ARE you full of hot air?
We all do it from time to time. Some of us let it rip out loud while others are the silent but violent type. In the privacy of your own home it's almost acceptable, but to drop one out in public can be socially devastating. You know what I'm talking about - it's flatulence or more commonly known as wind or farting.
Research studies show the average person produces up to three pints of gas per day and releases the gas from their body up to 14 times a day - that's about one fart every waking hour. If you have ever seen the Mel Brookes movie Blazing Saddles you'll know that some people can let go way more often than that.
Flatulence consists of five main gases: nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and oxygen. It is the trace gases of skatole and indole along with the sulphur-containing compounds which gives rise to the distinctive "fart" smell. The methane and the hydrogen are the culprits for the flammable characteristics. The amount of each gas is dependent on the amount of bacteria in the gut and the amount of undigested food in the colon.
The more uncommonly known cause of flatulence is aerophagia.
This is swallowing of air from either improper swallowing of air while eating or unconsciously swallowing air out of habit. Activities such as smoking, chewing gum and drinking carbonated drinks can contribute to flatulence if not expelled through the belching or burping process. When the cause of flatulence is aerophagia the content of the gases is predominately nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen, however if the cause is undigested food more hydrogen and methane is present (this is the smellier one).
Not everybody reacts to food in the same way so foods that produce gas in one person may not affect another. Commonly, fibre and undigested carbohydrates such as beans, starches (potato, corn and wheat) and onions as we know are the worst offenders.
Overeating burdens the digestion system and can slow transit time. The more transit time in the bowel allows the bacteria more time to "feed" and ferment adding to your woes.
Lactose intolerance is another contributor to flatulence. As we age the enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose (the natural sugar found in dairy products) decreases so over time people may experience an increase in gas after eating food containing lactose (such as milk, yogurt, cheese etc). Many people don't realize they are lactose intolerant.
If flatulence is a concern for you, consider changing your diet and lifestyle by avoiding known foods and habits which can contribute to excess gas. A probiotic purchased from your pharmacy or health professional may assist by balancing the bacteria in the gut. As there are many different strains of bacteria and probiotics on the market it is recommended that you seek professional advice as to which probiotic is most suitable to your circumstances. Charcoal tablets have been used for years in the natural health arena for the treatment of flatulence however this is a treatment for the symptoms and is not addressing the cause.
Flatulence isn't a life threatening condition however for most who experience it publicly they will know that it is no laughing matter. You should always seek medical assistance if you are concerned about your health. Your health professional will most likely ask you to keep a food diary and note the amount of gas released with each food or meal. This will help to eliminate the culprits. Measuring the type and the amount of gas is also appropriate to differentiate the starting point, however if these tests are still inconclusive your health professional may also do more detailed tests to rule out more serious conditions.