BALTIMORE — Feel like your belly is about to burst after every meal? You may want to cut back on the salt. A study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that reducing sodium intake could reduce gastrointestinal bloating symptoms in individuals.
The researchers analyzed data from a large clinical trial conducted twenty years ago, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension-Sodium trial (DASH-Sodium). They found that high sodium intake levels increased belly bloating — or a buildup of excess gas in the gut — among participants when compared to those who followed a low-fiber control diet. This gas production is usually attributed to gut bacteria breaking down fiber. Some evidence from previous studies has suggested that sodium can stimulate bloating.
“Bloating is one of the leading gastrointestinal complaints in the U.S. and can be exacerbated in some people by a high-fiber diet; our results suggest that they might be able to reduce that bloating, without compromising on healthy fiber, by lowering their sodium intake,” explains study senior author Dr. Noel Mueller, an assistant professor with the university’s Department of Epidemiology, in a statement.
Previous research has shown that bloating symptoms affect as much as a third of the U.S. population. Nine out of ten of people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome experience frequent bloating, researchers say.
In their analysis, the researchers found that about 37% of the 412 participants in the 1998-1999 survey reported bloating symptoms before participating — on par with the national average, per other major surveys. Some participants were then tasked with following a DASH diet, which requires consumption of high-fiber, low-fat foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Other participants in a control group ate a low-fiber diet. Varying levels of sodium consumption were also followed by both groups.
Results showed that the high-fiber DASH diet increased bloating odds by 41% compared to the control group. But sodium proved to be a significant factor: the high-sodium versions of the diets increased risk of bloating by 27%, the researchers found.
The study was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.