Whether you call it farting, passing wind, having gas, or flatulence (the official medical term), the release of excess air through the intestinal tract is both normal and natural.
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Why, then, are farts the butt of so many adolescent boys’ jokes? Perhaps, because of those awkward moments when the body’s internal horn section suddenly plays a little too loudly — becoming noticeable to all in the vicinity.
Truth be told, passing gas happens a lot, likely between 14 and 23 times throughout your day, often without attracting much notice. For most people, it’s not a major problem. But what if it’s a problem for you?
“If you have an amount of gas that makes you uncomfortable, you should consult your local GI physician for evaluation and recommendations,” says gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD. “If you aren’t able to take care of it in a socially acceptable manner, and it’s bothering your lifestyle, you should have it checked out.”
If you’re so gassy it’s affecting your daily activities or causing you pain or embarrassment, you can take steps to minimize the problem, she says.
What causes excessive gas?
Gas can accumulate in your digestive tract simply because you swallow air while drinking, eating or even laughing. But some foods produce excess gas as well. This can make the need to control its passing more challenging.
If your intestines are sluggish, moving food through your gut too slowly (slow motility), excess gas can collect. The longer food sits in your system, the more gas-producing bacteria build up, causing abdominal discomfort.
You also produce more gas as you age due to slowing down of your metabolism and slowing down of the movement of food through the colon. Yes, even the intestinal tract naturally slows down over time.
Excess gas buildup is also likely more of a problem if you have medical conditions such as diabetes, scleroderma, thyroid dysfunction, small bowel bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, or if you have a sedentary lifestyle, Dr. Lee says.
Can sleep apnea make flatulence worse?
In some cases, the way you sleep can contribute to excessive gas buildup in your system.
About 25% of men and nearly 10% of women have sleep apnea, causing them to snore with their mouths open.
“People with sleep apnea are mostly mouth-breathers, and they inhale a lot of air when they’re snoring and swallowing,” Dr. Lee says. “So, they wake up with gas pain because they’ve been swallowing air all night.”
Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have sleep apnea.
How to limit gas buildup
Dr. Lee suggests these tips to help lessen the impact of excess gas in your system:
- Exercise. The more active you are, the more frequently and discreetly you’ll eliminate gas from your intestinal tract. Focus on abdominal-strengthening exercises to help keep the digestive tract moving. Aim to work out for at least 30 minutes three or four days each week.
- Limit cruciferous vegetables. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and asparagus produce more gas than other vegetables. (But they’re also nutritious, so don’t avoid them altogether!)
- Avoid dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant. If you do eat milk, cheese or yogurt, consider taking Lactaid® beforehand to help ease your digestion, Dr. Lee says.
- Avoid constipation. Having a bowel movement anywhere from three times daily to once every other day is normal. This helps limit a buildup from gas-producing bacteria. Hydration and exercise can help keep things moving in this department.
- Review your medications. Narcotics, decongestants, allergy medications, and some blood pressure drugs can slow your intestinal processes. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to make a change.
- Limit carbonated beverages, fermented foods and drinks containing high fructose corn syrup. These products just add more gas or feed the bacteria in your digestive tract.
Ultimately, Dr. Lee’s tips should help relieve your gas problem — and perhaps make you less anxious in social situations.
It’s also important to talk to your doctor about any changes in your health. “Consult your physician if you’ve had a change in bowel movements (especially if they are sudden) or if you feel that something isn’t right,” she says.