What supplements reduce bloating?

Gut health and bloating: are there any supplements to reduce bloating and inflammation?

Posted by for Nutrition

Surely there’s a supplement for reducing bloating? We ask the nutritional experts for their recommendations on how to stop bloating once and for all.

So many of us are bloated on a near-daily basis, even if we eat tons of fibreexercise daily and try to get a decent amount of sleep. Almost every young woman I talk to is bloated, and it can be pretty stressful when you can’t do much about it. 

Surely there’s a vitamin or mineral supplement that deals specifically with inflammation in the same way that magnesium is touted as the missing link for stress and anxiety? And what role does our gut play in creating all that excess gas?

Inflammation and bloating: what’s the difference?

First things first, it’s worth flagging that different types of bloating can cause expansion in different places. Inflammation ahead of your period might cause bloating right under your bra strap, while poor gut health could see your stomach distend in a totally different way. 

Inflammation can cause bloating but the two aren’t synonymous; chronic inflammation is linked to serious health conditions like diabetes, colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Can supplements help you to debloat?

Alas, whatever lots of wellness brands may suggest, it’s not that simple. “As with everything, there are a few different things that can contribute to bloating,” says registered nutritionist Marjolein Dutry van Haeften.

Period bloating

“There’s bloating around your period, which if you only ever bloat just before, that’s because it’s partly linked to the gut and the uterus swelling. You’re more prone to inflammation in that luteal phase because your body is producing more inflammatory chemicals – that’s actually what gets your lining out.”

She recommends focusing on anti-inflammatories, citing that “people find quite good results from taking a really good quality omega-3, for example, because that helps to reduce inflammation.”

Digestive bloating

If your bloat is more gut-related (ie it’s all month long and digestive in nature), van Haeften recommends identifying exactly what’s going on before forking out on expensive supplements. 

“Some people get bloating quite high up, right under their bra line, as opposed to lower-abdominal bloating. And some people get bloating from the top all the way down – so depending on where the bloating is, that gives us a few clues as to what might be going on with the bacteria,” she tells Stylist.

Why probiotics aren’t always the answer to gut health issues

“It’s really tricky, because the first thing a lot of people ask about is probiotics and whether they can be helpful,” van Haeften continues. “But you really want to know what’s happening with the gut bacteria first, because the different probiotics will have their particular strains in them.”

Different strains of probiotics have different purposes. If you’re bloating because you’ve got an overgrowth of a certain kind of bacteria, taking a random probiotic probably isn’t going to help. A better approach, van Haeften says, is thinking about improving the whole terrain of the guts – and that means starting with ensuring that the bacteria has the right kind of food available.

“Fibre through food and supplements is a really good way of reducing bloating by rebalancing gut bacteria. The caveat there, because it’s never an easy answer, is that if you are experiencing a lot of bloating and you’re reacting to a lot of foods, you want to go really, really, really slowly with increasing your fibre levels,” she warns. 

If you’re nowhere near 30g of fibre at the moment, your body is going to freak out if you suddenly start downing bowls of bran flakes and flaxseeds.

Ideally, you go food-first and slowly. But van Haeften does admit that some people need something a little more powerful than tweaking fibre levels, and it’s then that you’d look at more specific supplements to reduce inflammatory bacteria levels.

When the question is put to Jessica Sepel, a registered dietitian and founder of supplement company JSHealth, she tells Stylist that turmeric and omega-3 are great for reducing all kinds of inflammation. “Turmeric is proven to maintain and support liver health and acts as a hepatoprotectant to protect the liver. Turmeric is also a strong antioxidant, which can support free radical damage in the body,” she explains, going on to add that “fennel is used in Western herbal medicine to support normal digestion”. 

But it’s worth flagging that those are all whole foods in their own right, so you could simply start adding fennel tea into your day (maybe start replacing one cup of coffee with a herbal cup), eating more oily fish and walnuts, and having a turmeric milk in the evening (remembering to mix with a little cracked black pepper which makes the turmeric more bioavailable).

Collagen: an underestimated gut hero supplement?

Our gut wall is very thin, so if you’ve got an imbalance of bacteria, it can get degraded and damaged. If you’ve got abdominal bloating and you’re thinking about supplements, van Haeften recommends thinking long term about what you can do to improve your gut wall health. “That’s where things like collagen may come in. But the thing with collagen is that it’s really abundant in the body, and your body is going to prioritise it where it needs it first. So, it might need it to go to joints or it may need to go to other connective tissues.”

You often don’t end up absorbing collagen because it gets broken down into amino acids, which your body then does with it what it wants. In theory, it can be beneficial to gut health but you don’t really have any control over how the body uses it. 

What to do if you’re bloated regularly

Step one, van Haeften says, is going to your GP. “We have to remember that constant bloating that doesn’t change at all is something that your GP should be aware of. 

Step two is doing a deep-dive into your current and past digestive history. “I would ask them if it lasts all day long or if it’s worse at a particular time of the day. Have they avoided certain food groups or do they know if they’ve got trigger foods? And then, ideally, we would look at testing to see what’s going on in their gut – if they truly have tried everything then you really want to find out which part of the puzzle is missing.”

She says, for example, if people have a history of antibiotic use, that can cause gut problems years down the line: “It may not be that they have taken that many antibiotics in the last couple of years, but that their history has a lot of antibiotics. That definitely indicates that their microbiome will have gone through the wringer.”

Other options include keeping a food diary, tracking fibre (“sometimes people think they’re having more than they are”) and then looking at the mechanics of digestion. “It sounds so basic, but making sure that people are chewing their food properly – not looking at a screen when they’re eating because that will reduce your digestive capacity – can be massively powerful.” And then, of course, there’s stress.

Stress in London and other cities is virtually unavoidable, but there are things we can do to get a grip on spiralling stress. “How much time is someone dedicating to mindfulness? Because sometimes they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I go to yoga once a week,’ but you really want to give yourself moments throughout the day, every day.”

Once you’ve gone through all of that, that’s when you can start to think about supplementing digestive enzymes. In other words, supplements come pretty far down the road.

“I say this to people a lot: we’re supplementing as an intervention. Ideally, we want to get to the point where our body is doing whatever the supplement does itself. So, you never really want to be on something indefinitely unless there’s a really good reason behind it.”

For more gut health-related stories, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.