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
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.
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
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
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
- 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