By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Flatulence is part of a normal biological process and the average person passes wind around fifteen times a day. However, excessive flatulence can become embarrassing and difficult to live with. Diet and lifestyle changes can usually be made to help control the problem and several over-the-counter treatments are also available to correct excessive flatulence.
Some of the approaches to treating excessive flatulence include:
Many of the foods we eat are carbohydrates, which contain complex sugars and plant cellulose. Some of these carbohydrates cannot be digested and absorbed by the body and are therefore passed down the intestine into the colon where they form the bulk of a stool. These are called unabsorbable carbohydrates. Such carbohydrates may undergo fermentation by bacteria in the intestine, which gives rise to gases that then get trapped in the abdomen and passed as wind via the anus.
Some examples of common foods that can cause this flatulence include broccoli, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, pulses, lentils, raisins, prunes, apples, onions and brussel sprouts. Drinks with sorbitol (such as sugar-free products) can also lead to excessive flatulence. These foods should be consumed in moderation in cases where flatulence is a problem. However, a healthy, balanced diet is still important and should include at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Where flatulence is a problem, simpler carbohydrates may be eaten such as potatoes, rice, lettuce, grapes, citrus fruits, yoghurt and bananas.
People suffering from excessive flatulence are also advised to eat six small meals each day rather than three main meals. The smaller meals are easier to digest and may also produce less gas. Drinking peppermint tea may also help to ease flatulence.
Preventing swallowing air
Measures that can be taken to reduce the amount of air swallowed include chewing food slowly, not talking while eating, avoiding chewing gum, and quitting smoking.
Regular physical exercise
Regular exercise can improve the function of the digestive system and gut, as well as helping to expel gases and reduce abdominal bloating.
Over-the-counter treatments for flatulence
- Charcoal tablets - Charcoal helps by absorbing gas and easing the symptoms.
- Simethicone is an antifoaming agent that works by joining small bubbles of gas into large ones that can then be expelled through burping or passing wind.
Alpha-galactosidase is a supplement that can help improve the digestion of carbohydrates and lactose, therefore easing any flatulence symptoms. Similarly, probiotics, which contain beneficial bacteria, improve digestion and ease symptoms. Probiotics are particularly helpful in cases of irritable bowel syndrome.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jul 2, 2014