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What causes bloating?

A voluptuary under the horrors of digestion, by James Gillray 1792
Bloating -women complain about it every month and Uncle Joe complains about it after dinner. The abdomen swells, the stomach seems tight, and the pressure builds. But what is it and why does the body torture us like this?

Abdominal bloating and menstrual bloating (aka water weight) are two different things. Abdominal bloating that occurs after a meal, and usually accompanied by gas, is the result of the intestinal gas building up in the gastrointestinal system. That's why it feels so good to let one rip - you release the pressure. It causes a feeling of tightness because it's distending the intestines and the belly may even seem larger. Constipation can also cause bloating because the system is not getting rid of what it needs to.

Menstrual bloating is caused by water retention in the fat tissue around the midsection, but it also includes increased intestinal gas. As the progesterone levels in the woman's body drop and estrogen levels rise, more than just her mood is affected - also her metabolism and regulation of the blood vessels. Estrogen promotes the secretion of aldosterone, which tells the kidneys to let less water out (in the form of urine). More water is retained around the midsection (as well as in the legs and feet) until the hormones level off. Women may also have increased intestinal gas during PMS, so bloating could be due to both aspects of the body.

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