Managing embarrassing symptoms -- burping, intestinal gas, and the growling stomach --- may be as simple as changing your diet.
Some of the air that you
swallow goes through the intestinal tract and out the other end. But the major
source of intestinal gas derives from the action of harmless, naturally
occurring bacteria in your intestine.
Gas is a by-product of
bacterial breakdown of undigested food that makes its way to the large
intestine. Most of the gas is hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and,
in about one-third of people, methane. The signature stink of intestinal gas
comes from sulfur.
The volume of intestinal gas
is directly related to the amount of undigested food that goes into the large
intestine. If you're eating things that can't be absorbed by the small
intestine, or if your small intestine can't absorb certain foods normally, the
bacteria in the large intestine will pick up the slack and manufacture more gas
in the process.
The Growling Stomach
Intestinal gas can also cause
the familiar sounds of the "growling stomach," a term that's actually a
misnomer, says Munsey Wheby, MD, president of the American College of
"It's not usually the stomach
making the noise," says Wheby, who is also senior associate dean and a
professor of medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
"Instead, it's caused by the intestines as they contract."
Everyone knows that a growling
"stomach" can mean that you're hungry. But the noise often stems from the
movement of air through the intestines, whether there's food there or not. So
if you've been swallowing a lot of air, or if you've been eating things that
your small intestine can't digest, you may hear some grumbling, or even a whole
symphony of bizarre and embarrassing noises.
But like burping and
flatulence, occasional growling from the intestines isn't anything to worry
about, says Edmundowicz.
What Foods Cause Gas?
Obviously, some foods cause
more gas than others. As any schoolboy will tell you, the most notorious
offender is baked beans, but there are plenty of others, including grains (for
instance, the word pumpernickel is believed to stem from Middle German and
mean, roughly, "goblin that breaks wind").
Any food that is high in
soluble fiber, for instance, is only broken down by bacteria in the large
intestine, so that can mean more gas. Foods that may cause gas
- Vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli,
cabbage, brussels sprouts, onions, artichokes, and asparagus
- Fruits such as apples, pears, and
- Whole grains, such as whole wheat and
- Sodas and fruit drinks
- Foods with sorbitol, often used as a
sweetener in sugar-free gums and candies
As you may have noticed, many
of those foods are the bedrock of healthy diets.
"People sometimes do get
confused when they find out that a healthy high-fiber diet with lots of fruits
and vegetables can cause excess gas symptoms," says Edmundowicz.
Fruits, vegetables, and grains
are important for digestion in other ways, so if you have gas, be cautious when
trying to eliminate healthy foods from your diet. You may just need to eat a
little less to ease your symptoms.