Passing gas is natural and can make us smile, laugh, wince, and possibly cry. But more importantly, flatulence helps remind us that we are more alike than we are different.
Where does flatulence gas come from?
For most intents and purposes, think of our gastrointestinal tract as a car engine. The mouth is an intake system that ingests food, a source of fuel. Our intestines are a converter that breaks down food to convert it into energy. And our rectum is the exhaust system that emits vapors and gases that are expelled. Additionally, gas may arise from swallowing air or carbonated beverages. If the air is not burped up, it will pass through the digestive tract and get released through the anus.
Do all of us have a gut that functions like an automobile engine?
Yes, everyone — children, adults, men and women, and even rock stars — pass gas. In fact, on average we pass gas 6 to 20 times per day. This is equivalent to about half a liter of gas per day.
Wait, let’s talk a little more about the converter process.
When we eat, food passes from the stomach into our small intestines where the large majority of food breakdown and absorption —known as digestion — takes place. When undigested food from the small intestines enters the large intestines, it gets “digested” by the
resident bacteria. The bacteria break down the food in a process known as fermentation that releases gases — hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane.
Do certain foods cause more flatulence?
Not all foods are created equal when it comes to gas production. And what may cause gas for one person may not in someone else. As a
general rule of thumb, foods that contain carbohydrates, starches, and fiber can cause gas. They are hardly, or not at, all broken down in small intestines and provide a buffet feast like no other to the bacteria in the large intestines. Examples include beans, veggies (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, onions, mushrooms, asparagus), fruit (pears, apples, peaches), whole grains, sodas, fruit juices, and milk and milk products.
Let’s not get it twisted however. Although a high-fiber diet with plenty of fruit and veggies can cause excessive gas symptoms, it can
promote health in a number of other ways. The key is not to eliminate healthy foods from our diet, but to eat a little less of that
particular item to ease our symptoms.
Why is flatulence so aromatic? Unlike Calvin Klein’s eau de toilets, the fragrance from flatulence comes from sulfur components that are produced by bacterial breakdown of undigested food. Additionally, foods that contain more sulfides, such as cauliflower, eggs, and meats are notorious for producing a particularly odiferous flatulence.
Can excessive gas be a sign of something dangerous?
In most cases, no. We can usually find the cause of gas by keeping a diary of what we eat and drink and how often we pass gas. Consider
discussing with our doctors if our flatulence bothers us, changes suddenly, or we experience other symptoms such as weight loss,
diarrhea, or constipation. In some cases, particularly foul smelling gas may be a symptom of infection or a bleeding ulcer.
How is excessive gas treated?
Most of the time, we can decrease our gas production by swallowing less air and changing what we eat. Consider eating slowly, quitting
smoking, not chewing gum, avoiding carbonated beverages, and avoiding or decreasing foods that cause us to have gas. It may be appropriate to consider over-the-counter medications that help digest foods that we have difficulty with (e.g. lactose).
Our odiferous objections, revolting release, and cutting the cheese are a shared human experience. By appreciating that we are more alike than different, it can serve as a platform in finding common ground in other areas of life.
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Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for
healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.