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Embarrassing Conditions

Managing embarrassing symptoms -- burping, intestinal gas, and the growling stomach --- may be as simple as changing your diet.

Cutting Out the Cheese

Some people may have extra gas because they can't digest certain foods normally. For instance, people who are lactose intolerant are missing the enzyme that processes lactose, the main sugar in dairy products. Because they can't digest it in the small intestine, the bacteria get a hold of the lactose in the large intestine, creating gas.

Although lactose intolerance is a common condition, especially among people of African, Native American, or Asian descent, you shouldn't immediately decide to cut out dairy products if you have excess gas.

"In my opinion, lactose intolerance certainly exists," says Wilcox. "But I think it's rarer than people think as a cause of symptoms."

Wilcox has seen many patients who have heard about lactose intolerance and diagnosed themselves. But even after eliminating dairy products, their symptoms linger. Cutting out dairy without good reason can lead to other problems in the long run, such as osteoporosis from the loss of calcium in the diet.

So if you're having excess gas, you shouldn't abruptly cut all dairy from your diet. Instead, see your doctor and talk about it. He or she might order some tests to find out. Edmundowicz also suggests that you try a more measured approach to zero-in on the particular foods that might be giving you trouble -- such as eliminating one food at a time and re-evaluating your symptoms.

Disagreeable Food

Although lactose intolerance may be the best known, there are other types of known food intolerances. For instance, fructose intolerance is an inability to digest a different sugar that's in some vegetables and fruits and also used as an artificial sweetener.

But the individual reactions that people have to various foods are so diverse that they can't be categorized. For instance, one person may notice that peppers give her terrible intestinal gas, while another can't eat onions for the same reason.

Some of your digestive symptoms -- such as flatulence, bloating, and cramping -- may depend on what particular strains of bacteria have or have not set up shop in your large intestine. But that's probably not the whole story.

"We just don't have scientific and physiological explanations for some of these reactions," says Wheby.

Wilcox agrees. "It all just depends on your make-up and what you eat," he says, "and you learn what to avoid by trial and error."

How Can I Reduce my Gas?

Ultimately, there's only so much one can do to reduce the amount of gas you have. Everyone has to contend with some belching and intestinal gas every day.

But if it's really bothering you, or if you feel that the amount of gas you're producing is excessive, there are some steps you can take. All three experts agree that the most important steps are making changes to your diet by:

  • Avoiding anything that might increase your chances of swallowing air, such as smoking, drinking through straws, and eating too quickly
  • Avoiding or cutting down on problematic foods, such as carbonated drinks, beans, and some raw vegetables
  • Considering a food diary. If you can't figure out what may be causing your increased gas, try keeping a journal of what you eat. You may find one or two foods that seem to increase your symptoms.

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