Gas is the biggest gastrointestinal problem with negative effects on our health. Did you know that our body produces several liters of gas daily? Although we have enough means to remove and absorb all the excess gas, sometimes the so-called ‘digestive balance’ can be broken.
First of all… What are intestinal gases and why do they happen?
Gases are a result of the food we eat. Most of the gases produced in the intestine come from the air we breathe in (aerophagia). Gases are also produced in a natural way by the bacteria of the intestinal flora during the digestion processes.
Undigested food moves from the small intestine to the large intestine. Once there, the bacteria produce hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane, which later leave the body.
The usual ways in which gases are present are meteorism. It is then that the classic problems of gas retention appear such as abdominal distention or bloating, belching, flatulence (expulsion of gas from the colon), abdominal pain and spasmodic contractions.
Most of the time gases do not have smell. The smell comes from bacteria in the large intestine releasing small amounts of sulfur-containing gases.
What are the symptoms of gases?
The presence of gases in the digestive system is common to the digestion process, as well as their removal from the body, either through belching or flatulence.
The pain that some people have in the intestinal area is not due to an increase in the amount of gases in the intestine. It usually happens if these gases are trapped in the digestive tract or have difficulty in the progress of the air.
Signs or symptoms of gases include:
- Belching and/or flatulence.
- Pain, cramping or a feeling of a knot in the abdomen.
- Feeling of fullness or pressure in the abdomen (bloating).
- Visible increase in the size of the abdomen (distension).
It is important to explain that the expulsion of gases is common, although it may be inconvenient or uncomfortable, this can seldom be a symptom of a severe medical problem.
Painful intestinal gases
The increase of gases or pain caused by them is usually caused by the consumption of some foods. Therefore, dietary changes may decrease the presence of uncomfortable gas and pain in the area.
Some disorders of the digestive system (such as irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease/celiac disease) may cause, among other signs and symptoms, an increase in the amount of gases or pain caused by them.
What can cause us to have excess gases?
People usually have more gases after meals due to the beginning of intestinal movements for digestion. On the contrary, they are produced less while we sleep.
We also swallow air when eating and drinking, resulting in the production of gases. The swallowed air is normally released by burping, but that which is not released by burping, goes to the small or large intestine, where it is released as flatulence.
In addition to meals, there are other situations in which the body is more likely to produce gases. Some diseases such as constipation, both acute and chronic, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, gastritis, gastric ulcer or other diseases such as the disease of Crohn also cause gas accumulation.
Gas and pregnancy
Changes in the function of the pelvic muscles, which are responsible for controlling the process of eliminating gas, can lead to the production of more gas during pregnancy.
These changes may also be due to surgeries on the digestive system or the natural aging of the body itself.
Change your diet: What foods should I not eat to avoid gas?
It is well known that there are many foods that produce gas when we eat them. These do not produce the same effects in all people, some will be more likely to produce gas when eating them than others.
They are mostly legumes, vegetables, carbonated or fizzy drinks,which are the most gas-producing foods in the digestive tract:
- Legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils. Also beans and peas.
- Vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, cabbage, artichokes, turnips, chard, bell pepper, cucumber, asparagus and spinach.
- Integral foods that contribute fiber but that are not indicated if there is meteorism, like cereals, rice and bread of integral flour.
- Carbonated drinks, especially cola and beer. Also red wine.
- Vegetables such as potatoes, radishes or raw onions.
- Fruits such as raisins, apricots, plums, bananas.
Although foods high in fiber increase the production of gases, this component is important for the proper functioning of the digestive system and blood sugar levels.
What to do to eliminate gas?
If you suffer from discomfort due to the existence of a large amount of intestinal gas, you can start by improving your diet and avoiding the most problematic foods above described to facilitate their expulsion.
It is also recommended to drink plenty of water and avoid carbonated beverages and dairy products if you are lactose intolerant or do not have a good digestion.
It is important to visit a doctor if the gas or pain continues for days, if it becomes very intense, or if the gas is not eliminated in a natural way.
Recommendations to avoid gas in the intestines
Changing some habits in your daily life can contribute to reduce the formation of intestinal gas such as:
- Eating slowly, chewing food well before swallowing and not talking while eating.
- Drink little liquid during meals and avoid carbonated beverages.
- Take a short walk after meals.
- Avoid drinking directly from the bottle or drinking through a straw.
- Avoid chewing gum and sucking candy.
- Follow a balanced diet, low in fat and carbohydrates.
- Smoking can also lead to gas formation by inhaling and swallowing air at the same time as the smoke.
How to expel gas
People usually get rid of gas through the mouth (in the form of belching) or through the anus (flatulence) about 20 times a day.
Belching usually happens because there is excess air expelled from the digestive tract. Most belching is caused by swallowing excess air, which seldom reaches the stomach.
On the other hand, flatulence is caused by the accumulation of gas in the intestine. These are usually caused by digestion or fermentation of undigested food. They also happen when the digestive system is unable to decompose some foods.
- Dr. Szarka L. et Dr. Levitt, M. American College of Gastroenterology. Belching, bloating and flatulence.
- Mayo Clinic. Eructos, gases intestinales y distensión abdominal: consejos para reducirlos. Nov, 2018.
- Mayo Clinic. Gas and gas pains. Dic, 2018.
- NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. MedlinePlus: Gas. May, 2019.
- WebMD. The Digestive System and Gas.