Is Belly Bloat Caused by Enzymes or Bacteria?

Abdominal Bloat Caused by Bacterial Overgrowth
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When the immediate aftermath of a meal involves excessive gas, belly bloat, and abdominal fullness, it is a clear sign that your body is not digesting food properly. However, a digestive enzyme deficiency may not be the only source of your symptoms. The enzymes your body generates itself are only one component of your digestive system. In fact, there is an entire ecosystem of microbes inside your gut that arguably plays an even more crucial role in efficiently breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats -- your microbiome.

Comprised of a complex and dynamic population of bacteria, yeasts, and other microorganisms, our gut microbiome forms a symbiotic relationship with us inside our digestive tract. In addition to supporting our immune system, it is responsible for breaking down food compounds and synthesizing essential vitamins and amino acids. When we consume starches and fibers that our own digestive enzymes are not able to process completely, the gut microbiome utilizes their enzymes to metabolize these compounds inside our colon. This results in the production of beneficial short chain fatty acids, which not only supplies nutrients to the body but also plays an important role in muscle function and the prevention of chronic bowel disorders and certain cancers.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
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However, not everything within the microbiome has good intentions. Inside a healthy gut, there is a delicate balance between beneficial bacteria and pathogenic bad actors. The problem comes when there is a disturbance to this equilibrium, as a result of poor dietary choices, an infectious disease, or the prolonged use of antibiotics. Beneficial bacterial strains are suppressed and harmful pathogens are allowed to multiply uncontrollably inside both the colon and the small intestine, where they are not normally present in high concentrations. The result is a condition known as SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and its symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness after eating) are often indistinguishable from those of a digestive enzyme deficiency.

While there are conflicting perspectives on how SIBO should be addressed, many clinicians feel the most effective method is by replenishing your gut with good bacteria to displace the bad actors causing your gas, bloating, and abdominal fullness. Most probiotics are ill-suited for the job, as they typically contain bacteria cultures which are beneficial but fragile, easily wiped out either by stomach acid or the overgrowth of pathogens inside the small intestine. Spore-forming bacteria are ideally suited for this scenario, as these beneficial cultures have the unique ability to lie dormant throughout the gastrointestinal tract and activate only when they reach the colon. There, they can improve intestinal motility and help drive out the bad actors causing gastrointestinal distress. Talk with your doctor about SIBO, his or her perspectives on the treatments available for the condition, and whether a spore-forming probiotic is right for you.



Jennifer recently retired from her career as a Certified Manual Physical Therapist to spend more time with her family. When she isn't writing about natural medicine, she enjoys practicing yoga, rock climbing, and running marathons.

Email Jennifer at [email protected].


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