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What's causing your digestive discomfort? The answer might not be straight forward

Monday - 10/14/2013, 2:05pm  ET

Everything -- from what you put in your morning coffee, to your gender -- can affect your digestive system. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON - It's not exactly a conventional conversation starter, but after Dr. Robynne Chutkan was routinely pulled aside by inquisitive women at soccer games, the supermarket, dinner parties and the yoga studio, she decided to tackle the hush-hush topic of gas and discomfort from bloating.

"I think bloating is really significant because it's the GI tract's way of signaling its displeasure, that you're doing something it's not liking or something's going on."

"So I think it's actually an important symptom to pay attention to," says Chutkan, who is a gastroenterologist at Georgetown University Hospital and the founder of the Digestive Center for Women.

What causes gas and bloating? Chutkan says the list is endless. And one of the main differences comes down to anatomy. Sorry ladies, but women are more likely to experience bloating than men.

"As women, we have a longer colon than men -- on average 10 centimeters longer. And that leads to a lot more twists and turns and redundancies in the colon that can cause not just bloating, but constipation and abdominal discomfort," says Chutkan, who adds that hormonal level changes can also augment the symptoms.

After anatomy, Chutkan says the other the other factors are all equal in opportunity.

"There is a little known condition called air swallowing that can make you go up a pants size or two in just a day. There's gluten sensitivity, leaky gut and then of course there is the food and drink that we consume. So there are lots of different areas where bloating can become a problem."

However, Chutkan has isolated six aggravators that seem to contribute to gas and bloating on a regular basis. These six foods make up the pneumonic SAD GAS, appropriately enough.

Chutkan explains below what each letter stands for:

Soy: Chutkan says processed soy products can cause bloating, due to its estrogen-like effect.

Artificial sweeteners: "They are not absorbed in the intestine so they end up getting fermented in the colon and produce a lot of gas," Chutkan says.

Dairy: "More than half of the world is lactose intolerant, and many of us don't realize it," Chutkan says.

Gluten: "Even if you don't have Celiac's Disease, which is an allergy to gluten, lots of people have gluten intolerance where they feel bloated Sometimes people get brain fog, they feel tired after eating gluten -- which is in wheat, rye and barley," Chutkan says.

Alcohol: "Alcohol causes us to retain water, it decreases secretion of digestive enzymes and it causes inflammation in the GI tract," Chutkan says.

Sugar: "Sugar is a tricky one because if you are eating a very sugary, starchy diet, (sugar) can cause proliferation of some of the less desirable bacteria that can contribute a lot to gas and bloating," Chutkan says.

In her new book, "GUTBLISS: A 10-Day Plan to Ban Bloat, Flush Toxins, and Dump Your Digestive Baggage," Chutkan suggests eliminating these foods from your diet for 10 days. After the 10 days is up, reintroduce the food categories one at a time, to see what which ones seem to cause the most symptoms.

In addition to cutting out some foods, Chutkan says the key to keeping bloating out may be in the way you prepare, and eat, your food.

She suggests soaking beans overnight, prior to cooking them. This will help cut down on gas. Adding Beano to your meal routine can also help.

"The reason that beans and other vegetables, like broccoli and cabbage and so on, produce gas is because they contain raffinose, which is a poorly absorbed carbohydrate," says Chutkan, who adds that over-the-counter medicines, such as Beano, help to break down raffinose.

Chutkan says if you are still experiencing serious gas and bloating after playing "medical detective," it may be time to see a doctor.

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