It happens to all of us. You’re at a dinner party, a date, or somewhere else where gas is the last thing you need, and all of a sudden that bloated, “uh-oh” feeling occurs. Flatulence, also known as passing gas, is the state of having excess gas in the digestive tract. The result is built-up pressure that needs to be released, which can cause discomfort and potential embarrassment. Most of the time gas is a very normal and healthy process, but occasionally it can be a sign of an underlying problem.
Everyone naturally passes gas throughout the day, and it’s a very normal process. However, excessive flatulence can be a problem and affects millions of Americans every day. Not only is excess gas embarrassing out in public, it can also cause great discomfort, in the form of belching and bloating, and can be a symptom of a more serious gastrointestinal problem.
Belching: Belching, or burping, is the body’s way of releasing excess gas built up in the stomach. It’s usually caused by swallowing too much air when eating or by drinking carbonated beverages. Any gas not released by belching will move on into the intestines.
Abdominal Bloating/Pain/Discomfort: When gas doesn’t move through the intestines properly, it can result in pressure, ranging from mild discomfort to serious pain.
There are many causes of both normal and excessive flatulence. Many different things can cause gas and bloating, from simply eating a new food to serious diseases. There are over eighty different medical conditions that can potentially cause excessive gas. However, there are often less serious reasons, including eating too fast, chronic stress, and prescription drugs. Any of these can throw the digestive system out of balance, leading to those embarrassing moments out in public.
There are many different foods that can cause gas, including healthy foods such as beans and veggies. Foods containing carbohydrates and sugars tend to cause more gas than fat or protein-heavy foods. While foods affect everyone differently, following are some of the most common foods that may create gas:
- Starches: Most carbohydrate-rich starches such as potatoes, wheat, and corn produce gas during the digestive process.
- Beans: Beans are probably one of the most-well known flatulence culprits. These legumes contain large amounts of raffinose, a complex sugar that produces excess gas in the intestine. Other foods that contain gas-causing raffinose include vegetables such as broccoli and other brassicas, asparagus, and whole grains.
- Onions and Fruit: The sugars fructose and sorbitol, commonly found in onions, fruits, and wheat, as well as soft drinks, candy and gum, are known to release gases as they break down in the intestine.
- Fiber: Soluble fiber, which dissolves easily in water, releases gas as it breaks down in the large intestine (insoluble fiber does not break down or release gas). Soluble fiber is found in legumes, fruits, and oats.
Many underlying conditions can cause excess gas, ranging from food intolerances to more serious disorders. Irritable bowel syndrome, yeast infections, and pancreatic disease can all be potential causes, so if you already know you have one of these conditions, your symptoms could be related. A couple common conditions associated with chronic flatulence are listed below.
Lactose intolerance: This is a common condition that affects millions of adults around the world. It is the body’s inability to process the sugar lactose, which is found in dairy products. Unable to break down properly, lactose can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and frequent, smelly flatulence. Lactose intolerance can develop over time—I can attest to this personally. If you suspect this may be your problem, try avoiding dairy for a week or two and see if your condition improves.
Celiac disease: One of the most underdiagnosed conditions in the U.S. (an estimated 97% percent of cases remain undiagnosed) is celiac disease, or “sprue.” It is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the inner walls of the intestines whenever the protein gluten is present. Those with celiac disease must avoid wheat, barley, and other products that contain gluten in order to prevent complications caused by malabsorption. Bloating, abdominal pain, and excessive flatulence are some of the many symptoms associated with this condition.
Feeling bloated and gassy today? Luckily, since flatulence comes from the gut, it can also be helped through the gut! Before reaching for pharmaceutical meds, consider some simple remedies that can help alleviate the symptoms.
Swallowing some air is normal, but eating too fast, gulping air while drinking, or swallowing improperly can lead to belching and flatulence later.
Beneficial bacteria fermenting food in our intestines may be the cause of a lot of gas, but they can also be the solution. Many different fauna live in our gut, and they keep each other in balance. Antibiotics, diseases, and poor diet can throw this system out of balance though. Sometimes, reintroducing probiotic cultures through yogurt, fermented foods, or supplements can help solve the problem.
There are many available herbal remedies that help support digestive health. Three of the most popular are listed below:
Keep a Journal
Next time you notice that you’re passing more gas than usual, think back or write down possible triggers. Maybe that bowl of ice cream or bean chili at a potluck isn’t settling right, or maybe you’ve been stressed lately. Try keeping a journal where you record your food, activities, and any flatulence you have. You may begin to notice a pattern.
Remember, while excess bloating and gas is usually nothing to worry about, chronic flatulence can be a symptom of a deeper problem. When in doubt, try some of the solutions listed here and seek out the help of your doctor if symptoms get worse, don’t go away, or are accompanied by other health problems. Dealing with excess gas can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, but taking the steps to prevent it is sure to promote better digestive and greater overall health.