Flatulence and Bloating

Dear Dr. B: I suffer from bloating and flatulence. Why do I have so much flatulence? How can I get rid of it?

Answer: Dictionary defines flatulence as the presence of excessive gas in the digestive tract. Sometime ago I had written a column on this subject. Next day, a friend sent me the following:

A question past through the ages
And pondered by many, including the sages
Is it better to hold the fart and feel the pain?
Or let the fart and feel the shame!

To fart or not to fart is a dilemma faced by everybody on a daily basis. A survey shows that 97 per cent of Canadians suffer from intestinal gas, and about 15 per cent say they have cancelled a date or a meeting because of it.

Releasing intestinal gas is a normal and important physiological function. From birth to death, the production of intestinal gas continues unhindered.

Fart is the word easily understood by all. Quite often though, we are afraid to use the word in public, fearing the mere mention of the word “fart” would make people smell something foul! Sorry, Dr. Pavlov!

Those who have had children will never forget the countless times we have had to wait for the baby to burp or pass flatus before he or she (I mean the baby) would finish the bottle. The release of gas had dual effect – some relief for the infant and great relief for the parent.

It does not matter whether you are a king or a queen, a prince or a princess, rich or poor – we all have to release intestinal gas. Unfortunately, and quite often, the desire to release gas is not always at a socially convenient place.

For example, if the Queen has to pass gas then what does she do? What about our politicians? They blow lot of gas verbally. What do they do when they have to release intestinal gas during the Question Period in the Parliament?

President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973), a Democrat, said of his Republican rival Gerald Ford, “So dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.” Of course, Gerald Ford went on to become President of the United States.

What about the astronauts? Have you ever wondered why they go out for a space walk?

What about Saddam Hussein’s dilemma in that six by eight feet “spider hole”? For eight months he was hiding in that tiny place with little ventilation and a small fan. Once a very powerful man now stuck in a hole smelling his own body odor and release of intestinal gas. Did he have any gas masks with him?

A textbook of Gastroenterology says that gas and bloating embrace three unrelated phenomena. Farting is a physiologic phenomenon due to the production of gas by colonic bacteria. Excessive belching or burping is associated with aerophagia (air swallowing). And the mechanism of bloating is obscure.

Usually, intestinal gas consists of odorless gas – carbon dioxide and hydrogen – produced by bacterial action on carbohydrates and the proteins in the food we eat. There is methane and swallowed nitrogen as well. These four gases make up 99 percent of colonic gas.

The remaining component consists of trace gases that compensate for their small quantities by their strong odors. Smelly gases include hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, indole and volatile fatty acids.

The textbook says that an average person on normal diet emits about one liter of gas per day. On an average we pass gas 13.6 times per day – although there is great variation from person to person, from time to time, what you eat, and how much air you swallow.

You can reduce gas by eliminating certain foods (peas, beans, cauliflower, certain grain products, carbohydrates etc.) in your diet. Patients with irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance may have excess gas.

There is only one way to get rid of gas – look over your shoulder and let it go!

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