Just like everyone passes stool, everyone releases gas. However, the reasons behind why you break wind can differ, and sometimes it can raise concerns.
Dr. Mark Corkins, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, explained, “I often get asked about this.” He mentioned that there are two sources of ‘gas,’ and not all of it is actually gas. Part of what we expel is air. We all swallow some air, and certain individuals swallow more air. This type of gas seems to be odorless.
On the other hand, genuine gas is mostly the result of food fermentation in the colon. Corkins, who is also a pediatrics professor, stated, “Our colon houses billions of bacteria. If we fail to digest food, the bacteria will.”
When it comes to the volume of gas, true gas tends to take up more space and occurs as food moves through the colon.
Dr. William Chey, a Gastroenterology Professor at the University of Michigan, mentioned that passing gas around five to fifteen times a day is completely normal. He explained that variations in gastrointestinal tract function, the microbiome within the GI tract, and dietary choices determine how often and how much gas you pass, as well as its odor.
Experts noted that some odors may be stronger due to these factors, but there are no smells that signal a serious issue.
Gas isn’t as indicative of gut health as the frequency and texture of bowel movements. Nonetheless, dietary decisions can influence gas production, and there are times when excessive gas should be discussed with a doctor.
Factors influencing flatulence Gut flora play a crucial role in producing vitamins and some short-chain fatty acids that nourish the colon lining. Thus, a certain amount of gas from these processes is beneficial. Corkins added, “Otherwise, we’re not feeding our flora, which is actually a symbiotic relationship.”
However, gas, especially excessive amounts, can be triggered by foods that are harder to digest and are more likely to ferment.
Corkins mentioned the classic example of beans, containing a protein that is challenging to digest. Beans are a source of FODMAPs, which are short-chain carbohydrates that some individuals poorly absorb, leading to digestive problems.
Foods high in FODMAPs include specific vegetables, fruits, starches, and dairy products. “Many of us unknowingly consume a lot of FODMAPs, but everyone has a different pattern in how well they can absorb and metabolize these,” explained Dr. Rena Yadlapati of the University of California, San Diego.
Dr. Chey noted that some people may have trouble digesting red meat, and excess carbs that aren’t absorbed can ferment in the colon, producing gases.
“Having regular bowel habits is also important,” Chey added. “Constipation can lead to bloating and flatulence since slow movement through the GI tract allows more interaction with bacteria in the colon, producing more gas.”
Dealing with uncontrollable gas If excessive gas causes discomfort or disrupts daily life, consulting a doctor is advised. Addressing factors such as diet, the microbiome, and GI tract function can help.
“Reducing a typical Western diet high in processed foods and carbohydrates can be beneficial,” Chey said.
A low FODMAP diet is a significant intervention to consider.
If unintentional weight loss, blood in stool, changes in bowel habits (especially frequent diarrhea), and excessive flatulence are present, seeking medical attention is recommended.
While waiting for a doctor’s appointment, maintaining a “gas diary” to track gas occurrences and associated activities/meals can help identify patterns.
Over-the-counter remedies like simethicone, activated charcoal, enteric-coated peppermint oil, or probiotics might also be suggested by a doctor.