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What Should You Know About Flatulence?

things we should all know about flatulence: bread, pastries and other foods made from flour are common culprits.

Do you have problems with intestinal gas? You can’t really discuss such a topic in polite society. It may even be too embarrassing to ask your doctor about gas, with its attendant noise and odor. What should you know about flatulence? One reader doesn’t see what’s the big deal.

What’s Wrong With Flatulence?

Q. What’s wrong with flatulence? Other than social embarrassment, is there any medical reason to be concerned?

I pass a lot of gas every day but it’s odorless (as far as I can tell) and doesn’t affect anyone else in my mostly single outdoor life. If I’m honest, I would say I enjoy a good fart! But should I be worried? Am I releasing methane and contributing to global warming?

A. Flatulence is normal, generated by microbes in the large intestine. The gases produced include carbon dioxide, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and, for 30 to 50 percent of humans, methane (Sensors, Feb. 2022).  So there is a good possibility you are releasing methane. However, there’s not a large amount of methane in the gas a person passes, so it is unlikely to be contributing much to global warming.

Diet has an impact on gas production, with beans and cabbage-family vegetables as major contributors. Many people also find it difficult to digest milk and dairy products. Although few people think of white flour as adding to flatulence, read on to get the details on a French study that found it does. You can also learn more about flatulence, foods and ways to mitigate gas from our eGuide to Digestive Disorders.

What Do You Know About Flatulence and Food?

Q. I used to have a terrible problem with flatulence. It didn’t seem to matter what I ate.

When I found out I’m gluten intolerant, I cut bread and anything else made of flour out of my diet. All my gassiness went away!

My doctor wanted to prescribe Prevacid, but I followed a food allergy elimination diet instead. After two weeks, I gradually started adding things like eggs and milk back into my diet. Wheat was causing all my problems.

Keeping a Food and Fart Diary:

A. Your experience is not unique. A recent study of French women found that those who ate more convenience food including bread, sandwiches,, pizza and pastries frequently were more troubled with gas (Holmes et al, Nutrition, March 2017). So were those who ate more cheese, nuts, appetizers, pastries and biscuits. (For this last term, think crackers or cookies rather than American home-baked biscuits.) This connection might be something everyone should know about flatulence.

Other Foods Can Also Lead to Gas:

Other foods can also contribute to excessive gas. Beans, broccoli, onions and cabbage pose problems for many people. The specific fiber content of our usual diets helps to shape our microbial ecology (Cell Host & Microbe, April 27, 2022). The microbes are responsible for producing gas, including the quantity and whether it has smelly components.

The best way to identify the culprits is to keep a food diary. Your elimination diet strategy requires patience, but it makes a great deal of sense. For those who would like to read more about how to manage a food diary and what foods may cause gas, we offer our Guide to Digestive Disorders.

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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..
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