From stress to your diet… 5 common causes of constant tummy ache revealed

WHETHER you have got a mild ache or serious cramps, stomach pain can have many causes.

It can strike at any time and can leave us feeling uncomfortable and puffy.

According to the NHS your stomach ache could simply be caused by trapped wind, meaning to get rid of it, all you need to do is pass gas.

You could also be suffering constipation or indigestion, which can be managed with over the counter remedies.

But if your stomach ache is more of a permanent fixture then it could be due to your daily habits.

Speaking to The Sun, May Simpkin, nutritionist and consultant to Enzymedica UK, said there are some daily habits that you can tweak that could help stop your stomach pain.

Here May reveals the five most common reasons why people have stomach ache and what you can do to get rid of it.

1. Gluten intolerance or allergy

Many people do not tolerate gluten, which is a type of protein found in many grains including wheat, barley and rye. 

It can also be used to help make many processed chemical additives that are found in packaged foods of all kinds. 

May said that for many decades, the mainstream medical view of gluten intolerance was that you either have it, or you do not. In other words, you either test positive for coeliac disease and have a severe gluten allergy, or you test negative and, therefore, have no reason to avoid gluten-containing foods.

She said: "Ongoing research studies along with people’s actual experiences show that gluten intolerance symptoms are not so “clear cut”. 

"We now know that gluten intolerance symptoms fall along a spectrum and having a sensitivity to gluten isn’t necessarily all-or-nothing.

"This means that it is possible to have gluten intolerance symptoms without having coeliac disease."

This new term is called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and people with NCGS fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: they don’t have coeliac disease, yet they feel noticeably better when they avoid gluten altogether.

May said that according to research, the main symptoms that show up if a person has an intolerance to gluten include digestive problems such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.

She added: "Avoiding foods containing gluten and processed packaged foods, eating whole foods and preferably cooking at home from scratch, will help you to establish whether gluten is a problem for you, so that you can avoid it."

2. Overeating

When we eat too much in one sitting, or over-snack on our favourite treats in the evening, it can leave us with an uncomfortable bloated feeling and an upset stomach. 

May said that if you look at your clenched fist, that will give you an idea of the size of your actual stomach (a typical adult stomach can hold about 75ml when empty and about 950ml when it expands after eating).

She added: "It’s easy to see that when you eat a big meal and start to reach the upper limit of your stomach’s capacity, you may experience a feeling of nausea or indigestion. 

"Eating large amounts of food on a regular basis can also put a strain your digestive system, triggering wind and bloating.

"One way to help prevent these symptoms in the first place is to regulate your portion sizes and eat more slowly."

May said another way to help this is to take a digestive enzyme supplement.

Supplements like this can take the strain off your digestive system by breaking down all the parts of a large meal.

3. Stress

The gut and the brain are intimately connected.

May said that if you are stressed, your body will typically slow down your digestive processes, as its priority and focus go into dealing with your stress levels rather than putting full energy into your digestion.

She said: "This can result in a sluggish digestive system, where the food you have eaten does not move efficiently through your digestive tract.

"This slowing down of the digestive process can cause undigested food to sit longer in the gut where it begins to fester, creating wind and bloating.

"Also, when we are stressed, we often tend to eat faster, maybe even eating from our laps whilst watching TV or still working at a computer, rather than taking time out to sit at a table and enjoy the meal experience. "

Eating too fast, not not chewing your food and gulping down air with each mouthful can also lead to wind and bloating due to large amounts of food and air rapidly entering your stomach, May said.

You can avoid excess wind and bloating and help to reduce your stress levels by practising mindful eating.

This, May says means taking time to slow down at meal-times and be fully present, paying attention to your eating process and the food itself. 

4. Too much caffeine

For some people caffeine (found in coffee, energy drinks and to a lesser extent tea) can have a debilitating effect on the gut.

May said that whilst many people are unaffected, those sensitive to caffeine find that it stimulates the muscles in the digestive system to contract more strongly.

She said: "This can be the cause of painful IBS symptoms, such as cramps and stomach ache.

"It is worth reducing or even avoiding caffeine if you are susceptible to these effects.

"In any case, increasing your fluid intake will help improve the digestive process."

She said plain water, hot water with lemon or freshly grated ginger and herbal teas are all good choices, as well as soups, fruits and vegetables as they also provide fluids.

Top tips on healthy snacks

Snacking is a great way to keep hung pangs at bay and can prevent pain we might get in our stomach from leaving it to long.

Snacking on vegetables and fruit throughout the day could help, but one expert said you can also snack on nuts in order to keep your sugar levels down which could creep up if you have too much fruit.

KIND's registered dietitian, Orlaith Danaher says nuts are clearly misunderstood as the food group to not only provide nutritional benefits for a balanced diet but that people have no idea about how much they should be consuming.

Here are some easy snack ideas and healthy meal recipes

  • Porridge- Porridge is a great way to start the day, but if you want it to sustain you for a few hours, try enriching your bowl with some protein-packed almonds.
  • Toast with spread and jam- choose whole grain bread and smother on some peanut butter to add texture, taste and top nutritional benefits like healthier fats and fibre.
  • Replace Chocolate, biscuits or cake- try swapping snacks that are low in nutrients with a healthier option: replace with a fibre-rich handful of nuts, or a nut bar.  
  • Vegetable stir-fry- remember that nuts aren’t just for snacks- stir in a handful of cashew nuts and you’ll be adding a good amount of magnesium. 
  • Mixed salad- a colourful salad may be nutritious, but have you remembered your protein provider> scatted a few nuts on the top to fill the gap  
  • Thai green curry- swap the coconut milk with peanut butter and you’ll be replacing unhealthy saturated fats with better for you unsaturated fats.
  • Post-gym snack bar- the protein content of nuts makes them an ideal post-gym snack as protein helps support muscle growth and maintenance. When packing your water bottle, don’t forget your small bag or box of nuts, or try a KIND Protein bar

5. Eating too late at night

During sleep, the various systems in the body repair and rebuild, ready for the next day.

May said that eating too near to bedtime means that your digestive system will need to focus on processing your meal.

"This not only uses up a lot of energy which, consequently, may disrupt your sleep, but it also means that your digestive system does not have adequate time overnight to repair effectively.

"Over the long term, your digestive health will suffer, and you may find yourself more susceptible to stomach pains", she said.

May highlighted that you should aim to finish your meal at least three hours before heading to bed to allow enough time for your digestive system to fully process the meal.

If you find yourself eating at night it might be because you haven't eaten enough throughout the day.

Carly Taylor – Co-Founder, Real Handful said as long as you don't over indulge, snacking is a great way to stay fuelled throughout the day.

She said: "Snacking exists to keep you going between meals, or to help fuel a more active lifestyle but unfortunately in the UK we've over time come to think of these more indulgent and less nutritionally dense foods as acceptable snacks. 

"When you're being more conscious and considered about what you're eating it can be a fantastic opportunity to make positive changes and experiment with new snacking habits."

She said that nuts are great to snack on any time of the day.

She added: "They are a natural source of protein and a good source of fibre, making them a great option on a diet helping to keep you fuller for longer."

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