Intestinal gas can strike at the worst possible moment, during an important meeting, on a crowded elevator or on a first date. And although passing intestinal gas (flatus) usually isn’t serious, it can be seriously embarrassing.
The fact is that everyone passes gas, a combination of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane, at least 12 or more times a day. But some people have excessive gas that bothers them most of the time. In some cases, gas you can’t expel or that accompanies irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, celiac disease or stomach flu (gastroenteritis) can cause intense, intermittent pain.
The good news is that although you can’t stop intestinal gas from forming, a few simple measures can go a long way toward reducing the amount of gas you produce and relieving your discomfort and embarrassment.
Intestinal gas Signs and symptoms
For most people, the signs and symptoms of excess gas and gas pain are all too obvious. They include:
- Abdominal bloating (distension).
- The voluntary or involuntary passing of gas, either as belching or as flatus.
- Sharp, jabbing pains or cramps in the abdomen. These pains may occur anywhere in your abdomen and can change locations quickly. You may also have a “knotted” feeling in your stomach.
Intestinal gas Causes
You swallow air every time you eat or drink. You may even unknowingly swallow air when you’re nervous. Some of that air finds its way into your lower digestive tract where it contributes to gas. But most lower intestinal gas is produced when bacteria in your colon ferment carbohydrates that aren’t digested in your small intestine. Unfortunately, healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (beans and peas) are often the worst offenders.
That’s because these foods are high in fiber. Fiber has many health benefits, including keeping your digestive tract in good working order, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and helping prevent heart attacks and other heart problems. But it can also lead to the formation of gas. Fiber supplements containing psyllium, Metamucil and Fiberall are examples, also may cause such problems, especially if added to your diet too quickly.
Excess gas may occur with certain acute illnesses, such as stomach flu or food poisoning. It may also be one of several symptoms of a more serious chronic condition such as diverticulitis, IBS, or an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
In some cases of excess gas, antibiotic use may be a factor because antibiotics disrupt the normal bacterial flora that live in your bowel. Excessive use of laxatives or constipating drugs also may contribute to the problem.
If your gas and bloating occur mainly after eating dairy products, your body may not be able to break down the sugar (lactose) in dairy foods. Many people aren’t able to process lactose efficiently after age 6, and even infants are sometimes lactose intolerant. Other food intolerances, especially to gluten, a protein found in wheat and some other grains, also can cause gas, diarrhea and even weight loss.
It’s also possible that your system can’t tolerate the artificial sweeteners sorbitol and mannitol found in some sugar-free foods, gums and candies. In fact, up to half of all healthy people develop gas and diarrhea when they consume these sweeteners.
Anything that causes intestinal gas or is associated with constipation or diarrhea can lead to gas pains. These pains — which can feel like sharp, jabbing cramps — generally occur when gas builds up in your intestines, and you’re not able to expel it. Gas pains are usually intense but brief. Once the gas is gone, your pain often disappears too.
Intestinal gas Prevention
One or more of the following suggestions may help prevent excessive gas:
- Try to identify and avoid the foods that affect you the most. Some of the worst offenders for many people include beans, peas, lentils, cabbage, radishes, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, sauerkraut, apricots, bananas, prunes and prune juice, raisins, whole-wheat bread, bran cereals or muffins, pretzels, spicy foods, beer, sodas, and other carbonated beverages, including carbonated water, milk, cream, ice cream and ice milk.
- Try cutting back on fried and fatty foods. Often, bloating results from eating fatty foods. Fat delays stomach emptying and can increase the sensation of fullness.
- Temporarily cut back on high-fiber foods.Add them back gradually over weeks. If you take a fiber supplement, try cutting back on the amount you take and build up your dosage gradually. Be sure to drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water a day if you use fiber supplements.
- Reduce your use of dairy products. Try using low-lactose dairy foods, such as yogurt, instead of milk. Or try using products that help digest lactose, such as Lactaid or Dairy Ease. Consuming small amounts of milk products at one time and or consuming them with other foods also may make them easier to digest. In some cases, however, you may need to eliminate dairy foods completely.
- Try over-the-counter digestive aids. Add products such as Beano to high-fiber foods to help reduce the amount of gas they produce. For Beano to be effective, you need to take it with your first bite of food. It works best when there’s no gas in your intestines.
- Try smaller meals. Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of two or three larger ones.
- Eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly and don’t gulp. If you have a hard time slowing down, put down your fork between each bite.
- Don’t eat when you’re anxious, upset or on the run. Try to make meals relaxed occasions. Eating when you’re stressed can interfere with digestion.
- Take acidophilus capsules or liquid. If your symptoms are the result of antibiotic use, you may get relief with acidophilus capsules or liquid. These supplements may help replace the beneficial intestinal bacteria that antibiotics destroy. You can find them in natural food stores and some drugstores or grocery stores.
- Try a cup of peppermint tea. Peppermint oil contains menthol, which appears to have an antispasmodic effect on the smooth muscles of your digestive tract. You may find that a warm cup of peppermint tea can provide relief from gas and gas pain. On the other hand, peppermint may contribute to heartburn and acid reflux.
- Try using simethicone. See if you benefit from using one of the many over-the-counter products that contain simethicone (Mylanta, Riopan Plus, Mylicon). Simethicone helps break up the bubbles in gas. Charcoal tablets also may help. They’re available in natural food stores and many drugstores.
- Utilize a natural method that we highly recommend and put an end to intestinal gas once and for all.
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Gas, Bloating and Indigestion
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