Gas is a normal part of human digestion. This gas can sometimes take on a particularly unpleasant odor, or it can cause pain and discomfort.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, people pass 1 to 3 pints of gas each day. People typically pass gas between 14 and 23 times per day.
This article will look at some of the ways that people can relieve gas and the discomfort it can bring.
Contents of this article:
- What causes gas?
- Diet tips to reduce or prevent gas
- Condition-specific gas relief tips
- Medical treatments for gas
- When to see a doctor for gas
What causes gas?
Gas is the result of the breakdown of foods in the gastrointestinal tract. The gas given off escapes via the rectum or mouth.
There are many ways to reduce the impact of gas.
A person can also produce increased amounts of gas if they have swallowed more air than usual.
Habits that increase air intake include:
- Chewing gum
- Eating or drinking faster than normal
- Wearing dentures that are too loose
Sometimes gas can seem particularly odorous or uncomfortable. This can occur for a number of reasons. For example, a person may have a medical condition that affects their ability to break down foods completely, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease.
An estimated 1 in 3 people produce methane gas in their intestinal tract. Methane is a particularly strong-smelling gas that can cause a person’s stool to float in water.
The movements of gas through the digestive tract can stretch the stomach and intestines. This can result in a sharp, jabbing pain, or cramping that is highly uncomfortable.
There are medical treatments that are available for strong gas, but there are also things that people can do to help themselves.
Diet tips to reduce or prevent gas
There are many quick and easy methods individuals can adopt to reduce the incidence of gas without the need for medications. These include keeping an eye on their diet, to see how many gas-producing foods they eat on a daily basis.
Some food groups that cause gas production include the following.
Sometimes the body lacks the enzymes necessary to break down sugars in the diet. This can lead to increased bloating and gas.
Examples of sugars include:
- Raffinose, found in beans, and other green vegetables
- Lactose, found in milk and milk products
- Fructose, found in onions, artichokes, and wheat
- Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener, commonly used in sugar-free foods
Starchy foods, such as potatoes, corn, and wheat, can cause gas.
Fiber is beneficial for digestion, but only if the body is used to it. A sudden increase in fiber intake can lead to gas and bloating. Soluble fiber, found in oat bran, peas, and fruits, produces the greatest amounts of gas.
If a person wants to increase their fiber intake, the best strategy is to add a serving a day and drink plenty of water to help the fiber dissolve better.
It is not necessary to remove all of these foods from the diet to reduce gas. A good way to identify the culprit is to keep a record of all the foods eaten for a week and to note which of these foods causes gas. This can help to pinpoint which foods are upsetting the stomach.
Another tip for identifying causes of gas is to eliminate one group of gas-causing foods for a few days at a time. Keep eliminating the foods, one by one, until the symptoms improve.
It is possible to reduce gas by avoiding behaviors that cause air to be swallowed.
- Chewing gum
- Eating hard candy
- Rapid eating
- Drinking fizzy or carbonated beverages, as these increase the amount of air in the stomach
- Eating foods with added artificial sweeteners
If possible, take a walk after eating. Movement promotes the passage of gas through the gut, making an episode of flatulence or gas less likely.
Foods and drinks that can reduce gas
Just as there are foods and drinks that can promote gas, there are those that can reduce it.
Low-sugar fruits, such as blueberries, are a good choice for avoiding gas.
These diet tips can help to reduce gas:
- Drinking beverages at room temperature
- Eating raw, low-sugar fruits, such as apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, grapefruits, peaches, strawberries, and watermelons
- Choosing low-carbohydrate vegetables that are less likely to cause gas, such as green beans, carrots, okra, tomatoes, and bok choy
- Replacing wheat and potatoes with rice, as it produces less gas
- Swapping carbonated beverages for water, which is more hydrating and promotes digestion instead of constipation and gas
- Adding a squeeze of lemon or lime to water, instead of fruit juice, flavorings, or artificial sweeteners
- Drinking teas known to help digestion and reduce gas, such as chamomile, fennel, peppermint, and turmeric teas
Condition-specific gas relief tips
The two groups of people who are more likely to experience gas are babies and pregnant women.
Gas relief in babies
Babies often have gas because their digestive tracts are smaller and their digestive systems untested. This can be painful for the infant. Their stomach may feel hardened and they may curl their legs toward their chest in an attempt to relieve gas pains.
Tips to reduce gas in infants include:
- Using a slower-flow nipple to reduce the speed at which the infant is drinking. Bottle nipples are available that are specific for babies with gas.
- Breastfeeding mothers can keep track of the foods they consume that may increase gas in the infant. Foods that cause gas in the mother’s diet can do the same in the infant. This includes dairy products and tomatoes
- Burping the infant often, during, and after feedings.
- After eating, placing the infant flat on their back and moving their legs as if they are riding a bicycle, to help to free up gas. Tummy time can also help.
- A pediatrician can advise if the infant needs an infant-specific simethicone gas drop. These can help some babies, but it is important to review the dosage with a pediatrician.
In a pregnant woman, heightened levels of the hormone progesterone can cause increased relaxation of the ligaments in the hips that support delivery.
Hormonal changes can make gas more likely during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, the extra progesterone can result in unwanted side effects in the form of extra gas.
Progesterone also slows digestion time, and it increases the time that food takes to go through the intestines. As a result, people may experience bloating, flatulence, and burping.
Gas is normal during pregnancy, but some tips can help:
- Avoiding fried or fatty foods, as they increase digestion time
- Not using a straw to drink, as this can increase the amount of air swallowed
- Sitting up straight after eating. This promotes the downward flow of digestion
- Taking a walk around the block to free up additional gas, unless there are exercise restrictions
- Wearing loose clothing, especially around the waist
- Drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated and support the movement of digested food
- Eating several smaller meals throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels and a more consistent digestive pattern
Medical treatments for gas
Unless a person has a digestive problem, such as a bowel obstruction or malabsorption, the doctor may first recommend over-the-counter treatments, which are intended to reduce gas.
Many of these contain simethicone, a compound that combines with gas bubbles to make them easier to eliminate.
Other natural options that can reduce the incidence of gas are targeted at specific enzymes in the intestine, so changing some of the things in a diet can help.
- Lactase for those who are lactose intolerant
- Beano for those who have difficulty eating raffinose-containing foods, such as fibrous vegetables and beans
- Probiotics in yogurt or supplements, which promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the stomach
If these actions do not help to reduce gas, a doctor may prescribe medications to promote enhanced digestion. Medications may be used to reduce the incidence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
When to see a doctor for gas
For some people, gas is an embarrassing or mild symptom, but for others it can be a sign of something more serious.
If the following symptoms occur, in addition to strong gas, the person should talk to a doctor:
- Blood in your stool
- Frequent diarrhea
- Unexplained weight loss
A doctor will look at the symptoms, the patient’s medical history, their diet, and what medications they are taking. Diagnostic testing ranges from blood tests to imaging studies. These can show signs of inflammation in the digestive tract.
Gas is a normal part of everyday life, but it should not always be painful, and it should not limit a person’s activities.
For people with excessive gas, help is out there.