problem that needs further evaluation,” explains Marvin Singh, MD, a specialist in integrative gastroenterology and author of Rescue Your Health. Bloating coupled with other digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea could also be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Another common cause of bloating? An imbalanced microbiome. Your gut microbiome is where both good and bad gut bacteria live—it helps to regulate not only your digestion but also other functions like your mood and immune health. So when you have dysbiosis, or an imbalance between the beneficial and detrimental bacteria in the microbiome, it’s possible to have symptoms of bloating, says Dr. Singh. Factors that contribute to gut dysbiosis include a diet high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, consuming too many artificial sweeteners, stress, and antibiotics.
Do Probiotics Help with Bloating?
If your bloating is related to an imbalance of bacteria in your microbiome, probiotics (along with a balanced diet) might be helpful to balance things out. “Probiotics can be helpful in some circumstances, like helping with an imbalance, antibiotic-induced diarrhea, or infections with diarrhea, for example,” says Dr. Singh. A 2018 review confirms that probiotics might improve symptoms of bloating and pain from IBS or in people with diarrhea from antibiotics (which, while helpful in many cases, can also kill too many good gut bacteria).
So how do probiotics work their de-bloating magic? In most cases, probiotics work not necessarily by colonizing good bacteria in your gut permanently, but by passing through the gut to bring more balance, explains Nour Zibdeh, MS, RDN, a functional dietitian who specializes in gut health and digestive disorders. She compares them to tourists who arrive at a destination, boost the economy, and then leave. “Taking probiotic supplements or eating foods that contain probiotics can help shift the balance toward more healthy and less inflammatory bacteria,” Zibdeh says.
Of course, you’ll also need to give your gut some TLC through the rest of your lifestyle to see the biggest benefits. “The gut is a robust and ever-changing ecosystem, so practicing dietary habits that persistently promote healthy bacteria, like eating fiber-rich foods, is a must,” adds Zibdeh.
If you find that taking probiotics for bloating actually makes your symptoms worse, you may want to check in with your G.I. doc. Dr. Singh and Zibdeh both agree with 2018 research stating that probiotics can exacerbate symptoms of gas and bloating for people with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. “The introduction of probiotics in the presence of an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine can lead to more fermentation and gas production, which can lead to more bloating, gas, cramping, constipation, or diarrhea,” Zibdeh says. It’s essentially overcrowding your gut with too much bacteria, which may not help your bloating situation.
What Are the Best Strains of Probiotics for Bloating?
The strains of probiotics that you’ll find in most yogurts and probiotics supplements, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, are the most common and have the most research backing them to combat bloating. These probiotics for bloating are good for supporting a healthy balance of bacteria for the gut (and as a bonus, vaginal health.) Bifidobacterium specifically can also help immune health, which starts in the gut, according to research published by Dr. Bishara. Bifidobacterium works as an anti-inflammatory mediator to help the immune system properly regulate and fight the inflammation that causes you to get sick.
When it comes to taking probiotics, you should try to get as many probiotics as possible through fermented foods like yogurt and kefir. The second strongest form of probiotics are the spore-forming ones you mix with liquid. “They seem to absorb better and you don’t need as high of a dose, because the good bacteria are not as [easily] destroyed by gastric acid, which kills bacteria,” explains Dr. Bishara. If you’re taking pill form, you should take a higher CFU (colony-forming unit, or the number of live bacteria cells per serving) count–at least 20 billion per dose. For the spore-forming probiotics, you’ll need a CFU of between 10 and 15 billion.
HUM’s Gut Instinct contains 25 billion CFUs, six different Lactobacillus strains, and three different Bifidobacterium strains to support healthy gut diversity.
What Else Can Help Beyond a Probiotic for Bloating?
In addition to taking probiotics, you can arm yourself with a few healthy habits to help your body combat bloating.
1. What you eat.
First, you may need to work with a registered dietitian or integrative medicine physician to figure out what vitamin deficiencies or food intolerances you might have. Sometimes those keys are in your DNA—for example, people with certain genetic backgrounds are predisposed to lactose intolerance, so you may be best off eating as your ancestors ate, Dr. Bishara explains.
A common group of foods that might trigger bloating are foods high in FODMAPs. “FODMAPs are fermentable fibers and sugars that feed dysbiotic bacteria, leading to more gas and bloating,” says Zibdeh. In that case, it could be a good idea to turn to a low-FODMAP diet, cutting back on dairy, certain cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, and certain fruits like peaches and plums. Instead, load up on some of the best anti-inflammatory foods for bloating, including ginger, fennel, peppermint, cumin, and other herbs that stimulate your digestion and reduce gas production in the gut, according to Zibdeh. You can also boost your intake of prebiotics, fiber-rich foods that feed probiotics in your gut, including apples, red onions, asparagus, beans, and legumes (but keep in mind that you don’t want to overload your plate with these if you’re sensitive to FODMAPs), adds Dr. Bishara.
2. What you’re drinking.
Things you might be exposed to like alcohol and tobacco may also contribute not only to gut dysbiosis, but inflammation in the body, says Dr. Singh. It’s a given to avoid tobacco for your health, but cutting back on drinking alcohol might also help keep your gut bacteria in check.
3. Taking a Digestive Enzyme.
If your bloat happens on occasion—and that occasion is when you eat more rich foods or overdo it—digestive enzymes could be the antidote to your bloat. Digestive enzymes help to break down protein, carbs, fiber, lactose, and fats to make it easier for your system to digest food. HUM’s Flatter Me contains 18 full-spectrum enzymes break down food to support healthy digestion and reduce bloating.
4. The way you eat.
Don’t forget about how you’re ingesting your food. “Other things that help reduce bloating include chewing thoroughly, eating slowly, avoiding excessive water with meals, and spacing meals three to four hours apart,” Zibdeh suggests. And try not to drink from a straw (for the environment too, if nothing else) or talk too much while eating. This will help you avoid trapping air inside your digestive tract and making bloating worse, she adds.
5. How much you exercise.
“A good exercise routine may also help cultivate a more diverse microbiome,” Dr. Singh says. Not to mention, the positive increase in circulation helps keep things in your digestive system moving as usual. It’s actually not very intense exercise like marathon training that does the trick—Dr. Bishara states that moderate movement, even walking might be best for gut health.
6. Your sleep and stress management.
Surprise, there’s a link between stress and your gut microbiome health! “Stress reduction is an important lifestyle factor to consider because increased stress can alter our GI motility and the composition of our gut microbiome and this can lead or contribute to chronic GI symptoms,” Dr. Singh says. Plus, much of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin is created in the gut, so good gut health can mean a good mood.
Zibdeh recommends deep breathing exercises as a good stress management form to help the nervous system shift into rest and digest mode–which allows the gut to produce more enzymes and stimulates gut motility. This relaxation technique leads right into your sleep hygiene. You should aim for at least seven to eight hours of regular sleep, with the same bedtime and wake-up time each morning. Changes in your circadian rhythms, or your body’s sleep-wake schedule, might alter your microbiome, says Dr. Singh. That’s one more good reason to keep your sleep schedule (and your gut) in check.