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About Flatulence

Digestion | December 16, 2016 | Author: Naturopath

Digestion

About Flatulence

Flatulence, which is commonly known as “wind” or more comically as “farting”, is a perfectly natural biological process. The average person passes gas between 5 to 15 times in a day. Along with belching, it is the body’s way of ridding itself of excess gas in the gut as it builds up and causes bloating and a general feeling of discomfort.

Flatus (intestinal gas) is a result of bacteria that has fermented in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). It is the fermentation that causes excessive amounts of gas to build up in the GI tract, thus leading to flatulence as a means for the body to regulate the intestinal gas. The quantity and quality of foods that are fermented in the gut can therefore be directly correlated to the quantity and quality of gas produced and released by a person.

It is difficult to pinpoint clinically when flatulence is or has become excessive as different people react differently to different quantities and qualities of foods and other contributing factors. However, it helps to take into consideration the period of time that excessive passing of gas has occurred as it can not be concluded that a person suffers from excessive flatulence after experiencing this symptom for a day or two, after ingesting foods to which the body is especially intolerant.

Causes of Flatulence

Aerophagia (swallowing excessive amounts of air) only accounts for less than 1% of flatus. The remaining 99% of the volume of flatus is composed of relatively odorless gasses that are naturally produced by the body, including oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane. Nitrogen is rarely passed as a gas, and is not naturally produced in the gut, but rather a component of environmental air.

While passing gas is perfectly natural and even necessary for overall physiological well-being, it is true that excessive flatulence, besides being somewhat embarrassing and/or uncomfortable at the very least, may even be indicative of underlying health problems. 

In some more severe cases, excessive flatulence can lead to poor self-esteem and subsequent isolation; this can be a breeding base for an array of other psychological problems.

This is especially true for flatus that is especially foul smelling. 

Gas that is foul smelling can be caused either by gas that remains too long in the GI tract as bacteria begin to add sulfates to the gas. Alternatively, foul smelling gas can be caused by foods that are high in sulfates such as foods from the cabbage family, i.e. broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, scallion, dairy products wine and dried fruits.

In order to successfully treat excessive flatulence, it helps to understand the underlying cause.

There are several causes of excessive flatulence, including health conditions or certain types of medicine.

Aerophagia

When eating and drinking, air is naturally swallowed and expelled just as quickly through belching and flatus. Swallowing an unnatural amount of air can however cause excessive flatulence. Too much air an be swallowed through:

  • Chewing gum
  • Smoking
  • Inadequate chewing of food which leads to swallowing larger pieces of foods
  • Loose fitting dentures
  • Sucking on unnatural object such as pens or hard sweets
  • Hot beverages and fizzy drinks

Foods and drinks

Carbohydrates in controlled quantities or qualities are healthy and necessary for a well-balanced diet. Even some healthy carbohydrates, however, can be  inadequately digested and/or absorbed by the intestines. Instead, these carbohydrates are passed down into the colon where they are to be broken down by bacteria that inhabit the colon.

Foods that contain a high amount of unabsorbable carbohydrates that may cause flatulence include:

  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Lentils
  • Artichokes
  • Prunes
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Apples
  • Raisins
  • Pulses
  • Broccoli

Unrefined cereal fiber such as bran may also cause gas. A type of sweetener called sorbitol that is mostly used in sugar-free gums and other slimming products is known to cause flatulence. Another type of sugar known as fructose, also contributes to excessive flatulence.

Health conditions

Flatulence may present as a symptom of an underlying medical condition, usually of the gut. Some of these health conditions include:

  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Coeliac disease
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Giardiasis
  • Colon cancer

Medicine

Acid reflux (indigestion) is known to overlap with windiness and gas. Acid reflux may be caused by a variety of factors such as smoking, pregnancy, obesity and alcohol and even some medications. Some of these medications that cause indigestion that may lead to flatulence include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s)
  • Antifungal medications
  • Statins
  • Varenicline (Champix) used to help people stop smoking.

Excessive flatulence can often be resolved by making simple changes to diet and altering lifestyle habits contributing to the problem. If simple diet and lifestyle changes do not yield desired relief then opt for medical or naturopathic intervention.

Diet

Foods that contain unabsorbable carbohydrates can be limited to an absolute minimum to reduce symptoms of flatulence. Processed foods are a major culprit for excessive flatulence due to the common ingredients contained in these.

Processed foods that are to be avoided include:

  • Foods with artificial sweeteners
  • Sugar-free sweets and gums
  • Fizzy drinks

Foods and vegetables that contain healthy carbs that are easier for the gut to digest are better to reduce flatulence.

These fruits and vegetables include:

  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Lettuce
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Yogurt

Smaller meals  throughout the day than simply eating three larger can reduce symptoms of flatulence and aid digestion.

Natural remedies

Peppermint. There has been some evidence that peppermint taken as a  tea, or the oil encapsulated, might help to reduce symptoms of flatulence by reducing the volume of gas in the gut.

Ginger consumed as a tea or as a solid can help with digestion, thus reducing the length of time that foods stay in the stomach. Ginger also helps to ease an upset stomach.

Probiotics are found in fermented foods or as dietary supplement that is available in either liquid, powder or capsule form. Probiotics encourage the growth of “good bacteria” in the gut, which in turn helps with digestion and subsequently reduce symptoms of flatulence. Probiotics are especially recommendable for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Don’t forget that flatulence is a perfectly natural and healthy bodily process and cannot be avoided, even if it might sometimes comically or embarrassingly occur at the most inconvenient of times.

If symptoms of flatulence occur together with other symptoms such as stomach cramping, pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea then it is recommended to consult with a health professional. 

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References

Tangerman, Albert (October 1, 2009). "Measurement and biological significance of the volatile sulfur compounds hydrogen sulfide, methanethiol and dimethyl sulfide in various biological matrices". Journal of Chromatography B. 877 (28): 3366–3377. doi:10.1016/j.jchromb.2009.05.026. PMID 19505855.​Parveen Kumar; Michael L. Clark, eds. (2005). Kumar & Clark Clinical Medicine (6th ed.). Edinburgh: Saunders. p. 266. ISBN 0702027634.

Azpiroz, F (July 1, 2005). "Intestinal gas dynamics: mechanisms and clinical relevance". Gut. 54 (7): 893–895. doi:10.1136/gut.2004.048868.

Bailey, J; Carter, NJ; Neher, JO (June 15, 2009). "FPIN's Clinical Inquiries: Effective management of flatulence". American Family Physician. 79 (12): 1098–100. PMID 19530642.

 "Gas in the Digestive Tract". National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved August 24, 2015.

Di Stefano M; Strocchi A; Malservisi S; Veneto G; Ferrieri A; Corazza GR (2000). "Non-absorbable antibiotics for managing intestinal gas production and gas-related symptoms". Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 14 (8): 1001–8. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2036.2000.00808.x. PMID 10930893.

Levitt, MD; Furne, J; Aeolus, MR; Suarez, FL (November 1998). "Evaluation of an extremely flatulent patient: case report and proposed diagnostic and therapeutic approach". The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 93 (11): 2276–81. doi:10.1111/j.1572-0241.1998.00635.x. PMID 9820415

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