The majority of intestinal gas absorbs into the bloodstream and passes out through the lungs, with the remainder coming out the other end, about 14 – 23 times a day on average. If a person holds in flatus during daytime, it will often be released during sleep when the body is relaxed. Gas is the result of fermentation from over 600 species of bacteria and a host of yeast that call the gut home.
There are two categories of gas: odoriferous and non-odoriferous.
Odoriferous gas emanates from skatole, indole and sulfurous waste compounds in the colon. Butyric acid from fiber breakdown with a rancid butter smell and sulfurous fumes with a rotten egg smell are the two main stinkers.
Non-odoriferous gases include:
- Nitrogen (20-90%)
- Carbon dioxide (10-30%): especially if one consumes carbonated beverages
- Hydrogen (0-50%): flammable
- Methane (0-10%): flammable (a person who produces methane will have stools that consistently float in the toilet water)
- Oxygen (0-10%)
What is the Cause?
The uncomfortable experience of bloating and gas is often the result of several factors, the bottom line being excessive fermentation by bacteria and yeast.
Following is a list of potential microbial contributors:
- Food intolerance or allergy: especially the wheat family (wheat, rye, barley, oats, triticale, kamut, spelt, cous cous, semolina, pumpernickel), all milk products, soy, peanuts and corn.
- Bacterial and or fungal imbalance: some bacteria actually inhibit other bacteria from fermenting.
- Swallowing air (Aerophagia)
- Digestive enzyme and or hydrochloric acid deficiency
- Hyper mobility of the large intestine preventing normal absorption of gas into the blood stream.
- Over eating and over consumption of hard to digest carbohydrates (see list below)
- Medication side effects including excess vitamin C and magnesium consumption.
- Bile production disruption i.e. following gallbladder surgery
Six common food sugars promote gas due to their carbohydrate content including:
- Raffinose found in: beans including peanuts, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus
- Lactose: milk sugar found in all unfermented milk products including: ice cream, cream cheese, unaged cheese, poor quality yogurt. Fructooligosaccharides also tend to be gas producers in a similar fashion to lactose.
- Fructose and sorbitol: found in fruit, onions, artichokes, carrot juice and wheat.
- Starches: found in potatoes, corn, pasta, peanuts, avocado, onions, garlic, scallions and wheat. Rice is the only starch that does not cause gas.
- Fiber: soluble and to some degree insoluble fiber as found in: oat bran, beans, peas, and most fruit
All of the above foods will be more apt to ferment when stress is up due to rapid transit time and decreased enzymatic activity. Also, large and or infrequent meals tend to lead to more gas; so does eating fruit with other food: especially protein. In general I have found fruit and beans to be the most problematic for my patients. Proteins and fat by themselves do not create gas. If you are a breast feeding mom with colicky infant the above foods in your diet may be the problem.
We all swallow small amounts of air when eating and drinking. However, eating or drinking too quickly, chewing gum, smoking, or wearing loose dentures can cause some people to take in excess air leading to belching and gas problems. Burping problems to investigate include gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) and delayed gastric emptying.
Excess gas production may indicate bowel disorders which need to be evaluated such as colitis. Many emergency room visits end with a diagnosis of gas. In the upper left abdominal area gas can be confused with a heart attack. In the right ascending colon gas pain can mimic appendicitis and gallstones.
What to do
Since gas is not really the problem but a symptom of the problem, the underlying cause must be addressed to bring lasting relief for the chronic gas sufferer. Using the above information one could do an elimination and challenge trial by avoiding the listed foods of concern for 7-14 days. If symptoms don’t improve then the food angle is not so significant.
If symptoms do improve, then challenge with a sturdy dose of one or more foods every 24 hours to identify which ones are the culprit. If a reaction occurs you need to let things quiet down before introducing the other eliminated foods. If food sensitivities show then aside from avoidance, NAET acupressure treatment for food sensitivity is a therapy I find helpful.
Testing may be necessary to identify the real cause and allow for targeted intervention if the other suggestions in this newsletter are insufficient. Test considerations include:
anti-gliaden salivary test for wheat sensitivity, stool tests for parasite, yeast and bacterial overgrowth, and the digestive efficiency panel to see how well foods are being broken down.
I haven’t seen any of the bean cooking methods really make a difference in reducing gas. My best solution to the bean problem: just say no.
Carminative (gas reducing) spices to consider:
Anise, Caraway, Cardamom, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, Fennel, Ginger, Peppermint, Sage, Thyme, Turmeric, Wintergreen
Supplements (as directed on the container)
To Restore Balance:
Natural anti-microbials such as grapefruit seed extract, wormwood, goldenseal, and bismuth may be used short term: 5-10 days to help clear unwanted bacteria and fungus. Any long term bismuth consumption should be undertaken with medical supervision.
Probiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus. I like the refrigerated brands. Some individuals with dysbiosis or imbalanced intestinal bacterial flora find ingestion of probiotics intolerable and extremely gas producing. If you are one of these unique people, probiotics may not be right for you, however a majority of people will benefit from regular probiotic supplementation.
To Reduce Waste:
Enzymes: Enzymes are nutrients whose name ends in -ase and may be helpful for more complete digestion: alpha-galactosidase , lactase, amylase, lipase, protease, cellulase, glucoamylase, invertase, malt diastase, pectinase, and bromelain either individually or in combination blends are a consideration. Best taken half way through the meal.
Hydrocholic acid, bromelain or a tsp. of vinegar in a little water with meals can help reduce the amount of undigested food reaching the colon.
Smell Control and Gas Reduction:
- Activated Charcoal: taken before potential gas producing meals. Please note that charcoal will darken the stools.
- Activated charcoal panty liners: I have just heard of this product and can’t vouch for it.
Over production of gas is an indicator of intestinal imbalance due to a host of possibilities as outlined above. Most often flatulence is due to dietary indiscretion which requires identification through the elimination and challenge methodology. Various nutrients can help reduce symptoms but usually provide just temporary relief. Testing may be required for unresponsive individuals to correctly identify the cause and rule out serious gastric health concerns.
I hope you have enjoyed this month’s newsletter. Comments are always welcome.
Jon Dunn, ND