Everyone passes gas through belching or farting. While intestinal gas can cause discomfort or embarrassment in some people, passing it out of the body is a natural process that results from digestion.
“Belching or burping is caused by an excess of air that accumulates in the esophagus, while flatulence or farting is caused by gas that builds up in the small intestine or colon. The average person passes gas out of the body up to 20 times a day,” said Somphone “Sam” Beasley, FNP, with SamCare Mobile Medicine.
What Is Intestinal Gas & What Causes It?
“The entire digestive tract contains gas made up of odorless vapors, such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen and methane,” said Beasley. “The vapor starts to smell bad when bacteria in the large intestine releases gas that contains sulfur.”
If you feel uncomfortable with gas, or are passing gas more frequently than you like, Beasley recommends that you pay attention to how you eat and the types of foods you’re consuming.
“Belching is usually caused by swallowing too much air, which can happen when you eat or drink too fast, talk while eating or drink carbonated beverages,” Beasley said.
At the other end of the body, gas builds up in the small intestine or colon most commonly when digestion slows and the undigested food ferments.
“Fermentation happens with foods that take longer for the body to process, such as high-fat foods, or when the digestive tract can’t break down parts of food like gluten found in grain products, sugars found in dairy or simple carbohydrates,” Beasley noted.
An intolerance to certain foods, as well as an upset in the bacterial balance of the digestive tract, can prompt excess gas.
Why Do I Feel Bloated?
Excessive gas can cause uncomfortable bloating as well.
“Bloating is a tightness in the abdomen that can feel like being over-full and doesn’t seem to be relieved by passing gas or having a bowel movement. This feeling is sometimes accompanied by having a visibly distended, or swollen, abdomen,” Beasley said.
While bloating can be a symptom of hormonal changes such as with menstruation, or from digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and others, the more common cause of bloating is constipation. (Ed. Note: link to related article in-process)
“The longer stool remains in your colon the more bacteria will work to ferment what is there. This results in more gas and bloating,” Beasley explained.
Ways to Minimize Gas
There are common causes of excess gas and ways to lessen your symptoms, such as:
- Don’t over-eat. Heavy meals are harder for the body to process. Stop eating before you feel full.
- Watch out for the notorious offenders, such as beans and lentils, onions, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms. Try removing one food at a time to see if you notice improvements.
- Try temporarily replacing high-fiber foods like bran and apples with lower-fiber ones, such as potatoes with skin, cucumbers and bananas. Then, slowly reintroduce increased fiber to your diet until your digestive system is used to all the fiber. Fiber has many health benefits, but it can create more gas.
- Limit simple carbohydrates like sugar products.
- Try lactose-free products and see if you feel differently. Dairy products such as milk, ice cream or cheese can cause gas if your body can no longer digest the sugar in dairy called lactose.
- Watch out for foods containing fructose, a type of sugar that is harder to process than others. Avoid products with high-fructose corn syrup, for example, and some fruits high in fructose such as dried fruit.
- Limit fatty foods like fried foods, high-fat and processed meats and hydrogenated oils. Fat takes much longer to digest and therefore can linger in the intestines and ferment.
- Get regular exercise. Walking or simple yoga poses can help move gas through the body.
Track How You Feel After Eating
In most cases, bloating from excess gas resolves on its own or from avoiding certain foods and making simple lifestyle changes.
However, if you still have excessive gas, Beasley recommends tracking any symptoms.
“The best way to know what bothers you is by paying close attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel. Write down everything you eat for a week or two and note any symptoms that you have. It’s a good way to start to pinpoint what’s causing the excess gas,” Beasley said.
When to See A Doctor
If the problems persist or worsen, Beasley suggests seeing your health care professional.
“While gas is normal, symptoms such as persistent or severe pain, fever, vomiting, bloody stools, or changes in the color or frequency of stools, are not normal. If you have any of these or other concerns, see your health care provider,” Beasley said.
Somphone “Sam” Beasley, FNP, serves patients at Samaritan Express clinics in Albany and Corvallis, as well as SamCare Mobile Medicine. You can reach her at 541-768-5166.