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Bloating is one of the most common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in the United States, with nearly everyone in the population having reported feeling this discomfort at least once. Chronic bloating may affect as much as 16% to 31% of the general population, and 66% to 90% of those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As with many other chronic health conditions, bloating has been reported to affect women more than men. (Source, Source)
Even though the etiology of bloating is complex, there has been extensive research into different therapies for this disorder, including magnesium. In this article we will explore the benefit of magnesium and how it can help you beat the bloat!
The Symptoms of Bloating
For most people, the sign of tight abdominal discomfort is brief and often will ease itself over time. However, for many the bloating is persistent, affects them daily, and adversely impairs their everyday living. The most common symptoms of bloating are:
Bloating can occur anywhere throughout the GI tract and can even show a visibly distended abdomen. In addition to the discomfort, this kind of distension can leave you feeling that you look “like a balloon.” (Source, Source)
What Causes Bloating?
There are several possible causes of this common GI complaint.
Excess gas commonly accumulates due to swallowing air, drinking carbonated beverages, eating fast, or even drinking out of straws. When air enters your body through your mouth, your body needs to find a way to expel it. Burping is a standard process in which your body removes excess gas from your stomach. Accumulation of gas in your stomach due to swallowing air can make you feel full and uncomfortable, but this process is entirely different from bloating due to the following causes. (Source)
Foods that are not completely broken down or absorbed in the small intestine, as may happen with those that are high in FODMAPs (known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols — simply put, particular carbs that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and cause symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome) get transported intact to the colon, or large intestine. There, gut bacteria metabolize and ferment the undigested food into short-chain fatty acids, carbon dioxide, gasses, and hydrogen. The gas produced by the colon’s gut bacteria leads to bloating symptoms. Foods that can cause gas and bloating are:
lactose, found in dairy products
fructose, found in fruit juice, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and maple syrup
sorbitol, found in artificial sweeteners, candies, and gums
Difficulty in breaking down these carbohydrates can be due to carbohydrate intolerance. Intolerance is when your body does not produce enough enzymes to help digest the carbohydrate molecules. For example, if your body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break down lactose in dairy products, consuming them may lead to bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
Gut Microbiome Disturbance
Your gut microbiome is composed of millions of microorganisms living within your intestinal tract. These microbes play a vital role in your metabolism and overall health. Any disruption to the gut microbiome — as may occur with a poor diet, antibiotic use, or illness — can substantially affect how your gut functions, including production of excess gas. (Source, Source)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Constipation
Apart from lifestyle factors, bloating can stem from pre-existing health conditions. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal disorders. People with IBS may experience diarrhea, constipation, or both. Those with IBS with constipation (IBS-C) experience more abdominal bloating because stool stays in the colon longer, giving bacterial fermentation the opportunity to produce excess gas. (Source, Source)
Celiac disease (cd) is when your immune response attacks your own intestine due to gluten sensitivity. Therefore, the so-called gluten-free diet (GFD) remains the only method of treatment for CD patients that is both efficient and secure in managing symptoms. However, GFD can lead to nutrient deficiency like fiber, and micronutrients such as magnesium which you will later learn how both are crucial in helping to manage gassiness and bloating. (Source)
What Is Magnesium and Why Should I Care?
Magnesium is one of the elements most critical to human biological function. It is involved in almost every vital biochemical and metabolic process within our cells. It acts as an essential cofactor to hundreds of enzymes, meaning they don’t work without it. Magnesium is therefore involved in many physiological functions such as regulating sodium, potassium, calcium, blood pressure, muscle contraction, and heart rhythm.
Magnesium is also responsible for other cellular processes such as signaling pathways, bone development, neuromuscular function, energy storage and transfer, and glucose, lipid, and protein metabolism. A deficiency in magnesium can result in many chronic illnesses. (Source, Source)
How Does Magnesium Help Bloating?
Magnesium is commonly known as an excellent laxative. It can work in one of two ways to help with bloating:
Magnesium attracts water into the intestine. The increase in water helps soften stool and increases stool size, making it easier to move.
Magnesium can help relax smooth muscles within the intestines and allows the stool to move through the intestine smoothly.
Studies have shown that people in most industrialized countries, especially in the Western world, are deprived of natural magnesium. This is due in part to the increased consumption of processed food with low magnesium content with lower consumption of leafy green vegetables. (Source, Source, Source)
There are many different forms of magnesium, each with its own benefits. However, if you need magnesium supplementation, magnesium citrate is preferred due to its high bioavailability and almost complete absorption. Magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate, on the other hand, may remain unabsorbed, drawing excess water into the intestines and possibly causing diarrhea. (Source)
Magnesium citrate is the form of magnesium most commonly used to manage bloating and constipation. This over the counter, gentle laxative helps draw water from the intestinal wall, expands the stool, and softens and loosens the bowel, making bowel and stool movement easier. This can help alleviate bloating symptoms. (Source, Source, Source)
Magnesium oxide is another popular over the counter laxative. It has the same osmotic laxative effect as magnesium citrate (that is, it draws water into the intestines) and has long been used to treat chronic constipation. Magnesium oxide is generally only recommended for short-term use. (Source)
Magnesium sulfate, commonly known as Epsom salt, can be found in supplements, bath salts, and magnesium sulfate-rich mineral waters. It has been used for centuries as a natural treatment for many gastrointestinal conditions, especially functional constipation. Studies have shown that magnesium sulfate has demonstrated evidence of practical laxative effects, helping to increase stool consistency and frequency of bowel movements. (Source)
Recommended Amount of Magnesium Intake
Consuming a sufficient amount of magnesium daily is essential to prevent magnesium deficiency. The dietary allowance for magnesium consumption varies depending on age, sex, and nutritional status. According to the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 310 mg to 320 mg per day for women and 400 mg to 420 mg per day for men. (Source)
Safety and Precautions: What to Consider
Although oral magnesium supplementation is generally well tolerated, it has the potential to produce gastrointestinal symptoms such diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. (Source)
As with all supplements, it is essential to know that magnesium can interact and interfere with medications. For example, drugs such as bisphosphonates, used to prevent and treat osteoporosis, will not work as effectively when taken with magnesium supplements or medications. Magnesium can also interfere with antibiotics absorption if taken immediately before or after them.
Before taking a magnesium supplement, speak to a health care professional or a pharmacist to confirm it will not interfere or interact with any other supplements or medications you are taking. (Source)
7 Other Ways to Manage the Bloat
1. Mindful Eating
As mentioned earlier, rapid eating and drinking can lead to unconsciously swallowing air, which consequently leads to bloating. Eating and drinking mindfully is a simple way to combat bloating from swallowing air. Mindful eating is a meditative intervention that can help cultivate awareness and presence.
Researchers believe mindfulness interventions bring many beneficial and metabolic outcomes, including improved glucose levels, and can also help with stress management. So, let’s be present: Take a few deep breaths before eating, and chew thoroughly before swallowing! (Source)
2. Physical Activities
Whether you experience bloating or not, we know that physical activity has many benefits for health. Studies have shown that physical activity and upright posture help quicken gas transit in patients with abdominal bloating. These exercises do not have to be hour-long intensive workouts. They can be long walks in your neighborhood, yoga stretches, or even at-home Pilates. Choose a physical activity you enjoy and try to incorporate it into your everyday routine. This will help your general health and intestinal gas clearance and reduce bloating! (Source, Source, Source)
Probiotics are living microorganisms that serve many health benefits and are extremely important to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. They can come from dietary supplements or cultured food such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. Including these fermented foods in your diet will diversify and strengthen your intestinal microbiota.
Disturbance to the gut microbiota can stem from food allergies, fungal infections, and the use of antibiotics. Probiotics help to improve disturbed gut microbiota by increasing microbial diversity. Probiotics are believed to work in a number of different ways, including secreting an anti-microbial medium and adhering to the intestinal lining. This creates a hostile environment for pathogens and inhibits their growth. (Source, Source)
A number of studies have found therapeutic benefits of probiotics for GI disorders, suggesting they can reduce symptoms of IBS such as inflammation, bloating, and diarrhea. (Source, Source)
4. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil, an essential oil taken by mouth for its antispasmodic properties, has been used since ancient times to manage digestive disorders. Research has shown peppermint oil may significantly decrease and relieve abdominal symptoms such as bloating and distension by relaxing the bowel muscles, making it easier for gas and stool to pass through. (Source, Source, Source)
There are different kinds of dietary fiber, with differing physical and chemical properties. Highly fermentable fiber can cause rapid gas production and abdominal bloating. However, moderately fermentable dietary fiber can help manage overall IBS symptoms and bloating. Psyllium is often recommended for IBS patients to help regulate stool and manage abdominal discomfort.
Remember that when introducing any type of supplementation into your regimen, it’s best to make the transition gradually, avoiding sudden changes. As you add more fiber to your diet, you may experience temporary abdominal bloating and discomfort due to changes in bowel habits. (Source)
6. Coconut Water
Coconut water contains many beneficial vitamins and micronutrients such as magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. Studies have shown that coconut water may help alleviate health conditions due to its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and diuretic properties. Findings from medical research suggest that coconut water can aid in reducing bloating, improving digestion, and relieving constipation when taken in a moderate amount. (Source)
Please note: People with kidney failure should avoid coconut water due to the high potassium content.
7. Elimination Diet
Bloating can be due to food intolerance and sensitivity. Elimination diets such as the autoimmune protocol (AIP) are great methods of identifying food sensitivities. To avoid the risk of nutritional deficiencies when on an elimination diet, it’s best to work with a trained dietician or nutritionist. Our care team at WellTheory can review your health history and help you slowly identify and eliminate triggers to regain control over your health. (Source)
The Bottom Line on Magnesium for Bloating
While there are multiple causes of bloating, the most effective long-term solution is carefully observing your symptoms and understanding the potential root causes. When your body is reacting and showing signs of discomfort, it may be telling you to make some lifestyle changes. Incorporating magnesium into your diet, through eating foods high in magnesium or taking magnesium supplements, can be a significant first step to managing your bloating symptoms, allowing your body a chance to heal.
For more support with bloating and autoimmune symptoms, take WellTheory’s 2 minute questionnaire to see if working with WellTheory’s Care Team could be the right fit for you. The team at WellTheory is here to support you with your unique healing journey.