Gas or “flatus” is a normal byproduct of digestion. Your body expels flatus through the mouth and rectum, up to 23 times daily. Abdominal distention occurs when gas becomes trapped.
Flatulence typically results from:
- excessive air swallowing
- certain eating behaviors and habits
- consuming gas-producing substances
- bacterial breakdown of food
- food sitting in the intestines for prolonged periods
When eating and drinking, swallowing air is unavoidable. However, some habits lead to a superfluous amount. Assess whether you:
- sip through a straw
- drink from a sports bottle
- gulp water quickly
- speak rapidly while eating
- chew gum
- have loose-fitting dentures
- drink from a water fountain
- eat quickly while stressed
- drink beverages too hot or cold
To minimize the volume of swallowed air, avoid eating when you’re upset. Sip and chew at a relaxed pace. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your stomach that it’s full. So, pause after 20 minutes of eating to see if you’re satisfied. Additionally, try to eliminate the other causes of swallowed air.
If bloating persists after reducing swallowed air, review your diet for substances that pose digestive difficulty for some people:
- asparagus, garlic, onions
- broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips
- carbonated drinks
- beans and lentils
- dairy products, if you’re lactose intolerant
- gluten, present in wheat, barley, and rye
- artificial sweeteners, including sucralose and aspartame
- sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol
- foods sweetened with sugar, fructose, and stevia
- spicy, fatty, and fried foods
Certain fruits may trigger bloat:
Apples – The fruit sugar “fructose” is difficult for some people to break down. Bacteria feed on undigested sugar, producing gas.
Pears – This fruit contains sorbitol, a sugar alcohol absorbed more slowly than other forms of sugar.
Stone Fruits – Pit-containing foods are in this category, including peaches, plums, nectarines, and cherries. Some of their sugar can linger in the intestines, leading to fermentation.
Grapes – The fructose can be problematic for some people.
Dried Fruits – Dehydration concentrates fructose levels.
From this long list of gas-promoting substances, you can see the importance of reading labels, especially to spot sugar, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. Be on the lookout for gas-producers in food and any supplements you take.
When sleuthing suspects, a diary is helpful. Try one questionable food at a time. Before eating a possible trigger, jot it down. Then, note whether bloat results within a few hours of consumption. If that food isn’t at fault, wait one day, and track another.
If you’d rather not eliminate a healthy food, try small servings. For example, if apples are problematic, eat half of one. With stone fruits, try just one piece or a 1-cup serving. If you’re fond of dried fruit, but it causes bloat, experiment with 2 teaspoons as a serving. You may be able to tolerate small quantities of gas-producing foods.
For some people, enzyme supplements prevent food-induced bloat. If you’re lactose intolerant, try chewing a Lactaid tablet before your first mouthful of dairy. Beano may aid digestion of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, and beans. You’ll find Lactaid and Beano at pharmacies and supermarkets.
Certain herbs relieve gas by improving digestion. Examples are chamomile, fennel, ginger, and peppermint. Taken as tea, these herbs prompt the release of saliva, gastric juice, and bile. Green tea has compounds called “catechins” that increase enzymatic activity.
Pineapple reduces bloat through the action of bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme. Papaya works similarly, via the enzyme papain.
Some people find over-the-counter drugs helpful, such as the bismuth subsalicylate in Pepto-Bismol and simethicone in Mylanta, Gas-X, and Maalox.
Healthful bacteria that improve body functions are called “probiotics.” These beneficial microbes line your mouth, throat, and digestive tract. In addition to helping digest food, they keep harmful germs from overpopulating. For example, certain bacteria help to alleviate diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance.
Probiotic levels decline with age. Good bacteria are also killed by infections, stress, and antibiotics.
One of the best dietary sources of probiotics is yogurt. When shopping, look for containers labeled with the Live and Active Cultures Seal by the National Yogurt Association.
Since featuring this seal is voluntary, not all yogurt producers include it on their labels. In the absence of this image, make sure the words “contains live and active cultures” are printed on the label, near the ingredients. This statement ensures the yogurt hasn’t been treated with heat after culturing, which kills probiotics. Also, buy yogurt that’s low in added sugar.
In the digestive tract, probiotics have a short lifespan. To maintain optimal levels, eat a 6-ounce serving of low-fat yogurt daily.
If you don’t tolerate yogurt well, you can take a probiotic supplement. Choose one with at least seven strains, for a range of benefits by various types of bacteria. For example, Saccharomyces boulardii eases diarrhea. Lactobacillus digests the milk sugar lactose.
The supplement should have at least five billion colony forming units (CFUs). Make sure the label says “Viable through end of shelf life” versus “Viable at the time of manufacture.” Otherwise, the bacteria can die before consumption. To survive stomach acid and reach your colon, pills must be encapsulated or have another type of delayed rupture technology. Follow the storage instructions on the label, varying by product.
Being active aids peristalsis, muscle contractions that push food through your digestive tract. Engage in a fun choice of exercise at least 10 minutes daily, such as walking, gardening, biking, dancing, swimming, or yoga.
Bloating accompanied by a hard, tight stomach may signal constipation. Delayed gastric emptying makes gas accumulate. Severe constipation can be treated by a laxative or stool softener, as a temporary remedy. Avoid taking these regularly since your digestive system can become dependent on them.
Instead, promote regular evacuation by modifying your diet. One easy way to nudge a morning bowel movement is drinking warm lemon water. To make it, mix 8 ounces of water with 1 ounce of lemon juice.
Also, promote regularity by eating fibrous foods. The Institute of Medicine advises a daily fiber intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Here’s a chart for tracking your fiber intake.
If your daily fiber intake is meager, increase it by degrees over several weeks. Here’s a guideline, provided your body can comfortably adapt:
- Week 1 – Aim for 20 grams daily.
- Week 2 – Slowly increase until you reach 25 grams per day.
- Week 3 – If you’re a man, continue raising your daily quota until achieving 30 grams daily.
- Week 4 – Gradually increase to 38 grams per day.
Space consumption throughout the day. The reason to slowly raise dietary fiber is that bacteria require time to adjust to the added roughage. While increasing fiber, simultaneously phase out refined grains, such as white bread, rice, flour, and pasta.
Also, stay well-hydrated. Otherwise, roughage can harden, resulting in constipation. Drink a daily volume of liquid equal to half your body weight. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, sip 80 ounces of healthy fluids daily, including plenty of water. Note that your body can metabolize just 12 ounces of water at a time.
Celiac Disease – This is an immune reaction to gluten, the protein present in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten launches injury to the lining of the small intestine.
Crohn’s Disease – With this autoimmune disorder, defensive cells attack the digestive system, mistaking it as a foreign entity. Symptoms include chronic bloating, rectal bleeding, and diarrhea.
IBS – Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition of recurrent abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
GERD – Gastroesophageal reflux disease is esophageal inflammation by the repeated backwash of stomach acid. Heartburn and regurgitation into the throat are symptoms.
Many other conditions can also prompt bloat, such as intestinal obstruction, hernias, colon cancer, stomach flu, and menstruation. When bloating is constant or accompanied by alarming symptoms, make an appointment with Digestive Care Physicians.
Red flags warranting evaluation are:
- frequent diarrhea
- heartburn occurring more than twice weekly
- dark, tarry stools
- severe or persistent abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
- unintended weight loss
- excessive flatulence, accompanied by strong odor
- chronic constipation
To reach a diagnosis, your gastroenterologist may order or perform certain tests, such as ultrasound, endoscopy, colonoscopy, blood analysis, and esophageal manometry. To rule out medications as a cause of bloating, bring to your consultation a list of the drugs you take.
Our compassionate staff includes five board-certified physicians, expert in diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal disorders. We have four offices serving metro Atlanta, in Alpharetta, Cumming, Lawrenceville, and Johns Creek. To schedule a consultation, call us at (770) 227-2222. For an appointment at our Lawrenceville office, call (470) 210-7766.
Get bloating under control with the help of a knowledgeable gastroenterologist.
Note – This information cannot replace professional medical assessment. Gain relief from bloating by seeing a doctor at Digestive Care Physicians.
Board-Certified physicians Dr. Singh, Dr. Rashbaum, Dr. Nitin Parikh, Dr. Sumana Moole, Dr. Long B. Nguyen, Tammi D’Elena, PA-C; and Vanessa T. Dang, MSN, APRN; care for patients in north Atlanta, GA; area including Alpharetta, GA; Johns Creek, GA; Cumming, GA; and Lawrenceville, GA. The in-house endoscopy suite at Digestive Care Physicians is a certified facility which has achieved the highest level of accreditation by the Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC). If you suffer from bloating or need a colorectal cancer screening, contact us at (770) 227-2222 to schedule an appointment.