Research shows that women who suffer from PMS symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal pain, are often deficient in calcium and vitamin D. Luckily, there may be a quick fix: Two studies found that taking 1,000-1,336 mg of calcium carbonate a day reduces symptoms by nearly 50%. And a third, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine discovered that women who eat the equivalent of 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D a day -about four servings of low-fat dairy or fortified orange juice-are 40% less likely to develop premenstrual symptoms than those who get the least. Talk to your doctor about what dose could be right for you.
Irritable bowel syndrome sufferers are having success controlling their symptoms with their mind. More than half of the people who underwent one hour of hypnotherapy for 12 weeks saw their symptoms improve-especially bloating and distension-according to a Swedish study. And University of Buffalo researchers found that nearly 75 percent of people who learn cognitive behavioral therapy skills (largely on their own using a manual) experience significant improvement in their symptoms. Because stress is thought to exacerbate IBS, researchers suspect these mind-body therapies may help by teaching patients relaxation and coping skills. Search for a cognitive behavioral therapist near you at nacbt.org and a hypnotherapist at asch.net. For more on IBS, read
Sodium is an essential nutrient that helps our bodies maintain the right balance of fluids, but most people are getting way too much, which can lead to water retention. Nearly 75 percent of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed foods, so choose fresh or frozen foods whenever possible, select unsalted nuts, seeds and beans, and stay away from the salt shaker: One teaspoon contains 2,300 mg of sodium—800 mg more than the maximum amount the American Heart Association recommends getting daily.
When it comes to regulating the amount of water in your body, this electrolyte is sodium’s partner in crime. People who are deficient in potassium can develop a condition called hypokalemia, which is marked by bloating, constipation and abdominal pain, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University To keep your levels in check, try to get 4,700 mg a day from potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, baked potatoes (with the skin left on), spinach and oranges.
Keeping your body supplied with water may seem like it would make your belly swell, but the opposite is actually true. Liquids help break down food in your stomach, maintaining a normal transit time so you don’t end up gassy or constipated. The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. That may seem like a lot, but food and beverages composed mostly of water-such as milk, juice, and coffee, watermelon and tomatoes-also count towards the quota. If you rarely feel thirsty and excrete colorless or pale yellow urine, you’re probably getting enough fluids.
There’s a reason you’re tempted to loosen your pants after a trip to the drive-thru: High-fat foods slow digestion, giving you that too-full feeling. The longer the food stays in your GI tract, the more time bacteria has to ferment it, as well, which releases stomach-inflating gases. Limit fried, greasy foods such as French fries and chicken tenders, or try drinking some peppermint tea. Studies show that peppermint calms the muscles of the stomach and improves the flow of bile, which helps the body digest fats, expediting food through the stomach, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
They often contain sugar alcohols, low-calorie sweeteners that linger in the intestines where bacteria ferment them, causing gas and bloating. Mannitol is especially known for this, but be sure to check a product’s ingredient list for any sugar alcohols-they commonly end in "tol." If you’re concerned about calories, eat a smaller serving of the full-sugar version.
If you want to keep your plumbing from getting backed up, think of fiber as your digestive Drano. High-fiber foods-such as brown rice, whole grain pasta and fresh fruits and veggies-help produce soft, bulky stool that takes less time to work its way out of your system, preventing constipation and bloating. Shoot for 25 grams a day. Just be sure to drink lots of fluids and add these foods to your diet gradually, otherwise your healthy eating efforts could have the opposite effect, say researchers.
Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs cause bloating, flatulence and constipation as side effects. Carefully read the ingredient list and warning statement of OTC products to see if they contain sodium, cautions the American Heart Association. Companies must note whether antacids have 5 mg or more per dose; low-sodium options may be available. Other possibly problematic drugs include blood pressure medications, antidepressants, high-dose antibiotics, decongestants and iron supplements. If diet and lifestyle changes fail to relieve your symptoms, speak to your doctor or pharmacist about whether bloating may be a side effect, especially if you’re recently started a new medication.
Hit the brakes: Rushing through a meal can have disastrous effects on your waistline. When you eat too fast, talk while you’re chewing or drink beverages through a straw (especially if they’re carbonated) you swallow excess air, which puffs out your pooch. To keep your tummy trim, make your meals a relaxed occasion-eating when you’re stressed or on the run can interfere with digestion-and chew slowly with your mouth closed, putting your fork down between each bite if you have to. Swap your soda for water or 100% fruit juice, sans a straw, and skip the after-dinner mint, too: Sucking on hard candies or chewing on gum also makes you more likely to swallow extra air.
Because the body is deficient in the enzymes it needs to digest raffinose, lactose, fructose and sorbitol, these sugars pass through the small intestine into the large intestine where healthy bacteria break them down, producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide and sometimes methane, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Raffinose can be found in large amounts in beans, while dairy products are common sources of lactose. When it comes to fructose and sorbitol, monitor your produce intake: artichokes, apples, peaches, pears and prunes contain these sweeteners.
Being bloated can make you feel weighed down, but staying still won’t help. Light exercise is all it takes to clear gas and shrink your swollen stomach, according to a Spanish study. Although they’re not sure how exercise helps, researchers say a faster heart rate and quicker breathing may trick your intestines into speeding up digestion. On days you can’t get to the gym for a full workout, take a short walk after meals.