Behind abdominal swelling there could be can a hidden, simple gastrointestinal condition: meteorism. Although this may be caused by several factors, its link with food can be very close and it is exactly the diet that, in many cases, must be evaluated in order to solve it: ‘Meteorism is favored by the intake of all those foods that are mostly fermented by the intestinal bacterial flora’, recalls Dr. Federica Furfaro, gastroenterologist at Humanitas.
Meteorism is characterized by the presence of excess gas in the intestine and its symptoms are ‘swelling and/or abdominal tension. It can be isolated or associated with other gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, weight loss, flatulence. The isolated symptom appears to be non-specific and it is necessary to collect the anamnestic data and to deepen it with specific instrumental examinations to understand its causes. The patient – explains the expert – notes the swelling especially after meals and this does not resolve with evacuation. Abdominal distension can reduce appetite and disrupt its normal daily activities’.
The triggering factors
‘The causes can be many, from intolerance to lactose or fructose to celiac disease, from irritable bowel syndrome to bacterial overgrowth, from a chronic inflammatory bowel disease to the use of certain drugs’, replies Dr. Furfaro.
Therefore, the origin of this condition can be linked to the diet. Meteorism may indeed be a consequence of the consumption of foods that are fermented by the intestinal microbiota. Which foods could it be reacting to? ‘Legumes (beans, broad beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas), which is better to eat peeled in order to reduce the symptoms; vegetables (cauliflower, artichokes, leeks, broccoli), which are better to be eaten blended in order to limit meteorism; wide-leaved vegetables; onion (in large quantities); dried fruit (almonds, peanuts, walnuts); corn, mushrooms, fruit eaten after meals, fizzy drinks and diet drinks; chewing gum; sweeteners and sugar-free candies’.
How to prevent meteorism
In addition to food recommendations, should other indications be taken into account? ‘It is possible to use some substances that reduce meteorism. In particular:
It is possible to use enzymes that digest carbohydrates, thus reducing the substrate fermented by bacteria (alpha and beta galactosidase);
Lactose intolerant patients can take lactase tablets before a meal;
In patients with altered intestinal bacterial flora it is possible to use specific antibiotics that kill the “bad bacteria” that over-ferment;
In patients with irritable bowel syndrome it may be helpful to prescribe insoluble fibers, which are not fermented by the intestine but can improve intestinal emptying, reducing the production of air’, concludes the specialist.