Beating the Bloating: Taming Your Tummy

This week I’ve had a number of patients come in complaining of abdominal bloating and cramping.  It seems a good time to talk about bloating!.

This is a very common symptom that we see.  The symptom generally consists of the abdomen feeling larger than usual.  Pants fit too tightly, there is an uncomfortable sensation of pressure and sometimes cramping and pain.  Sometimes the abdomen actually IS larger than usual, but sometimes not.

There are three ways that the abdomen can actually GET bigger.  I’m not talking about weight gain, because abdominal fat mass doesn’t fluctuate from day to day.  The intestinal contents can increase, the fluid around the intestines can increase, and there can be more intestinal gas content than usual.

  • Constipation – This is often the cause of bloating and cramping.  If you feel bloated and have not had a good BM in a day or two, take a stool softener or a gentle vegetable laxative like senna and see if that resolves the problem in a few days.  (Note:  Shaklee’s HerbLax is my favorite to recommend, it is very gentle and reliable.)
  • Water retention – Ladies who notice bloating as part of PMS symptoms usually have this to blame.  Hormones can also cause constipation so both can play a role.  Avoiding salty snacks and processed foods can help.  Dandelion tea has diuretic properties and can help relieve the water retention naturally as well.  If you take water pills for any reason, make sure to discuss supplements with your doctor.
  • Gas – There are two sources of intestinal gas.  One is air that you swallow as you eat and drink.  The other is gas that is produced in the intestine as bacteria ferment carbohydrates in the food you eat.  The best known is beans (the musical fruit!).  Beans contain carbohydrates like stachyose and raffinose, which humans can’t digest.  Your intestinal bacteria, however, CAN digest them and happily go to work, creating intestinal gas.  There are several ways to decrease the bloating and cramping from gas.  Don’t chew gum, drink carbonated beverages or talk while eating (all of these increase the swallowing of air/gas).  Decrease your intake of foods that create a lot of intestinal gas like beans, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.  If you’re lactose intolerant you should avoid dairy foods.  There are enzyme supplements like Lactaid and Beano that can help.

Gas, bloating and cramping are very common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.  IBS is a poorly-understood problem where the movement of the intestines (called peristalsis) is not coordinated properly.  Instead of an orderly progression of contraction moving food contents through the intestine, IBS causes disorganized contraction which results in cramping and pain.  Often peristalsis happens too quickly (causing diarrhea) or too slowly (causing constipation).  The most frustrating situation is where one person has BOTH problems depending which day you ask!  IBS generally responds very nicely to probiotic supplements.  If you choose a probiotic make sure it is a coated capsule to protect the bacteria from the stomach acid.  The one I use is Shaklee’s OptiFlora.

To summarize, if you find yourself suffering with gas, cramping and bloating, here are a few things to try.  Avoid foods that cause gas like dairy foods, beans, etc.  Use an enzyme supplement like Lactaid or Beano if you suspect one particular food is a bad actor for you.  Don’t chew gum or drink carbonated beverages.  Try to eat slowly and quietly.  Address constipation with a stool softener or gentle vegetable laxative.  Try a good probiotic supplement, especially if you have alternating constipation and diarrhea.  If all this fails, check in with the doctor.  Sometimes further testing is needed.  Good luck!


Marriage Is Good For Your Health

Hi, everybody!  I just got home from celebrating the wedding of my good friend Amanda, who is my assistant at the office.  She married her Prince Charming, Brandon, and they will live happily ever after.  Sigh.  I love weddings 🙂

It’s been a long day and this won’t be a very long post.  I’m tired and my feet hurt from dancing!  I did want to take a few minutes to explore evidence that being married is good for your health.

1.  Happily married couples have lower levels of heart disease, cancers, depression and stress.

2.  Married patients having heart bypass surgery were three times more likely to survive 15 years than those who were single.

3.  Men in particular seem to benefit from a happy marriage.  They are much less likely to die young, and less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke.

Why is a happy marriage so good for you?  There are many theories.  One theory is that there is less risky behavior when couples are happily married:  less drinking, drug use, and other unhealthy behaviors.  Also, there is someone to remind you to take care of yourself and that your well-being is important to them.

It’s important to realize that these benefits are seen when a person is HAPPILY married.  Abusive, unsupportive, unhappy marriages are harmful to one’s health.  Women in particular suffer health consequences from the stress of an unhappy marriage.

I’m so happy and excited for Amanda and Brandon as they start their new life together!  Here’s a picture of the happy couple!


Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. McQueen! <3


Tug-Of-War: The Work-Home Balance Dilemma

This week I figured I’d take a break from medical and weight related topics.  Recently lots of folks have been struggling with finding the right work-home balance for their families.

Let’s face it:  work is necessary.  For the family to survive someone has to earn an income.  Many people also find their work very fulfilling and a source of great satisfaction.  However, finding the right balance between your obligations at work and your obligations to your family is often tough.

When I have patients struggling with the stress of juggling home and work, I ask them to do two things.

First of all, I validate their dilemma and ask THEM to do the same.  It is normal to find it difficult to be pulled in two directions at once.  On the one hand, spouse and kids and household tasks are very important.  On the other hand, like I said before, earning an income is critical.  The person has to give themselves permission to feel stressed!

Especially working moms.  The women’s liberation movement has taught girls and young women that they can have it all.  They can have happy kids and a close, loving marriage as well as a fulfilling career.  While this is true, it is a VERY hard juggling act, and usually something has to take a backseat.  Working moms feel the stress very acutely and need permission to acknowledge they CAN’T do everything and to ask for the help they need.

The second thing I ask patients to do when they are struggling to make sense of their work-home balance is to make some lists.  List their priorities.  What are all the things that are important at work and important at home.

For instance, at work they might list priorities of getting a promotion, getting a raise, expanding their company’s sales force, or helping to open a new branch.  Entrepreneurs in particular must make priorities because if it’s YOUR business it’s pretty easy to let it overwhelm the rest of your life.

At home a person might list being home for dinner every night, scheduling date night regularly with their spouse, or taking one of the children to swim lessons or band practice.  Everyone’s priorities are unique.

Once the priorities are listed it’s easier to see where they might conflict.  For instance, committing to being home for dinner every night would keep you from taking customers out for dinner.  A job that requires you to travel regularly might interfere with family activities.

Ultimately the balance of work and family is an individual and personal one.  There is NO right answer and the solution YOU choose has to be right for your situation.  Being open and frank with your spouse is very important because (as in my house) when one spouse works a lot, the other does most of the heavy lifting as far as the household tasks go.

Love, support, understanding and humor can be great tools to help smooth any rough spots in finding the right balance.  It’s never easy, but it’s definitely worth it!

QUESTION:  What struggles have you had in finding a balance between work and family?