Causes for gas and common treatment options
Q. I get a lot of gas, and someone told me it would help if I stopped chewing gum all the time (ex-smoker). That sounds like bunk to me. What do you think?
It’s not bunk. When you chew gum, you swallow more often, and some of what you’re swallowing is air. In addition, artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol that is found in some gums can give you gas.
But, what exactly, is gas? Most people produce between a pint and a half-gallon of gas each day. Oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen from swallowed air make up a large part of gas, or “flatus.” Fermenting foods in the colon produce hydrogen and methane as well as carbon dioxide and oxygen.
The unpleasant odor of some flatus is the result of trace gases, such as hydrogen sulfide, indole and skatole, which are produced when foods decompose in the colon.
We release gas upwardly by belching and downwardly by flatulence. When we swallow air and don’t release it by belching, the air will work its way down and out the rectum. About half the gas passed from the rectum comes from swallowed air.
For the record, normal people pass gas about 10 times each day. Twenty times daily is still considered normal.
Some people suffer from bloating caused by gas. Most who suffer from bloating do not generate excessive gas, but they don’t move swallowed air fast enough. Sometimes, gas in these people moves in the wrong direction, returning to the stomach. The gas accumulates and produces discomfort. Some feel more discomfort than others because they don’t tolerate intestinal stretching well.
Another major cause of gas is partially digested food passing from the small intestines to the colon, where bacteria process the food further and produce gases.
Discomfort from gas is usually nothing to worry about. However, you should go to a doctor if you have other symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract and sometimes heartburn.
Here are some ways to alleviate bloating:
• Eat multiple small meals during the day instead of two or three large ones.
• Chew food thoroughly and don’t gulp. Eat slowly.
• Don’t eat when you’re nervous or hurried.
• Don’t smoke; it makes you swallow more air.
• Avoid gassy foods. Some of the usual suspects are beans, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, pears, apples, peaches, prunes, whole-wheat bread, bran, beer, soda, ice cream.
• Cut down on fatty foods. Fat slows digestion, giving food more time to ferment.
• If you take a fiber supplement, try cutting back and then build up your intake gradually.
• Reduce consumption of dairy products. Or try using products that help digest milk sugar (lactose).
• Use over-the-counter aids. Add products such as Beano to high-fiber foods to help reduce the amount of gas they produce. Try using simethicone, which helps break up the bubbles in gas. Charcoal tablets also may help.