While most of us don’t prefer to talk about it, every person experiences some intestinal gas. This is a natural by-product of the digestive process. According to the National Institutes of Health, intestinal gas is a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and often methane. If stools float in the toilet, this indicates intestinal methane, which is buoyant.
On average, we produce between one and four pints of intestinal gas daily, passing gas around 14 times in a 24-hour period. For virtually everything that can happen in or to the human body, there are experts – and this is no less true with gas. There are medical specialists, usually gastroenterologists, who study digestive gas, what it’s made of, and how often people expel this gas.
Gas is typically divided into two types: upper and lower digestive gas. Upper digestive gas is produced either by swallowing air while eating or drinking. Chewing gum is also associated with increased gas production. Upper digestive gas is passed out the mouth in the form of burping. When people experience regular belching, then it is due to swallowing excess amounts of air. Changing your chewing and swallowing habits can reduce the amount of upper digestive gas and burping.
Lower digestive gas is a by-product of digestion and is caused by fermentation of foods in the intestinal tract. Lower intestinal gas is expelled out the anus. This is called flatus, and is more commonly known as farting. The foods we eat have a lot to do with how much gas we produce, and how it smells. Carbohydrates, which contain natural sugars, cause gas, whereas proteins and fats typically do not. Beans, for example, are legendary for producing gas, because they contain the indigestible sugars stachyose, verbascose and raffinose. These sugars ferment contents in the digestive tract, producing gas and lots of it. Eating sweet foods after eating protein will often do the same. Sugar on top of protein often results in gas. This is because proteins digest more slowly than sugars, and when you eat sugars on top of proteins, the sugars – which digest more rapidly - ferment. Eggs, rich in sulfur, can result in especially noxious flatulence.
The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders describes four ways that gas can depart the digestive tract. The first is belching, the second is elimination out the anus or flatus, the third is absorption of gas into the blood, and the fourth is consumption by intestinal bacteria. The intestines contain large quantities of bacteria, which assist in the breakdown of foods and also help to “eat” gas. When we have adequate colonies of these healthy bacteria, gas is reduced. When we do not have healthy intestinal bacteria, we experience more flatulence.
Gas can be uncomfortable, and is frequently accompanied by bloating. The smell of gas is often unpleasant, especially in indoor or close environments. In airplanes, elevators and confined spaces, a bad case of gas can be torture. When gas is uncomfortable, voluminous or foul-smelling, then it’s time to do something about it.
One thing you can do to reduce the amount of gas you experience is to chew food thoroughly. When you chew food well, you reduce it to smaller particles which are broken down more easily. When you chew carbohydrates well, the starch-digesting enzyme ptyalin, which is produced in the mouth, helps to more thoroughly break down these foods. Additionally you can eat better food combinations, making sure that you are not eating sweet foods after you eat proteins.
One very effective strategy for reducing intestinal gas is to consume probiotics. These are natural, friendly bacteria that are essential to proper intestinal health. Many drugs, especially antibiotics, kill the bacteria in our intestines, so it is important that these microbes be replenished. You can eat yogurts with the phrase “live active cultures” on the label, or you can take supplements such as Pearls IC, which contain billions of these important bacteria.
If you tend to get gas after eating, one simple remedy is to drink a cup of strong peppermint tea after meals. This is often sufficient to reduce much gas production, and save those you love from discomfort. Choose organic whenever possible, like Traditional Medicinals Organic peppermint Tea.
Digestive bitters, which are liquid herbal formulas, typically contain artichoke and gentian, which enhance the production of the body’s natural digestive juices and improve digestive efficiency. Bitters have been used for many centuries to aid digestion and reduce gas. Most bars carry bitters formulas like Angostura Bitters, which are added to cocktails for their flavor and for their digestive benefits. A bit of bitters after every meal can help to put you on the road to a more wind-free life. There are many good brands of bitters – I like the organic bitters made by Urban Moonshine
Many common spices also have gas-relieving properties, due to aromatic components which aid digestion. Spices such as cardamom, caraway, anise and fennel will also help to reduce intestinal gas. In Indian restaurants, for example, it is typical to chew a handful of raw anise seeds after a meal to aid digestion. Use these in foods, and your gas production will likely be reduced.
Lastly, taking digestive enzymes, which help to more thoroughly break down and digest food, can also be of great value. These are supplements that contain concentrated amounts of the substances your body manufactures to break down foods efficiently. Often due to stress and pharmaceuticals, we produce inadequate amounts of these enzymes. The company Renew Life makes some very good digestive enzyme products.
Gas is normal. Everybody produces gas, whether they say so or not. But too much gas, or gas that is foul-smelling, is challenging and often embarrassing. Remember, it’s not only uncomfortable for you when you have gas, but also unpleasant for others. If you follow the simple tips outlined above, your digestion will be more efficient, and everybody will be happier.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com.