Mary had problems with intestinal gas all her life. When it occurred at home, it was a nuisance. When it occurred in social settings, it was an embarrassment.
Now that Mary had a new job, she wondered what she could do to reduce the discomfort and odors.
The good news is there are possible solutions for people plagued with gas.
A certain amount of intestinal gas is normal. The average person passes gas from above or below about 10 to 20 times a day.
Belching, or burping, occurs when air or gas in the stomach is released through the mouth.
Lower-intestinal gas, or flatus, may have an unpleasant odor when it passes from the anus. This is due to gases produced by bacteria in the bowel such as hydrogen sulfide (rotten-egg smell), methanethiol (decomposing-vegetable odor), or dimethyl sulfide (heavy, sweetish scent).
Excessive amounts of gas can cause difficulties. It can be embarrassing to have repeated episodes of belching or flatulence.
And gas that gets trapped in the intestines instead of passing stretches the bowel walls. This may lead to an uncomfortable feeling of abdominal fullness or distention called bloating.
Causes of excess gas
Swallowing too much air can create gas. Eating quickly, gulping food or beverages, drinking through a straw, chewing gum, sucking on hard candy or wearing loose-fitting dentures may contribute to excess air swallowing.
Some foods contain sugars, starches or fiber that your body cannot completely digest. Gut bacteria work on these indigestible carbohydrates and produce gas in the process.
Common gas-forming foods include beans and some types of fruits, vegetables and grain products. Dairy foods may also create gas in people who are lactose intolerant, or deficient in the enzyme that digests milk sugar.
Only rarely is gas due to a serious disorder. Irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and other digestive disorders may lead to gas, usually along with other symptoms. If you experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, bleeding, frequent heartburn or other symptoms, call your doctor.
Reduce gas these ways
Eat a low gas-forming diet. Cut down on food that seems to cause you more gas. For many people, this may mean beans and members of the cabbage family such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
Other common culprits include cucumbers, corn, pasta, potatoes, artichokes, onions, apples, peaches, pears, prunes and grains. Foods and drinks sweetened with sorbitol or fructose can create gas as well.
Sometimes certain food combinations can interact in your intestines to produce gas. Examples include nuts and fruit, or sweets and fruit. Large meals or large amounts of fiber may also aggravate gas; remember to eat in moderation.
Aid your digestion. Look for lactose-free products or lactase tablets, if you’re lactose intolerant. Distress from beans? Soak and thoroughly rinse legumes before cooking, or try taking a product called Beano. Flavoring foods with a little garlic, ginger or fennel may improve digestion. So can taking a leisurely stroll after meals.
Look over-the-counter. Simethicone may slightly reduce belching. Activated charcoal can soak up gas, but only when taken by mouth in very large amounts. A more practical solution may be to wear activated charcoal-coated pads inside your underwear.
Modify your lifestyle. Avoid rapid eating, chewing gum, carbonated beverages and smoking. If these solutions don’t work, counseling to improve relaxation and change behavior may help.
Mary tried a combination of these ideas and was less bothered by gas both at home and on the job.
For more information: American College of Gastroenterology, www.acg.gi.org.
Contact Dr. Elizabeth Smoots, a board-certified family physician and fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her columns are not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Before adhering to any recommendations in this column consult your health care provider.
&Copy; 2007 Elizabeth S. Smoots