Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Let’s get something straight. The word bloating? It’s the word du jour, and I hear it a lot. The thing is, most people who complain about abdominal bloating don’t know that gas (not just water retention) is a major cause. This “bloat” is any abnormal swelling, or increase in diameter, of the abdominal area.
A gut full of gas may sound trivial, but that constant pressure and resulting abdominal pain can be among the most annoying symptoms a person can endure. It pales next to a brain tumor, but it can sure ruin a good day.
Gas can form anywhere in the digestive tract, but it largely comes from bacterial action in the large intestine, as a byproduct of fermentation. Those bugs live off our waste. So if undigested carbohydrates make their way to the bacterial homeland, the microbes break them down to simpler compounds, including some in gaseous form. Certain herbs can stimulate the secretion of digestive juices that assist the body in digestion and can help to alleviate gas.
The parsley family is famous for its collection of gas-suppressing seeds—think fennel, cumin, dill, coriander, anise, and caraway. The theory is that the abundant essential oils in these seeds bump up digestive juices, and may also kill bad bacteria.
In my mind, fennel is the world champion. In a recent Italian study, fennel and coriander were both found to be natural bactericides. A 2016 study found that anethole, a major constituent in fennel seed, restored delayed gastric emptying. In another trial, 95 percent of study participants taking an herbal mixture containing fennel, as well as dandelion, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, and calendula, experienced complete relief of colitis symptoms, including abdominal pain and cramping, within two weeks.
Use fennel, or any of these parsley family seeds, by taking them in capsules, tablets, or tinctures; or chewing the whole seeds or drinking as a tea as needed.
Chewing whole fennel seeds or drinking a tea made from fennel seeds can help to alleviate gas and bloating.
Ginger, a warming herb, is a first-aid kit on a plate. This time-tested remedy is used by nearly every culture in the world as a treatment for gas. It reduces gut spasms, absorbs and neutralizes toxins in the GI tract, and boosts digestive juice secretion, including bile and saliva. A recent paper reported that ginger enhanced fat digestion by stimulating bile and pancreatic lipase enzymes. This spicy root contains constituents that soothe the gut and aid digestion.
Prepare a tea and drink after a large meal to ease discomfort. Drink three times a day, or as much as needed to lessen the bloating. I also recommend taking ginger in capsules and tinctures.
On the whole, warming herbs reduce gas and bloating, and black pepper is an excellent example. It is one of the most valued herbs in Asia. Piperine, a main active constituent, has a reputation for increasing bioavailability and absorption of nutrients. It works in part by increasing intestinal motility, which is known to reduce gas. It is often combined with long pepper, a close relative. Long pepper tends to moisturize tissues, such those in the digestive tract, while black pepper tends to reduce excess moisture.
Use black pepper in tea or capsules. Start with 500 mg per meal and increase with each meal until you have banned the bloat.