Feeling bloated? Blame your extra-long colon (and beat it)

Women are more likely to suffer from digestive complaints such as IBS, constipation and bloating - so knowing how to look after your digestion is essential

If you believe the polls, almost all women will suffer from a digestive problem at some point in their lives, such as IBS or bloating. And now we know the reason.

A new book by Robynne Chutkan, a US doctor who's dedicated her career to treating women's digestive issues, explains that female physiology is why we experience more dodgy digestion complaints than men, including the fact that our colon is 10cm longer on average and all twisted up, while men have a nice neat horse-shoe shaped colon.Bloating and associated stomach pain are caused by many things [REX]

"We don’t know why, but we think part of that is to allow for more absorption of water or fluid during childbearing," Dr Chutkan explained in an interview with The Atlantic.

"These sort of create extra twists and turns, and that’s why women are so much more bloated and constipated than their male counterparts."

She also explains that our hormones, the effects of pregnancy and the shape of our skeleton has an impact too.

But though we're more prone to these discomforts, there are things you can do to beat bloating.

We sought the advice of Dr Marilyn Glenville, a GP and expert in women's health who has written a book that covers the main issues of poor digestion - Natural Solutions to IBS.

She recommends a series of lifestyle changes to beat the bloat:

1. Eat more slowly and don't overeat

Chewing is an important part of the digestive process. Eat too quickly and the food that arrives in your stomach with need extra breaking down.

2. Stop smoking
You might think it's just the lungs that suffer when you smoke, but the nicotine in cigarettes stimulates the digestive tract and can cause pain, diarrhoea and cramping. You also get bloated as you gulp down air when you smoke.

3. Sort out constipation
Being constipated causes bloating because bacteria in the bowel ferments food as it moves along the digestive tract. The longer the food stays in the tract, because your system is backed up, the more air will be produced, causing bloating and flatulence.

4. Exercise
The panacea of almost every health condition ever it seems, but exercise really is essential for healthy digestion. Not only will it keep your weight healthy by working off the energy you get from your food, but it will also help gas pass though your digestive tract more easily, reducing bloating.

5. Check for food intolerance
Different to allergies, if you're intolerant to certain foods, eating them won't necessarily cause a noticeable reaction, but regular consumption of them can damage your digestive tract and make it hard for your body to process them and to absorb nutrients from your diet. Some fruits and vegetables can also cause bloating so keep a food diary to help you work out which foods correlate to you feeling worse.

6. Cut out fizzy drinks
The carbonated water in fizzy drinks can cause bloating, as well as them being high in sugar and highly processed. Avoid too fizzy water, even from natural sources.The carbonated water in fizzy drinks makes them bloating [REX]

7. Cook your food
Though many people are fans of the 'raw food diet', if you have digestive problems it might be more helpful for you to cook your food. This begins the process of breaking down the food so that when it gets into your system your body doesn't have to work so hard.

8. Avoid water retention
Your body may store excess water, which can leave you feeling bloated. The answer is actually to drink more water, as  your body may have been storing some because you haven't been drinking enough to stay properly hydrated. Aim for six to eight glasses of water a day and try to reduce your salt intake.

9. Take probiotic and digestive enzymes

Prebiotics and probiotics help to promote the good bacteria in your gut and lower levels of harmful bacteria. Digestive enzymes also give your system a helping hand by breaking down your food into smaller particles for your body to use.

10. Herbal teas with magical powers
Dandelion tea helps beat bloating by reducing water retention while replenishing vitamins and minerals, and is also good for acid reflux as it's highly alkaline. Chamomile tea after a meal helps aid digestion (though wait for half an hour to avoid diluting the digestive juices) and mint and ginger have stomach-settling properties.

11. Test for yeast
If you have an overgrowth of candida (yeast) in your body, then it will cause bloating by fermenting with the sugars in your food. If you test positive for too much candida you can be treated and should notice an improvement.

SWAP: Sandwiches for wraps

Nutritionist Vicki Edgson says: "Commercial bread is full of sugar (amongst other things) to guarantee rising and make the loads uniform."

As flat breads don't need to rise ... more 
SWAP: Sandwiches for wraps

Nutritionist Vicki Edgson says: "Commercial bread is full of sugar (amongst other things) to guarantee rising and make the loads uniform."

As flat breads don't need to rise they don't have as much sugar, so opt for these at lunchtime. less 
1 / 10
Rex Features
Thu, Sep 5, 2013 15:00 BST