While 12-year-old boys may revel in the sound of their own gas, those plagued by excess gas will find that it is nothing to laugh about. Excessive burping, bloating and flatulence bring distress and discomfort to more people than would like to admit it. Despite the significant problem gas can cause, doctors often tell their patients, "It's just Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and you're just going to have to live with it." For those determined to find the underlying cause and do something about it, here are four reasons why excess gas can occur.
Some people lack the digestive juices needed to break down their food. As we age, our stomachs can produce less hydrochloric acid, and, in addition, many people take acid-blocking medication for acid reflux. Stomach acid is a critical player in digestion. It breaks down food, kills unwanted bacteria, and stimulates the churning of the intestines. Without stomach acid, indigestion and gas problems can occur due to the improper break down of food and other imbalances. Further down the digestive tract, an inadequate flow of digestive enzymes from the pancreas or bile from the liver can cause food to sit and ferment into gasses.
Imbalances in the bacterial lining of the intestines, called the microbiome, can be a significant source of excess gas and bloating, as well as the pain of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Gas results from the production of hydrogen and methane by intestinal bacteria when they digest sugars and other carbohydrates. The delicate ecosystem of bacteria in the gut is easily disturbed and has recently been found to be a causative factor in many diseases, including IBS. The microbiome can be altered by immune issues, poor diet, being born by c-section, antibiotic medications and acid-blocking drugs. In a condition called Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, also known as SIBO, excess gas is a key symptom. In this condition, bacteria normally found in the large intestine is transported to the small intestine and causes excessive fermentation of carbohydrates. Specialized testing and treatment can correct this problem and relieve the gas. Also, a common yeast called Candida albicans can proliferate in the intestines to a level that can cause excess fermentation, leading to gas and other symptoms. Antifungal herbs and probiotics can help correct this common cause of gas. Probiotics, which are supplemental good bacteria, have been shown in human trials to significantly reduce the symptoms of gas, bloating and discomfort associated with IBS.
Some people's gas is attributable to food reactions. Food allergies or sensitivities can cause a host of symptoms, including gas and bloating. Foods like wheat, dairy, corn, egg and sugar are common offenders. A naturopathic physician can help you determine your food allergies through testing and elimination diets. Celiac disease is a special class of food reaction in that it is an autoimmune reaction to gluten found in many grains. The symptoms can include a variety of digestive concerns, including gas, but Celiac can also cause depression, autoimmune conditions, neurological issues and more. Fortunately, there is a blood test that is available to screen for celiac disease. Other types of food reactions to consider include intolerance to lactose, fructose or artificial sweeteners, each of which can result in gas and bloating. It also probably comes as no surprise that beer and carbonated beverages can also cause gas. And, as any vegetarian knows, beans can cause gas, along with the cabbage family vegetables.
Lastly, gas can be a sign of a more significant health problem. Constipation, diabetes, parasites, helicobactor pylori, gallbladder disease, multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions can all cause excess gas.
In short, don't let gas get you down. It is usually a symptom of an underlying disorder which can often respond well to proper treatment. Anyone who says otherwise, quite frankly, is full of hot air.
Dr. Deidre Macdonald, ND is a naturopathic physician from Courtenay, B.C. on beautiful Vancouver Island.
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