September 4, 2015
Gas is of two general types--air you swallow and gases that are produced inside you. Having gas is completely normal. The most common types of gas are belching and flatus. Belching is a normal reflex that allows the stomach to expel gas back up the esophagus, but most people don’t belch very often. Flatus is the passage of gas from the lower bowel, and occurs typically 12-15 times daily when people are eating average diets.
With almost no exceptions, belching involves air that is swallowed, so people who feel they belch too much have too much swallowed air. Strangely, when you try to belch, the result is typically that more air gets swallowed. Not surprisingly, it soon feels like you need to belch again. Mostly, excessive belching occurs without there being any inflammation or injury inside the stomach or upper GI tract, mostly as a form of “non ulcer dyspepsia” in which the stomach tends to be too sensitive when even small normal amounts of air is inside it, causes fullness or discomfort which prompts a person to try to get rid of the sensation. Belching gives temporary relief but the swallowed air builds right back up again.
Flatus (bowel gas= "farts")
Bowel gases are partly swallowed air that makes its way through you, but much comes from bacteria in your lower bowel (colon), which digest (ferment) parts of your foods you can’t digest yourself. The parts of food you don’t absorb is called fiber, roughage or “residue”. Many of these are very healthy foods--high fiber fruits, vegetables, and grains--so flatus is a natural byproduct of a healthy natural diet to a large degree. When you’re not used to much dietary fiber and suddenly eat a lot of it, it is normal to have more gas. Most people pass it without much abdominal discomfort, but there are many reasons why discomfort also develops along with the sense of having too much gas inside, or of passing too much gas too often.
Common causes of bowel gas include:
Sometimes swallowed air may not burped out, so it passes through the digestive tract and is released through the anus as flatus.
Food & Beverages
There are some foods and drink that increase the release of gas. Some are healthy foods--high fiber fruits, vegetables, grains create flatus, which is a natural byproduct of a healthy natural diet to a large degree. Lactose or fructose may not be fully digested and lead to large amounts of gas from relatively little of these sugars. A variety of foods called FODMAPS lead to more gas and in people with irritable bowel (IBS) create or worsen their symptoms.
Medicines and Nutritional Supplements
Both prescription and nonprescription medicines, as well as dietary supplements, can cause bloating and gas. Some people get very noticeable gas from fiber supplements, more so with bran, sometimes psyllium, seldom from acacia fiber.
Some conditions like bowel obstruction or Crohn’s disease are likely to increase gas.
Prevention and Treatment of Excess Gas
By changing one’s eating and drinking patterns one may be able to reduce gas. Always test out your tolerance to a group of foods and don’t give up anything forever unless you’re sure that repeatedly you are poorly tolerant of it. Slow increase in diet fiber is the best way to adjust to healthier ways of eating. Lactaid or Dairy Ease products can help many people take milk products in their diet. And remember, almost none of the medicines available will change intestinal gas volume--it is a “natural” event from food digestion. In some cases, medication may be causing gas, therefore seek medical attention if cause of ongoing gas problem is not clear.
Some high gas producers are:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Bell Peppers
- Wheat Products
Some low gas producers are:
- Citrus Fruit
- Hard Cheese
- Peanut Butter
- Refined grains
- Non-carbonated sugar beverages
We have other information about FODMAPS and diets that help people with IBS bothered by FODMAP foods.