Almost all of us have experienced bloating at some point in our lives, but the causes of the condition tend to differ between men and women. Fortunately for men, the most common type of male bloating can often be fixed through lifestyle changes such as limiting certain foods and drinks in your diet.
To find out more about male bloating and how to prevent it, we spoke to James Kinross, a consultant colorectal surgeon at both King Edward VII’s Hospital (opens in new tab) and Imperial College London.
What is male bloating?
Bloating is when the stomach and intestines become enlarged with fluid or gas. This is often uncomfortable and it makes the abdomen feel like it’s stretched, or full. While women can experience bloating as the result of hormonal changes, bloating in men is usually down to something they’ve consumed.
Bloating is a natural part of our digestive process and is rarely cause for concern, but it can cause discomfort and make working or exercising difficult.
What causes it?
Some foods and drinks are especially likely to cause bloating. Causes can differ from person to person, but often the culprits are one or more of the following: beans and lentils, some types of green vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, foods and drinks containing wheat (such as pasta and beer), fizzy drinks, dairy products or processed food.
The trillions of bacteria, viruses and yeasts that live within the bowel are known as the gut microbiome. It is increasingly thought that this plays an important part in the causes of bloating: as well as being responsible for metabolising the food we eat, our microbiome can regulate how the gut works.
The link between the gut and the brain is also important. This is because it is implicated in the causes of bloating, but it also influences how we experience the symptoms of bloating.
How can you prevent it from happening?
Prevention is not just about avoiding foods but also taking steps to actively improve the health of the gut. The good news is that there are certain changes you can make to stop bloating occurring as severely or as often.
Obviously your diet is crucial for a healthy gut: avoid eating junk food and eat at least five portions of vegetables a day – although it’s best to avoid fibres that are commonly associated with bloating, which are found in beans and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli.
You should also try reducing the amount of red and processed meat, alcohol and saturated fat you consume, and avoid foods high in salt such as crisps as well as the amount of carbonated drinks you consume.
Exercise is critically important – an active lifestyle improves the function of the bowel. You should avoid taking unnecessary medicines such as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID), and if you smoke you really need to stop. Ensure you have enough vitamin D – you can ask your doctor to measure this.
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If it has happened, what can you do to get rid of it?
There is no hard and fast way to get rid of the symptoms once you’re feeling bloated but drinking lots of water or herbal tea can help to ease discomfort. Moving around can also help dislodge gas from your system, so if you can, go for a brisk walk or jog to help alleviate symptoms.
While it helps to avoid the foods listed above that might trigger an episode, it’s best to remove them selectively and record this in a diary so you can identify a pattern.
Mindfulness and even hypnotherapy may be beneficial – they can help you manage stress and regulate the gut-brain axis.
How can you spot the warning signs of a more serious condition related to bloating?
Bloating can sometimes be an indicator of a medical condition. Most commonly it is associated with functional conditions of the gut like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But it can also be a sign of food intolerances related to conditions such as coeliac disease, or inflammatory diseases of the gut such as Crohn’s disease. Rarely, certain cancers such as stomach and colonic cancer can cause bloating.
If you notice you’re bloating very often, or if it is especially painful, you should see a doctor. You should also seek help if you are experiencing symptoms such as weight loss, a persistent change in your bowel habits, or if you notice blood in your bowel movements.
I always tell my patients to listen to their bodies. If something doesn’t feel right, or you’ve noticed changes lasting for more than a couple of weeks, it’s best to get it checked out.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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