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Bismuth Helps Combat Smelly Gas

Bismuth Helps Combat Smelly Gas

How do you cope with smelly gas? Some people try not to let unpleasant smells out in public, but that can be a challenge and lead to significant discomfort. On the other hand, putting a stink out into the world can definitely lead to embarrassment.

Although people vary with respect to which foods are most problematic, the high-fiber plant-based diets that are often recommended for good health can be especially tricky. Cruciferous (cabbage family) vegetables are particularly suspect, along with beans and members of the onion family. So what is a conscientious vegetarian to do?

Is a Vegetarian Diet Responsible for Smelly Gas?

Q. My son is a vegetarian. He relies on beans and dairy for his protein. He eats lots of vegetables, especially broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and carrots.

I am convinced that his diet is responsible for “our” problem: GAS! He is so flatulent we can hardly stand it. The smell is overwhelming. Is there anything he can take to reduce the gas and the odor?

Reducing the Aroma That Results from High-Fiber Foods:

A. The healthful vegetables your son eats often produce unpleasant smells. Basically, the fiber in these foods is largely indigestible, leaving lots of food for gut bacteria. Your son’s intestinal denizens apparently produce a great deal of smelly gas by feeding on the residual fiber.

If he is lactose intolerant, dairy products may also contribute to the problem. That is because a lack of lactase leaves this milk sugar to feed the bacteria that produce the gas.

What to Take to Reduce the Smell:

The best way to deodorize gas is with bismuth. Products containing this compound include Devrom (bismuth subgallate) and Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate). The stool will turn black, but this is not dangerous.

There are reports, however, that regular use (or overuse) of bismuth has been linked to reversible neurological symptoms such as tremor, muscle twitches, confusion and memory problems. As a result, your son might want to reserve bismuth for use prior to social occasions.

We are sending you our Guide to Digestive Disorders with many recommendations such as fennel, turmeric, epazote or ginger that can help ease uncomfortable flatulence. Many of these are excellent additions to vegetarian cuisine.

He may also need to consider whether he has lactose intolerance. People who cannot digest lactose, the form of sugar found in milk, often suffer bloating, flatulence, diarrhea or cramps. The gas can be quite smelly. Lactose-intolerant individuals often choose to avoid dairy products, but they can also use the enzyme lactase (eg, Lactaid) with their meals. This breaks down the milk sugar so that it does not cause problems. Very sensitive individuals should also be wary of lactase in pills.

Revised 3/14/16

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Digestive Disorders
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