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Gas Mask: What Your Flatulence Says about Your Health

Posted 4/7/2017 by UHBlog

When, where and how you pass gas says a lot about your overall health. We can answer your questions.

What Your Flatulence Says about Your Health

There’s an old joke that sums up how many people view the inner workings of their body. It goes like this:

Person 1: “I can only eat 239 beans.”
Person 2: “Why is that?”
Person 1: “Because if I ate one more, I’d be too forty (farty).”

If you think you’re too gassy, it may be because you don’t know what’s normal and what’s not in the way your digestive tract functions.

“In our modern society people tend to view flatulence as something that isn’t good, but that’s not really the case,” says gastroenterologist Dany Raad, MD. “It’s actually a healthy thing to be producing gas. It’s the ecosystem of your bowels at work.”

Farting – also known as flatulence – is nothing more than a byproduct of digestion, Dr. Raad says. It occurs when you eat complex carbohydrates – foods such as vegetables, grains and fruits – and your body begins breaking them down. As the food moves through the small intestine and into the colon, the bacteria in your gut digests it so your body can use it for energy.

The result is the gas that passes through your rectum, which at times can be loud and smelly.

According to Dr. Raad, it’s normal to expel between 500 to 1,500 milliliters of gas a day, which is about the equivalent of gas found in a two-liter bottle of soda. That ends up being between 10 and 20 farts for most people per day – which you’re more likely to let rip at night.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time the gas you expel isn’t odorous,” Dr. Raad says. “In fact, researchers did a study in which people were fed pinto beans and then were equipped with a sort of mylar pantaloon to capture the gas. The smell was then determined by two judges, and they found that the main malodorous component of flatus was sulfur.”

In addition to (pinto) beans, other sulfur-producing foods that lead to smelly flatulence include cabbage, onions, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Sometimes, people worry about how much gas they’re passing.

“It’s very rare for an infection to cause flatulence,” Dr. Raad says. “If you suddenly have a day where you’re passing a lot of gas, it’s probably something you ate. That’s normal. Chewing gum, eating too fast and drinking soda can also be reasons for increased gas, since you are actually swallowing more air.”

There are some health conditions – mostly found in the gastrointestinal tract – that can make you gassier than usual. These include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Constipation
  • Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, celiac disease and gluten intolerance, that make it difficult to digest certain foods
  • Illnesses, such as the stomach flu, that affect the bacterial balance in your gut
  • Diabetes
  • Medications

If you have excess gas along with any of the following symptoms, you should visit a doctor:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Blood in your stool

For most people, a simple dietary change can be enough to stop you from cutting the cheese at an inopportune time, for instance when you’re going out with people and don’t want to be embarrassed.

“You can avoid the foods that trigger farts or try one of the over-the-counter products, like a gas drop (Simethicone), which is actually the same medication we give our kids when they are fussy,” Dr. Raad says. “Another product is Beano, which actually works best after a bean-filled meal. It has an enzyme that digests your carbohydrates. You don’t want to do this all the time, however, because it can harm the good bacteria.”

Dany Raad, MD is a gastroenterologist at University Hospitals Parma Gastroenterology and University Hospitals Broadview Heights Health Center. You can Request an Appointment with Dr. Raad or any other doctor online.

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