Louise Chang, MD
Gas -- as in excess gas, the kind that escapes without warning from your
gastrointestinal tract -- is a fact of life. But it's often an uncomfortable,
downright humiliating one.
By itself, excessive gas is unpredictable, annoying, and has the potential
to ruin a good dinner party, first date, graduation, wedding, or other
celebrations. And when it accompanies diarrhea, it can be a double whammy,
leaving you feeling bloated – and embarrassed.
Never mind that it's a universal problem."We all pass gas, even people who
don't admit to it," says Lawrence Kosinski, MD, a gastroenterologist in Chicago
and a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association.
"People are really disturbed by gas," says Vicky Hertig, RN, PhD, a lecturer
at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has researched the topic. "They
feel bloated, they feel gassy. Especially women. They feel uncomfortable, not
But as bad as gas makes you feel, it’s usually not dangerous. Typically,
"the passage of gas is nothing someone has to go to the doctor for,"
Kosinski says, especially since there are a number measures you can take
to get gas relief. Of course, anyone who is extremely bothered by chronic gas
should see his doctor, who can prescribe lifestyle measures or perhaps
medication and rule out any serious reasons for the problem.
For mildly annoying cases of gas, what should you know and what can you do?
WebMD rounded up three experts who share their secrets to gas control. Find out
how much gas is too much, and how to make simple changes to keep it in check --
including some surprises about what's really at the bottom of all that
"Everyone has different levels of sensitivity to gas," says Harry Aslanian,
MD, an associate professor of gastroenterology at the Yale University School of
Medicine in New Haven, Conn.
And while there's no "normal" amount, the average adult passes about a pint
a day, he says. That means passing gas about 14 times a day, other experts
The first thing you have to decide before getting control of your gas
problem is whether it's an "inside" problem or an "outside" problem, says
"Is the gas coming from outside, because you are swallowing [too much air]?"
he asks. Or do you have a nervous habit of continual swallowing, maybe due to
loose dentures? People who are overly stressed sometimes swallow too much air,
Kosinski says. And that air makes its way down the entire gastrointestinal
tract, gassing up your lower half. Smokers tend to swallow more air,
Or is your painful gas mainly an inside job, thanks to what you eat – or
even chew, including gum?
Either way, you can get control.
Beans have the reputation as the food that makes you toot, but Kosinski says
the No. 1 food he sees associated with excess gas is dairy, especially as you
age. For some people, dairy can also cause diarrhea.
"As we get older, the majority of us will lose the ability to absorb the
sugar that is in milk, called lactose, and it will cause patients to have gas
and bloating, and sometimes even loose stools," Kosinski tells WebMD.
If you have this problem -- and if you have excessive gas right after
indulging in dairy products, you probably do -- the remedies are simple, he
Opt for lactose-reduced milk or lactose-free milk. Yogurt may not cause any
problems if it has active cultures, he says.
And some research finds that probiotics -- active bacteria cultures found in
yogurt -- improve flatulence in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Gas
is a common symptom of IBS.
If you can't resist milk, or cheeses that are full of lactose -- such as
ricotta or other soft cheeses -- take the enzyme lactase, which helps digest
lactose. It can be bought in tablet or liquid form without a prescription. Look
for Dairy Ease, for instance, or Lactaid. That will help your body break down
the sugar, Kosinski says.
Beans do produce more than their fair share of gas, thanks to other sugars
that aren't digested well. Solutions: cooking vegetables longer may reduce the
gas later, as may taking an over-the-counter pill (Beano). It has an enzyme to
break down the sugars.
Beer, soda and other carbonated beverages tend to produce gas, too. If
you’re experiencing gas and bloating, you may want to drink something else.
If you have IBS, gas comes with the territory. Everyone is supposed to eat
more fiber for good health, but if you have IBS and are bothered by chronic
gas, pick your fiber wisely, Kosinski says. He says you may have an
easier time with rice, for example, than with wheat.
In general, healthy people don't produce excessive gas from fiber, he says.
However, if you up your fiber intake, you may have more gas for a while. If
you’re just boosting fiber intake and gassiness is a problem, you can expect it
to level off in a few weeks as your body adjusts. Give it about three
In extreme cases, Kosinski says he switches people from grains to green
vegetables to get their fiber. They will still take in enough fiber, but lose
some of the excessive flatulence.
Or, he might put them on a fiber supplement.
Some vegetables can cause gas, says Aslanian. "Beans, broccoli, and
cauliflower will have more gas production [than others]," he says.
Non-sugar sweeteners, widely used in foods and low-cal sweets, can cause
excessive gas production, says Aslanian. "In the process of passing through the
intestinal tract, they interact with bacteria in the colon and produce gas," he
Besides eating gas-producing foods, "the other big area of gas production is
swallowing air," says Aslanian. "Everyone swallows some air. But if you chew
gum, you swallow more air."
Other gas-making habits: eating quickly or eating while talking. You'll take
in more air in both cases, he says.
To stop gas, ditch the gum or cut down, slow down when you talk, and don't
multitask when you eat.
If you're stressed-out, you may also be producing more gas, says Hertig, who
has researched the role of stress and gastrointestinal problems in women with
In these women, "the more stressed you are, the more gas and abdominal
pain," she says. She asked women in a study to keep track of their IBS symptoms
and their stress levels. When the women learned to reduce stress, she says,
their gas production also declined.
There are a few other things you can do to reduce your gas production – like
And what isn't exercise good for? Turns out, a little exercise -- walking,
jogging -- can help stimulate the passage of gas through your GI tract,
according to the American Gastroenterological Association.
Of course, you might want to work out solo.
SOURCES:Lawrence Kosinski, MD, gastroenterologist and spokesperson, American
Gastroenterological Association, Chicago.Wilhelm, SM. Pharmacotherapy, April 2008, vol 28: pp 496-505.Hertig VL. Nursing Research, November-December 2007, vol 56: pp
399-406.Harry Aslanian, MD, associate professor of gastroenterology, Yale University
School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; member, practice committee, American
Gastroenterological Association.Vicky Hertig, RN, PhD, lecturer, department of biobehavioral nursing and
health systems, University of Washington, Seattle.American Gastroenterological Association: “Gas in the Digestive Tract.”National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC): “Gas in the
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