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By Kim Bulder, Mānuka Health Naturopath, 23 July 2019
  • Do you have days when your belly starts out flat and ends up looking 6 months pregnant? 
    You're not alone.

Bloating, usually accompanied by bowel irritability, is one of the most common digestive complaints amongst both men and women.

Many factors can contribute to these symptoms, but a ‘strung out’ nervous system and chronic bacterial overgrowth are frequent underlying causes of digestive bloating and dysfunction.

A stressed nervous system is not geared for proper digestive function. Normal digestive processes are inhibited when the sympathetic nervous system is active (commonly referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response and often dominant in today’s hectic, demanding world). This, in turn, means food is not processed or eliminated efficiently, and detrimental bacteria can multiply, leading to ongoing digestive disturbance.

Stress management techniques like regular exercise (even just a daily stroll at lunchtime will be of benefit), meditation (again, just start with 5 minutes a day to keep it simple) and breathing techniques can help restore calm to the nervous and digestive systems. Combine this with the following 'de-stressing' (rather than distressing) approach to mealtimes, and you will start to notice improvements:


  1. Take time to relax while preparing food and when eating, taking slow regular breaths into the belly (do this anytime you feel stressed or  uptight, you'll feel an immediate benefit). This signals to your nervous system that it can switch from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’  and allows healthy digestive function to occur.
  2. Eat slowly and chew food well. Chewing is the first part of the digestive process and food that is well chewed and eaten at a leisurely pace means less strain on your digestive system. An easy way to eat more slowly is simply to put down your utensils (or your food if using hands) between bites.
  3. Don’t overeat. An overloaded digestive system won’t be able to process food efficiently and quickly causes bloating and digestive discomfort (flashback to Christmas dinner anyone?)

The beneficial gut bacteria residing in all of us are incredibly important for overall health, and they help prevent overgrowth of undesirable microflora in the digestive tract.

Antibiotics, alcohol, poor diet, and stress can disrupt this balance leading to familiar symptoms of bloating, bowel irregularity (constipation, diarrhoea or both) and digestive dysfunction. Restoring and maintaining balanced bowel flora is an essential factor when resolving digestive issues.  Some basic steps to start with are:

  • Eat whole natural foods - reduce or eliminate refined foods, alcohol and sugar (Mānuka honey is a great alternative unrefined sweetener with added benefits to support your gut)
  • Add fermented foods to your daily diet such as sauerkraut, kefir or yoghurt to provide natural probiotics (good bacteria)
  • Eat plenty of plant foods which act as prebiotics to feed the good gut bacteria

Remember - the digestive and nervous systems are intimately entwined, so helping one will benefit the other.

“The beneficial gut bacteria residing in all of us are incredibly important for overall health"
Kim Bulder, Naturopath

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