We joke about it. Sometimes we’re embarrassed by it. But we all do it, so we might as well talk about it.

I’m referring to something that goes by a variety of names: gas, flatus, wind, farts. You all know what I mean!

Intestinal gas is a normal, natural product of a healthy digestive system. In fact, the average person passes gas about 10-20 times a day.

But if gas is excessive or malodorous, it can have a negative impact on a person’s life. Today, let’s talk about several of the most common causes and what we can do about them.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a type of sugar naturally present in milk products, and it causes many people to experience excessive gas. Intolerance to lactose can develop at any age.

To control this condition, some people avoid dairy products. If this is your choice, be sure to get adequate calcium and vitamin D from other sources.

Lactose-free dairy products are sold at many grocery stores, although they tend to be more expensive. Lactaid tablets are also available to take prior to eating dairy products, and they help control the symptoms for many people.

Constipation

As we age, our digestive system tends to slow down. This promotes constipation which gives unhealthy bacteria more time to produce gas from food in the intestinal tract.

We can help prevent constipation by getting adequate exercise, increasing fluid intake and eating more fiber. One warning – if you choose to increase fiber in your diet, do it gradually to avoid irritating your GI tract.

Bacterial Imbalance

We all have hundreds of strains of bacteria in our gastrointestinal system. Many of them are healthy and beneficial. If the balance of healthy versus unhealthy bacteria goes awry, people often experience GI symptoms including gas.

We can help promote a normal balance of bacteria by eating foods containing healthy bacteria called probiotics. These include yogurt, kefir or tempeh.

Probiotics are also available as over the counter supplements. However, these often cause confusion because there are so many different types. Talk with your medical provider, pharmacist or nutritionist to assure the supplement you choose contains the correct balance of bacterial strains.

Medications

Many medications – such as certain antibiotics, calcium supplements and pain meds – cause a side effect of increased intestinal gas. If this is a problem for you, talk with your medical provider or pharmacist to see if alternative medications are available.

Eating Habits

Saliva is an important part of the digestive process. If we eat too rapidly, we don’t give the enzymes in our saliva adequate time to start breaking down food. So, it’s important to eat slowly and chew food thoroughly.

Other habits that promote gas formation include the frequent use of drinking straws, chewing gum, carbonated beverages and artificial sweeteners.

Gas-Forming Foods

Foods such as beans, broccoli, cabbage and onions are notorious for producing gas. If you believe certain foods might be the culprits, try removing them from your diet and then reintroducing them one at a time.

Over-the-counter, enzyme-based supplements such as Beano are helpful for many people. Another popular remedy includes products containing simethicone.

The Bottom Line

In most cases, gas may be uncomfortable or embarrassing, but it doesn’t cause any harm. However, if you notice excessive gas accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhoea, weight loss, bloody stool or nausea, be sure to see your medical provider. This could be a sign of a more serious medical condition.

How are you dealing with lactose intolerance, constipation or other digestive system issues? Please share your strategy in the comments below.

Diane LansingDiane Lansing, RN, enjoys working part-time as a corporate wellness nurse. She has over 25 years of experience in geriatric nursing, and her passion is working with residents of memory care units. She loves volunteering at nursing homes and blogs about her experiences at NursingHomeVolunteer.com.

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