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What Causes Flatulence?

Updated on March 20, 2012

He knows he really shouldn't, but life's too short and tonight's dinner special at Tina's Tasty Tortilla is too terrific to pass by. So, throwing caution to the wind, Lenny goes ahead and tells Tina he'll tackle a caldron-size serving of her hot 'n' spicy homemade chili with extra beans on the side. And make that a couple of cold beers, too, he says, to wash it all down.

The chili proves delicious- but predictably odoriferous. Prescient of pungent scents to come, Lenny's lower intestine launches into familiar rumblings just as Tina comes by with the check. In a flash, he's on his feet and paying the bill, out the door, into his car and roaring away-heavy on the gas in more ways than one.

What Causes Flatulence?

Various foods cause gas to form in the digestive tract. If the gas forms in the stomach, it is generally expelled through the mouth. If it forms in the bowel, it will usually pass out through the anus. When gas is present in large amounts in the bowel, it is usually due to fermentation by bacteria. If you have recently embarked on a high fiber diet, you will almost certainly notice an increase in flatulence, as high fiber foods such as oats and bran are well known generators of gas.

Other foods that produce gas are onions, cucumber, cabbage and eggs. Provided your family can stand it, there is no cause for concern.

If the cause of your flatulence cannot be explained this way, and you have bouts of abdominal pain that are relieved when you pass wind or have a bowel movement, you may have a disorder of the colon. If your bowel movements are pale and particularly foul-smelling, the flatulence may be because you are not absorbing your food.

If you have diarrhea or alternatively constipation and pain, it might be due to inflammation or ulceration of the digestive tract, or to diverticulitis, a disorder of the colon.

If there's anything nice to be said about the unplanned release of cooped-up gas (called flatus), it's that the whole smelly business is not so much a medical problem as a social one. Rarely due to any disease or abnormality, flatulence is perfectly normal.

Researchers sniffing around for statistics found that young to middle-aged men pass gas an average of about 14 times a day, releasing a total of about 2 1/2 cups of fumes.

Some people are more gaseous than others.

Severe cases can involve as many as 140 passages per day.

Excess gas is usually the result of foods not fully digested in the stomach and small intestine. The food makes its way to the colon, where bacteria go to work, fermenting it. The by-product is a stinky gas containing the chemical hydrogen sulfide, of rotten egg fame. There's only one way out for this gas, and you're sitting on it. The biggest food culprits are carbohydrates that contain a lot of fiber. Beans are a surefire gas generator for most people, even for unsuspecting animals. Among other foods linked to flatus attacks are apples, bagels, bananas, bread, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, citrus fruits, eggplant, lettuce, onions, pastries, potatoes, pretzels, prune juice, raisins, and wheat germ. Beer and other drinks that contain yeast can get gas going, as can soft drinks and coffee.

Simply avoiding those foods that cause flatus is your best bet for relief. If you're trying to eat more fiber, increase its presence in your diet gradually over a period of several weeks to allow your body to adjust.

Lactose intolerance also can cause flatulence.

Lacking the enzyme lactase, some people can't digest lactose, the sugar in milk. The undigested lactose in the colon then goes through the same stinky fermentation process previously described. Test yourself for lactose intolerance by avoiding all dairy products, wet and dry, for two weeks. If flatus decreases, you have lactose intolerance and need to keep milk and dairy products at a low level in your diet.

Baked Beans make you...

Beans are renowned for their fart producing qualities but you don't have to avoid them if you prepare them the right way.

To cut back on the gas-producing substances in beans you need to do the following:

  • Rinse the uncooked beans thoroughly.
  • Boil a pot of water and pour enough over the rinsed beans to completely cover them.
  • Allow the beans to soak for 4 hours or longer, depending on the type of bean.
  • Remove any beans that have floated to the top during soaking and drain the rest.

To cook the drained beans, add fresh water to the pot until it reaches 2 inches above the beans. Cook for about 1 to 3 hours, tasting occasionally, until the beans are tender. Cooking time depends on the variety of bean; white beans tend to be the toughest and require the most cooking. Wait until the cooking is almost done before you add salt or tomato juice.

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