The Connection Between Stress & Bloating | Functional Wellness

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By Dr. Marguerite Weston |

The Retention Conversation 

A Closer Look At The Relationship Between Stress & Bloating — & What You Can Do About It 

Your pants fit tighter. The seatbelt digs into your stomach. You feel more lethargic, heavier and just all around not your best. While temporary gas build-up and fluid retention aren’t always painful, they’re still pretty uncomfortable and can keep you from being the most confident version of you.

There are a number of causes of excessive bloating including diet, dehydration, overeating, eating too fast, menstrual cycles, obesity and underlying gastric disorders. But today, we’re focusing on one cause that often goes overlooked until looked at in hindsight: stress. 

First, Let’s Break Down The Biology Of Bloat 

Stress and anxiety negatively impact how you digest your food. When you’re placed in high-pressure situations (or sometimes just circumstances that you’re not used to), your body produces more cortisol — the stress hormone. Cortisol works to regulate salt and minerals in our delicate biological ecosystem. During moments of stress, cortisol works to increase salt and water retention, which causes bloating, and drops potassium levels which damages insulin function.

As digestion runs its course, your body will also produce more gas from the food that it is breaking down which results in more air in your system.  This combination makes up the distracting discomfort we feel. 

Prevention & Treatment: How You Can Ease Stress-Related Retention

We know that anxiety and stress contribute to bloating, but what can we actually do about it besides avoiding stress, excitement and life altogether? Luckily, there’s a lot!  Let’s dig in (but not overindulge). 

Unleash The Power Of Prebiotics, Probiotics & Other Supplements 

Diet is an incredible force when it comes to our comfort. What we eat and how we eat it can make or break how feel throughout the next 24 hours. While it would be great to have a pristine diet full of every nutrient you need, we understand that every individual body is different and that this solution is not always possible!

That’s where supplements come into play:

  • Prebiotics — often found in fiber- and starch-rich foods — stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut.  
  • Probiotics — often found in yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and other fermented foods — are live bacteria that reinforce the healthy microbes in the gut. 
  • Additional supplements — such as ginger, peppermint oil, Vitamin D and digestive enzymes — can be used on a temporary basis to complement your diet and improve gut integrity. 

Being proactive with your probiotics and other nutrients gives you some wiggle room when you can’t control the full situation. You may be able to handle added stress without the compounding consequences. 

Routinely Reinforce Your Gut Health 

The digestive tract is an intricate ecosystem that carries a wealth of information. When things are balanced, we feel great and like we can take on the world. When things are off, our gut will let us know — whether that be through lethargy, headaches, autoimmune conditions or bloating. It is critical that we take care of this precarious component of our overall health. Supplements are a great interim fix, but we don’t just want to treat a symptom. We want to solve the problem!

One of the first steps we like patients to try is the elimination diet. By stripping your system down to the bare minimum, you may be able to pinpoint where problems stem from. It could be dairy. It could be gluten. It could be alcohol or something else. Either way, this is a great way to start! 

Using Cardio Activity To Combat Bloating

Start Moving & Get Your Cardio In

When you’re experiencing hard bloat, one of the last things you want to do is go to the gym or run on a treadmill, but that could be just what you need to overcome this hurdle. Added movement can help expel that excess gas build-up and boost metabolism. While a quick run, brisk bike ride or long walk won’t act as a permanent fix, it will give you some relief in the meantime. 

Proper Hydration Will Speed Things Up

You feel like your abdomen is stuffed to the brim, so dumping water on top of that may seem counterintuitive. However, dehydration — as mentioned above — is often a major driver of bloating. When we become stressed, our heart rate increases and we breathe faster. Both of these activities cause us to use more water when compared to a more peaceful state. Your body can detect when it doesn’t have enough water to work with and will respond accordingly, sometimes by releasing an antidiuretic hormone and retaining what it has left.

By staying properly hydrated, you give your body the chance to regulate temperature, deliver nutrients to cells, keep joints lubricated, handle more stress and “stay regular” so you don’t hold onto toxic waste longer than you need to. 

Break The Viscious, Sleepless Cycle

Too much cortisol can damage our sleep quality. As a result, we become more stressed out the next day because the world simply won’t slow down for us. This creates a seemingly infinite loop that leaves us tired, bloated and, sometimes, sick.

Unfortunately, those after-work cat-naps aren’t likely to give us the true relief we need. Establishing a dark environment (free from screens), creating a sustainable sleep schedule and getting at least 8 hours of good rest a night are often just what we need to balance things out. 

Talk With A Gut Health Professional That Actually Listens To You 

Dr. Weston Talking To A Gut Health Patient

There’s a lot we can do on our own. We can perform at-home trial and error tests to see what works. We can purchase every supplement on Amazon to see what provides any sort of aid. We can do our best to eat right, sleep well and minimize stress in our lives, but there comes a time when seeking professional guidance becomes the most efficient and cost-effective health strategy.

A functional wellness doctor with a specialization in gut health will have the access to resources and existing knowledge of what to look for or ask about next. This person takes the guesswork out of the equation and won’t waste your time on quick cures while you struggle. Google may try to fill in the answers for you but only an experienced professional can run the tests you need to discover underlying complications and deliver customized treatment plans to directly address those issues.

Dr. Marguerite Weston Author Photo

About The Author

Dr. Marguerite Weston is an esteemed functional wellness specialist with a background in both sports medicine and family practice. She believes in doing everything possible to help patients feel their best. That conversation extends well beyond cosmetic treatments and into your personal health.

As a functional medicine patient herself, she knows what it feels like to try just about every solution there is online before finally getting the reprieve she had been looking for from a professional. She takes the time to learn everything about you — your unique health history, goals and discomforts — before setting you up with the right combination of necessary tests, medical-grade supplements, custom dietary plans and advanced treatments to help you maximize your performance. 

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