Flatulence is described as having excessive stomach or intestinal gas, which results in feelings of bloating, increased belching or passing of gas from the rectum. The amount of gas generated depends on the bacteria that live in the colon. These bacteria digest or ferment food that has not been absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. The amount of undigested food that reach the colon every day depends on the diet, and how well the GI tract functions in a body.
What causes flatulence?
The digestive tract consists of the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. Gas in the digestive tract can be due to two reasons: Firstly, from air swallowed, which can result due to improper swallowing while eating or unconscious swallowing of air. Most people belch to expel excess swallowed air. Secondly, from the increased production of gas as certain undigested food is broken down in the colon by bacteria. If the body does not digest food in the small intestine, due to the absence of some enzymes, the undigested food passes into the large intestine, where it is broken down, producing gas. It is this bacterially produced gas that gives flatus its characteristic odour when expelled.
Gas is caused by various factors, the most common are – eating habits and the bacterial fermentation of some foods. Foods containing carbohydrates cause gas. Fructose and complex sugars like raffinose and sorbitol also produce gas. Fructose occurs naturally in onions, wheat, artichokes and pear. It is also added as a sweetener in soft drinks and fruit drinks.
Raffinose occurs in vegetables and whole grains. Vegetables like cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and asparagus produce gas.
Sorbitol is a sugar found naturally in fruits and is used as an artificial sweetener in candy and diet products.
Most starches like potatoes, noodles, wheat produce gas as they are broken down in the large intestine.
Many foods contain soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel-like texture in the intestines. Found in oat bran, beans, peas, and most fruits, soluble fibre is not broken down until it reaches the large intestine, where digestion causes gas. Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, passes essentially unchanged through the intestines and produces little gas. Wheat bran and some vegetables contain this kind of fibre.
Some people who have lactase deficiency, may over time experience an increasing amount of gas after eating food containing lactose. Lactase deficiency results in a decreased ability to digest lactose, a natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products. This flatulence is often associated with diarrhoea and cramping but can also appear as gas.
Certain conditions can result in other foods being poorly absorbed in the GI tract, allowing for increased bacterial activity. If transit through the colon is slowed down for any reason, bacteria have an increased opportunity to ferment the remaining material.
If a person is constipated or has decreased bowel function for any reason, flatulence can follow.
Other reasons can be alterations in bowel habits due to poor dietary fibre, parasites, IBS, intestinal obstruction, poor thyroid function and use of drugs.
Symptoms of Flatulence
The symptoms of flatulence are increased passage of gas, abdominal bloating or pain, and belching.
A belch during or after meals is considered normal. Belching may also occur due to some serious GI disorders, which needs to be looked into. Bloating is a sensation that makes the abdomen feel larger than normal.
Natural Remedies to Treat Symptoms of flatulence
A certain amount of gas is always present in the GI tract of a person. An average person passes gas about 10-25 times each day, which is considered normal. But ideally, one would like to reduce gas to minimize embarrassment. The first areas to focus on are diet and eating habits.
Avoid swallowing air
Gulping food crowds the stomach, which makes digestion difficult. Foods such as lettuce and cabbage, when not chewed into small enough pieces increases swallowed air. Chewing food well before taking the next bite helps avoid this. One also swallows air while smoking or chewing tobacco. When inhaling cigarettes and cigars, excessive amounts of air is swallowed. Chewing gum and sucking on hard candy can also stimulate air swallowing. Emotional stress plays a major role in worsening the flatulence problem. Eating under stress also makes one swallow air. The habit of talking with your mouth full allows air into the mouth, which then gets swallowed along with the food. Drinking carbonated drinks including beer creates air in the stomach. Try drinking without a straw.
Make Right Food Choices
Food that causes gas in one person may not cause it in another. People vary widely in how sensitive they are to gas production. Keeping a food record can shed light on which food is aggravating the situation. Carbohydrates may be problematic for some people. Start by eliminating simple carbohydrates – refined sugars like fructose and sucrose, and white flour foods. Milk sometimes causes gas in some people. Some people do not have enough of the enzyme lactase in their gut to digest the milk sugar lactose, in which case milk should be avoided. Beans are a great source of fibre and protein but can produce gas. Soaking beans overnight and throwing the water out may help in reducing the gas.
Beat The Bloat
Some of the additional things you can do to decrease bloating is to eat slowly, chew your food well, increase physical activity and not lie down after eating. Sometimes the smooth passage of food down the digestive tract may be hindered. Exercise like walking helps to regulate the process.
Yoga for Flatulence
Rocking back and forth on the floor with your knees drawn up to your chest and your arms wrapped around your legs may also help. Pavanmuktasan in yoga helps to relieve gas. It means freedom from the air. This asana is all about lying down on your back and lifting both knees towards your chest. Interlock both hands to help keep the knees supported on the chest. Lift your head, and try to touch your nose to your knee.
Herbs to Treat Flatulence
Peppermint calms the muscles of the stomach and improves the flow of bile which the body uses to digest fats. It relaxes the muscles that allow the painful digestive gas to pass. Studies have found that IBS patients taking peppermint-oil capsules for symptom relief experienced an approximately 40% greater reduction in abdominal pain and a 50% greater reduction in bloating and flatulence than those patients receiving a placebo. Peppermint tea has long been used as a home remedy for flatulence. Steep one to two teaspoons of dried peppermint leaves, or one tablespoon of fresh leaves, in one cup of hot water for five to 10 minutes. Sweeten with honey.
Chamomile is frequently recommended as a gentle treatment for common gastrointestinal problems. It relieves flatulence and heartburn by mildly sedating and soothing the mucous membrane of the digestive tract. It has natural sedative properties, which helps relax the entire body. Chamomile tea is prepared in the same way as peppermint tea. Steep the leaves in hot water for 5-10 mins. It can be sweetened with honey.
Ginger is very valuable for disorders of the digestive system. It is extremely useful for flatulence. You can just chew a piece of ginger after meals or make a tea. Fresh ginger is as effective as dry ginger. Simmer about half an inch of peeled and sliced ginger root in one cup of water for 10 minutes. It can also be flavoured with lemon and/or honey.
Asafoetida is a dried, resinous gum collected from the root of Ferula. It is one of the most respected indigenous medicines in India and is reputed to expel wind from the stomach and counteract any spasmodic disorders. To treat flatulence, add a pinch of asafoetida (hing) powder and a pinch of salt to a cup of buttermilk and drink it.
Caution: Asafoetida may induce miscarriage in some cases in pregnant women due to its abortifacient properties.
All seeds from the umbellifer family including fennel, dill, ajwain, cumin, caraway, anise, and coriander – make very good anti-flatulence remedies. Fennel is considered the premier home remedy for flatulence. All of the above can be taken as tea.
Natural home remedies for Flatulence
- Grind a tsp of eclipta prostrata leaves with a little garlic and pepper into a fine paste. Eat it with cooked rice.
- Grind dill seeds into a fine powder. Soak a tsp of the powder in a glass of hot water for 5 mins and take the decoction with a tsp of honey
- Soak 1 tbsp of thoroughly cleaned dill flowers in a jug of drinking water. Drink it frequently.
- Roast a brinjal on the fire. Add 1/4 tsp asafoetida powder and eat.
- Combine 3/4th tsp each of powdered caraway seeds, powdered fennel seeds, and ground peppermint leaves. Add 1 cup of boiling water to it. Let it stand for 5-10 mins. Drink 1 cup twice a day before meals. It should be taken in small sips while still warm.
- Mix 1 tsp spearmint leaves in 2 cups of water. Boil the water and then let it stand for 5-10 mins. Strain and drink between meals.
- Prepare fennel tea by adding 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 tsp of crushed fennel seeds. Strain the infusion and drink 1-2 tsp at a time. Do not take more than 1-2 tsp at a time.
- You can make the same tea as above with aniseeds, and have a cup twice a day.