Flatulence is a subject with a bit of a stigma attached; not really appropriate for polite conversation, and not something that is encouraged in most settings. But the reality is that flatulence is extremely common and is a natural occurring process that most people experience. While this may be the case, some individuals are afflicted more severely by excessive flatulence, and it is good to know that there are remedies available to try and alleviate this problem.
What is Flatulence?
Present in your intestines at most times is a mixture of different gases, known as “flatus”. Flatulence occurs upon the expulsion of these gases. Flatus occurs through a combination of bacteria and yeast located in the gastrointestinal tract, and upon a buildup of pressure, is released through the anus. While a buildup of gas in the intestine can result in pain and bloating, its release in the form of flatulence, while able to provide relief, is typically not deemed acceptable in most social settings.
Ever the source of bemusement by adolescent males, flatulence is oftentimes accompanied by sound and a noxious odor. Excessive flatulence can be a sign of gastrointestinal problems, a needed change in diet or other digestive difficulties.
Symptoms are flatulence are pretty straightforward. They include bloating, pain in the abdominal area, excessive belching, and persistent expulsion of gas. These symptoms can present themselves regularly or vary according to time of day, food and drink consumed and overall digestive health.
Flatulence is also often termed as farting, passing gas, breaking wind, releasing flatus, and tooting. Regional nomenclature is also common.
What Causes Flatulence?
There are many things that can cause flatulence. One is an abundance of swallowed air. Some people have a condition that causes them to swallow more air than normal, and the nitrogen content in the air is typically expelled as flatus, as it does not absorb well into the lining of the intestinal tract. Another cause is a diet that is rich in fiber.
While this will keep waste disposal regular and does a great job cleaning out your system, it also leads to an increase in flatulence. As well, a diet that is high in fat can lead to an excess amount of carbon dioxide in the digestive system, which can lead to more flatulence.
There are also documented medical conditions that can lead to an increase in flatulence. For instance, there are digestive disorders that affect the gastrointestinal tract, such as gastroenteritis. This is an inflammation of the intestinal tract, mainly concentrated in the stomach and the small intestine. It can lead to excess gas, bloating, as well as diarrhea. It is typically contracted by contact with contaminated food or water.
Another medical condition that can lead to flatulence is irritable bowel syndrome. Along with abdominal pain and unusual bowel movements, IBS can lead to an increase in flatulence. It is documented that emotional stress can actually exacerbate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. If bloating and flatulence in excess are present over a long period of time, it can be a sign of a more serious medical condition, such as colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer. This is the third most frequent cause of cancer-related deaths in the western world.
Risk Factors of Flatulence
Use of antibiotics: While using are necessary at times to treat infection, they do have minor side effects, including destruction of normal bacteria in the bowels. These bacteria are necessary for proper digestion, and if they are not present, that can lead to a buildup of gas.
Intolerance to certain foods:
Dairy products can cause a buildup of gas and bloating in some people. Sometimes, the body is not properly able to break down the lactose sugars present in dairy products, leading to a buildup of gas. Another common irritant is gluten, which is typically found in many wheat and grain products. If people are sensitive to gluten, it can lead to gas and diarrhea.
If digestive waste is not being properly expelled from the colon, it also can lead to bloating and a buildup of gas. In this case, flatulence might be welcome to relieve the pressure, but oftentimes, gaseous expulsion in this case can be difficult.
Irritation by artificial sweeteners:
A small portion of the population has an aversion to sweeteners found in some sugar-free drinks and foods, such as sorbitol. If the digestive system has a low tolerance for these artificial sweeteners, gas and diarrhea can develop.
Chronic health conditions:
Certain health conditions, whether developed or pre-existing, can lead to an excess of gas and bloating. These include diverticulitis and Crohn’s disease. These can lead to constipation and the inability to move gas and feces through the rectum.
All of these factors can lead to painful distension, or bloating, of the abdominal region. A normal person passes gas at a rate of ten to twenty times per day. Going above that for an extended period of time can be a sign of a larger problem. If pain in the abdomen persists for a long period of time, or if excessive flatulence alters the normal routine of your life, then it might be time to seek out a medical professional.
If abdomen pain and excessive gas is accompanied by blood in the stool, fever or vomiting, seek medical attention right away. However, if it just a matter of a little excessive flatulence, there are some home-based remedies that have been shown to lessen the amount of gas.
Remedies for gas buildup and flatulence
First off, it is important to get a clear understanding of what causes gas and what symptoms you are experiencing. Oftentimes, excessive gas can be limited simply by understanding what foods in your diet are leading to high gas buildup. As mentioned previously, high-fiber foods will lead to excess gas in the gastrointestinal system. If you are experiencing heavier-than-normal amounts of flatulence, examine how much of the following high-fiber foods you are eating and see if cutting back on them can help limit gas:
- all types of beans
- brussels sprouts
If certain foods seem to affect you the most, simply make a note of these and try to avoid them as much as possible. Many dairy products can be difficult, so either limiting them or eating them with other food can help. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water to help digestion. There are really no risks with this, and it can be a simple step to alleviate gas buildup. Plus, it could save you a little money at the grocery store. Replacing some of these high fiber foods with other healthy options can help lessen gas buildup, but still provide a positive lifestyle choice.
Diet and Lifestyle Choices
Speaking of lifestyle choices, making some subtle changes that will not significantly impact your life can also provide more comfort and lessen your bloating and gas. One simple one is limit the amount of gum you chew and candies that you suck on. Not only will lessening these sweets prove healthy for your overall well-being, but chewing gum and sucking on candy both increase the amount of air you swallow. When you sit down to a meal, try to make it a relaxed occasion.
Quick eating can lead to increased swallowed air, and if you are hurried or stressed when eating, this can negatively impact the digestion process, leading to bloating and excess gas. Lastly, another choice with multiple benefits is to not smoke. Not only does tobacco lead to a myriad of health problems throughout the body, but the act of smoking also increases the amount of air swallowed.
If you’re looking for a quicker fix that can provide quick relief from excess gas, there are kitchen-based home remedies that have been tried and provide alleviation of pain in many people. Among these natural remedies are:
- Mix 2 teaspoons of brandy with warm water and drink at nighttime.
- Chew on ginger slices that have been soaked in a lime juice solution. Doing this after meals can limit the gas buildup from the foods you’ve just consumed.
- Also after a meal, a drop of dill oil mixed in with some honey can provide gas relief.
- Combined a teaspoon of ground pepper, a teaspoon of dry ginger and a teaspoon of ground cardamom spice seeds. Dissolve this in water and drink about an hour after a meal for a natural gas pain reliever.
- Lastly, try a little peppermint! Not only will it freshen your breath, but peppermint leaves or a cup of peppermint tea will provide menthol, which aids in the digestion process, by soothing the smooth digestive muscles of the GI tract. However, be aware that in a small portion of the population, peppermint can lead to heartburn and mild cases of acid reflux.
If you don’t have some of these ingredients on hand, and you are suffering from occasional bloating and bouts of flatulence, pick some up the next time you are at the supermarket. They are not costly, and having them on hand in the future can provide a much-needed quick relief from abdominal discomfort and odorous flatulence.
There are both over-the-counter and pharmaceutical remedies available that can lead to relief from gas buildup, abdominal pain and bloating.
There are a number of digestive enzyme products that are available without a prescription. These supplements can help the body better digest carbohydrates and can allow many people to eat foods that would otherwise produce excess gas and bloating. One common one is enzyme lactase, which aids in dairy and lactose digestion.
One well-known all-natural solution is Beano. This product will help you not have to avoid eating the high-fiber foods like beans and vegetables. It has been designed to counteract a food intolerance known as Complex Carbohydrate Intolerance. These carbohydrates, found in many healthy foods, are not always digested properly if a digestive enzyme known as alpha-galactosidase is deficient. Beano naturally contains this enzyme and works with the body’s digestive system to break down these carbohydrates. It is relatively inexpensive and can be found at supermarkets and wholesale clubs.
Many parents have experienced the difficulty of a baby with gas problems. One popular treatment is Mylicon, which are drops that are safe for even newborns, as they are not absorbed into the baby’s system. The active ingredient in Mylicon is simethicone.
The good news is there are no common side effects of note from taking these medications, and risks to take them are minimal.
If you seek assistance from a doctor for excessive flatulence, belching, or abdominal pain, a doctor may prescribe medicine, especially for someone with something like irritable bowel syndrome. A couple of these medicines include:
- Activated charcoal: You can take these tablets both before and after you eat to help with absorption and digestion of various toxins that can lead to a buildup of gas. There are many brands available, both in drugstores and a natural food store.
- Simethicone: This is a medication that dissolves gas bubbles, which, in some cases, can provide relief from buildup and gas pain.
Other Alternative Treatments
Along with traditional remedies and medications, some people benefit from psychological treatments as well. Since digestive health is assisted by low stress and reduced anxiety, some people are helped by relaxation or behavioral therapy. This is typically tried only after dietary and lifestyle changes are attempted, and problems with flatulence and bloating are still present.
Flatulence in Other Cultures
Flatulence is typically seen as a publicly embarrassing activity in most cultures, but can also be seen as a source of amusement. However, in some cultures (mainly Asian), farting in public is seen as no more uncouth than coughing. In Japan, the kombu kelp (a type of seaweed) is seen as a natural remedy to counteract the production of gas. The typical diet of a region, and its reliance of high-fiber foods, oftentimes directly correlates with the acceptance of flatulence in that culture.
Flatulence, while seen by some as taboo, is a naturally occurring process that is perfectly normal and is helpful in relieving minor, typical gas buildup in the gastrointestinal system. Flatulence has even been erroneously identified as a cause of the rise in greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.
Expulsion of methane, primarily from bovine, is thought by many to be released as part of the flatus, when, in fact, the majority of it is expelled through exhalation or belching, meaning cow farting is having a minimal environmental impact.
In humans, when it becomes excessive, however, steps can be taken to alleviate the pain, discomfort and potential embarrassment that flatulence can cause.
Through careful attention paid to dietary concerns, lifestyle choices and advice of a medical professional, flatulence is something that can be controlled and perhaps even celebrated as a vital part of our digestive health.