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Too much gas?

Solutions to an embarrassing problem

Created date

November 23rd, 2010

Everyone has gas. Most people produce about one to four pints a day and pass gas 14 to 23 times a day. Flatulence is partly due to swallowed air. But mainly it occurs because of the normal breakdown of certain undigested foods by harmless bacteria naturally present in your large intestine, says Richard Desi, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. Belching, on the other hand, is purely the result of swallowed air. Gas-producing bacteria are not present in your stomach. Most foods containing carbohydrates (sugars, starches, or fiber) can cause flatulence. The body does not completely digest some carbohydrates in the small intestine because of a shortage or absence of certain enzymes. The bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract can change with time, and certain enzymes may decrease, Desi says. Foods may give you gas now that didn t when you were younger. Some older adults may become less tolerant of lactose [a sugar found in milk products] or gluten, found in wheat, says Barbara Morris, M.D.

What to do

Reduce the amount of air you swallow, Morris suggests. You can t help swallowing small amounts of air, but eating or drinking rapidly, chewing gum, smoking, or having loose dentures can cause some people to take in more air. The best way to reduce gas is to examine your diet. You have to be a detective. If you are having more gas, try to figure out which foods are the problem, Morris says. And introduce new foods slowly. Digestive enzyme supplements are available over-the-counter that may help you eat foods that usually cause gas. Although they are rarely harmful, supplements should be used with caution, Desi says. They aren t tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which means they may not contain enough active ingredients to do any good. If you think lactose is the problem, lactose-reduced products are available in most grocery stores. Eliminating some food sources of gas does not mean you have to sacrifice healthy eating. If you have to give up broccoli, for instance, add a different type of vegetable to your diet, like spinach. If starches are a problem, try whole grain rice. Rice is the only starch that doesn t cause gas.

Sign of another condition?

An occasional belch during or after meals is normal. But if you belch frequently despite reducing the amount of air you swallow, it could be a sign of peptic ulcer disease, gastroesophageal reflux, or gastroparesis, also called delayed gastric emptying. Increased flatulence along with bloating might be due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For the most part, an increase in gas alone is not a sign of a serious medical problem, Desi says. But if you have other symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, blood in your stool, or abdominal pain, see your doctor.

Gas culprits and their sources

  • Raffinose beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, and whole grains.
  • Lactose milk and milk products, such as cheese and ice cream.
  • Fructose onions, artichokes, pears, wheat, some soft drinks and fruit drinks.
  • Sorbitol naturally occurs in apples, pears, peaches, prunes, and other fruits. Also used as an artificial sweetener.
  • Starches potatoes, corn, pasta, and wheat.
  • Soluble fiber oat bran, beans, peas, and most fruits. Insoluble fiber, which does not cause gas, is found in wheat bran and most vegetables.