Flatulence overview

For stand-up comedians, the subject of flatulence is sure to generate lots of snickering, giggles, and guffaws.

But for those who suffer from this distressing not to mention an embarrassing problem, it’s no laughing matter.

Everyone passes a certain amount of flatus or “breaks wind,” as we delicately describe it.

Normally, from 400 to 2,000 milliliters of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane are expelled each day from the anus.

Most of the time, this happens without inviting notice through sound or smell.

But under some circumstances and in some people, undigested food products pass from small intestine into the large intestine (colon), where the mass is fermented by large amount of bacteria that are normally present there.

The benign bugs of the colon are not choosy. Whatever comes their way goes right on their menu.

It is the bacterially produced gas that gives flatus it’s characteristic order when expelled.

If you are a stoic or a recluse, you may simply be able to ignore that gaseous excess and it’s audible effects.

However, if you’re neither, there are some things you can do to prevent flatulence. Here’s how:

1. Eat to beat flatulence

Carbohydrates may be problematic for some people. But before you cut out nutritious carbohydrates, try eliminating simple carbohydrates, those refined sugars, like fructose and sucrose, and white-flour foods that may taste good but are not very good for you, especially if you have flatulence problems.

2. Minimize milk consumption

Milk, the so-called perfect food does cause gas for some people. Some people don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase in their gut or intestine to digest the milk sugar lactose.

Drinking skim milk and buttermilk instead won’t sole the problem either; the lactose is in the nonfat part.

Cultured buttermilk may have a little less lactose, but the taste doesn’t agree with everyone.

It you cut down on or eliminate milk for a few days and you still have a flatulence problem, however, you can feel assured that milk is not the cause.

3. Add a little enzyme

If you are lactose intolerant but don’t want to give up milk, you can try one of the over-the-counter products, such as Lactaid and Dairy Ease, that contain lactase enzyme, which helps to break down lactose.

Be sure to follow the package directions carefully.

4. Banish the flatulence offender

“Some foods are known to be flatulogenic or flatus producers.”

Give up on the most common ones (see “Gassers” for a list these) then when you feel that the flatulence problem has relieved, start adding the foods one by one.

If your body can tolerate small quantities, you can gradually increase your intake.

5. Soak your beans

Beans are a source of fiber and protein, but for many people, eating them can an “explosive” enterprise.

Rather than give up beans, however, you can try adjusting the way you prepare them.

Mindy Hermann, R.D., a registered dietitian, suggests these following technique for decreasing the flatulogenic effects of beans:

Soak the beans overnight, then dump the water out. Pour new water in, and cook the beans for about half an hour.

Throw that water out, put in new water, and cook for another 30 minutes. Drain the water out for the last time, put new water in, and finish cooking.

6. Try beano

This over-the-counter food modifier contains an enzyme that breaks down some of the sugar that can cause gassiness.

You may find that it helps make foods such as beans, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, oats, and other vegetables and legumes more tolerable. Follow the package directions.

7. Stay calm

Emotional stress can play a major role in worsening a flatulence problem. The gastrointestinal tract is exquisitely sensitive to anxiety, anger, and depression.

A network of nerves connects this area of the body to the brain, and when you are under stress, muscles in the abdomen tighten.

The results are painful spasms. “Eating while under stress also makes you swallow air, which can worsen the problem.”

8. Get physical

Sometimes, flatulence is less a matter of a faulty diet than of a faulty digestive process;

The smooth passage of foods down the digestive tract might be the problem. Exercise helps to regulate the process, take a walk when things get uncomfortable.

You can also apply pressure to your abdomen or lie face-down on the floor with a pillow bunched up under your abdomen to help relieve discomfort.

Rocking back and forth on the floor with your knees drawn up to your chest and arms wrapped around your legs may also help. So might a heating pad placed on your abdomen.

9. Bust the belch

Habits that can lead to excessive belching can also cause problem with flatulence.

10. Get activated

Activated charcoal tablets, available without a prescription, may help to absorb some excess gas and calm flatulence.

If you are taking any prescription medications, however, ask your pharmacist whether the activated charcoal will interfere with them.

11. Reach for relief

A variety of non-prescriptions, containing simethicone (such as Mylanta and Maalox) may ease gassiness.


People who suffer from chronic flatulence may be able to control the problem by eliminating foods that increase fermentation activity, thereby producing gas.

Here are some possible culprits:

Extremely flatulogenic:

  • Beans
  • Beer (dark)
  • Bran
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Milk (for those who are lactose intolerant)

Mildly flatulogenic:

  • Apples (raw)
  • Apricots
  • Banana
  • Bread and other products containing wheat
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Citrus fruits
  • Coffee
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplants
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
  • Pretzels
  • Prunes
  • Radishes
  • Raisins
  • Soybeans
  • Spinach

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