The human body is a massive machine, working 24/7, doing all manner of functions and working to keep you alive. In performing all of these functions, certain by products will be produced, which must be passed out of the body, to avoid toxicity and to make you comfortable.
When things also go wrong, it would also show up in the excess production of these by products. And one of such product is gas.
Flatulence, also known as farting, is the act of passing intestinal gas from the anus. Flatulence is passing gas from the digestive system out of the back passage. It’s more commonly known as “passing wind”, or “farting”.
The average person farts less than 20 times per day. Gas in the gastrointestinal tract has only two sources. It is either swallowed air or is produced by bacteria that normally inhabit the intestines, primarily the colon. Swallowed air rarely is the cause of excessive flatulence.
The source of excessive gas is intestinal bacteria. The bacteria produce the gas (primarily hydrogen and/or methane) when they digest foods, primarily sugars and nondigestible polysaccharides (for example, starch, cellulose), that have not been digested during passage through the small intestine. The bacteria also produce carbon dioxide, but the carbon dioxide is so rapidly absorbed from the intestine that very little passes in flatus.
Your diet or even a health problem can lead to problems with excessive gas.
Farting is often laughed about, but excessive flatulence can be embarrassing and make you feel uncomfortable around others. However, it can usually be controlled with changes to your diet and lifestyle. Flatulence is a normal biological process and is something everyone experiences regularly. Some people pass wind only a few times a day, others a lot more, but the average is said to be about 5 to 15 times a day.
Intestinal gas, or air in the digestive tract, is usually not noticed until we burp or pass it rectally (flatulence). The entire digestive tract, from the stomach to the rectum, contains intestinal gas as the natural consequence of swallowing and digestion.
In fact, certain foods, such as beans, are not fully broken down until they reach the large intestine (colon), where bacteria act on (ferment) them.
Excessive intestinal gas sometimes indicates a digestive disorder, but everyone passes gas several times daily, and occasional burping or belching is normal.
Excess upper intestinal gas can result from swallowing more than a usual amount of air, overeating, smoking or chewing gum. Excess lower intestinal gas can be caused by eating too much of certain foods, by the inability to fully digest certain foods or by a disruption in the bacteria normally found in the colon.
When you swallow food, water or saliva, you also swallow small amounts of air, which collects in the digestive system. Gases can also build up when you digest food. The body needs to get rid of the build-up by farting (flatulence) or burping (belching).
Sometimes you may not notice you have passed wind because most of the gases are odourless and often released in small quantities. Flatulence usually only has a bad smell if it contains gases that smell, such as sulphur. However, it’s important to remember it’s normal for the gas you pass to sometimes smell a bit.
Excessive flatulence can be caused by swallowing more air than usual or eating food that’s difficult to digest. It can also be related to an underlying health problem affecting the digestive system, such as recurring indigestion or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Swallowing air :
It’s perfectly normal to swallow air while breathing and eating. However, it’s easy to swallow a lot more air than usual without realising it. This can cause excessive flatulence.
Excess air can be swallowed by:
• chewing gum
• sucking on pen tops or hard sweets
• having loose-fitting dentures
• not chewing food slowly and thoroughly – swallowing large pieces of food causes you to swallow more air.
• Hot and fizzy drinks also increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your stomach, although this is more likely to cause belching rather than flatulence.
Foods that cause excess gas:
• Foods that cause gas in one person might not cause it in another. Common gas-producing foods and substances include:
• Beans and lentils
• Vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts (cruciferous vegetables)
• Dairy products containing lactose
• Fructose, which is found in some fruits and used as a sweetener in soft drinks and other products
• Sorbitol, a sugar substitute found in some sugar-free candies, gums and artificial sweeteners
• Carbonated beverages, such as soda or beer
Digestive disorders that cause excess gas:
Excessive intestinal gas — belching or flatulence more than 20 times a day — sometimes indicates a disorder such as:
• Autoimmune pancreatitis
• Celiac disease
• Crohn’s disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease)
• Dumping syndrome
• Eating disorders
• Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
• Gastroparesis (a condition in which the muscles of the stomach wall don’t function properly, interfering with digestion)
• Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
• Intestinal obstruction
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Lactose intolerance
• Peptic ulcer
• Ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease)
Flatulence, often caused by indigestion, is a possible side effect of many types of medicine, including:
• non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
• some laxatives
• antifungal medicines
• varenicline (Champix) – used to help people stop smoking
Excessive flatulence can usually be treated by making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Several over-the-counter treatments are also available if your flatulence is becoming a problem.
By itself, intestinal gas rarely indicates a serious condition. It can cause discomfort and embarrassment, but it’s usually just a sign of a normally functioning digestive system. If you’re bothered by intestinal gas, try changing your diet.
However, see your doctor if your gas is persistent or severe, or if it’s associated with vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, unintentional weight loss, blood in the stool or heartburn.
You should try to avoid eating foods high in unabsorbable carbohydrates. Certain processed foods should also be avoided as they can contain ingredients that cause flatulence, including:
• any foods with artifical sweeteners
• sugar-free sweets or chewing gum
• fizzy drinks
However, it’s still important to eat a healthy balanced diet, including at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Choose foods containing carbohydrates that are easy to digest. These include:
• citrus fruits, such as oranges
It’s important to note that people react differently to certain foods, so some foods listed above may still cause flatulence. You may find it useful to keep a food diary to see whether certain foods make your symptoms better or worse.
You may also find it useful to eat 6 small meals a day rather than 3 large ones. Smaller meals are easier to digest and may produce less gas.
There’s some evidence to suggest drinking peppermint tea can help improve the symptoms of flatulence. There’s also some evidence that small amounts of ginger can help with digestion or an upset stomach, which may be causing flatulence. However, pregnant women should consult their doctor before taking ginger.
When eating, make sure you chew food slowly to reduce the amount of air you swallow. This will also help with digestion. Avoid chewing gum as it can also cause you to swallow more air than usual.
You should also give up smoking, if you smoke. Smoking can cause you to swallow more air than usual, and tobacco smoke can irritate your digestive system. See stop smoking for more information and advice about quitting smoking.
Getting plenty of exercise can help improve the functioning of your digestive system and bowel. It has also been shown to help with bloating and the passage of gas.
Medications and other remedies:
There are several over-the-counter remedies that can help treat the symptoms of flatulence.
• Charcoal tablets:
Charcoal tablets are a type of medication available over the counter from pharmacists. The charcoal absorbs gas in the digestive system, which helps reduce symptoms.
Charcoal tablets may not be suitable for you if you are currently taking other medication. This is because the charcoal might absorb the medication and make it less effective. Please see your doctor before taking any medication.
Clothing containing activated charcoal, or charcoal pads placed inside clothing, can help absorb foul-smelling gas released during flatulence.
Probiotics may also be useful in treating flatulence. Probiotics are a dietary supplement, usually sold in liquid or capsule form, which encourages the growth of “friendly bacteria” in your digestive system.
The “friendly bacteria” should help digestion and reduce the symptoms of flatulence, particularly in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Probiotic yoghurts may also help, but avoid those with artificial sweeteners or added fibre.
It may also be necessary to carry out ultra sound, CT scans, MRI, x rays and identify what type of gas is being produced , absorption tests can all be carried out, depending on the diagnosis by your doctor.