Bloating, feeling like your stomach’s swollen, nasty-smelling wind: all these non-serious but troublesome symptoms are caused by digestion. The digestive system is a complex, highly effective machine in which each cog (mouth, stomach, small intestine, colon) has its own specific function (1) :
It’s primarily during this last stage that intestinal gas is produced, since as part of the process of dispensing with any superfluous organic matter, fermentation of bacteria occurs in the colon. This fermentation produces potentially malodorous gases: CO2, methane, hydrogen sulphide.
These bacteria-derived gases account for on average 75% of intestinal gas volume (2). The remaining 25% comes from the air we take in when we eat this is called aerophagy (3).
Potentially painful gas occurs when too much gas accumulates in the colon without being able to escape. This happens for several reasons.
Drinking too many fizzy drinks (which along with gas, also contain sugar which is sometimes poorly digested) and chewing too much gum (which encourages autophagy) have been identified by doctors as a key factor in bloating and excessive flatulence.
Remaining in a sitting position can also cause bloating: working at a desk where you stay seated for hours, before, during and after eating, compresses the abdomen and encourages bloating.
Stools, or even blockages, form a ‘bottleneck’ which makes it difficult to pass gas, and causes painful pressure in the abdomen.
Certain foods are known to be highly fermentable, although the specific polysaccharides responsible have yet to be identified by scientists (4).
The foods primarily to blame are cruciferous vegetables (from the cabbage family), pulses (lentils, chickpeas, split peas, soya, etc.) and red meat. Eating a lot of crudités may also encourage production of gas.
Between 5% and 10% of the population may suffer from IBS, according to the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (5).
Behind this umbrella term, lies a diverse range of issues: proliferation of bacteria in the small intestine, disruption to the gut microbiota (which can however be nourished by ingesting the ‘good’ bacteria in probiotics), increased permeability of the intestinal barrier, gut infections, non-coeliac sensitivity to gluten, etc. (6)
You need to be aware of all these causes of flatulence so that you can employ the right strategies to combat them. It’s important to identify your particular triggers and then progressively apply measures until you find the right combination of remedies to help get rid of your intestinal gas problem:
This is easy if you know you regularly consume substantial amounts of the foods associated with flatulence, whether foul-smelling or not. The first step is therefore to reduce, bit by bit, or even exclude the foods that may be responsible: fizzy drinks, chewing gum, red meat, eggs, cabbage, pulses, lactose, gluten.
You’ll need to adapt this strategy to your own particular diet: obviously vegetarians may find it hard to exclude pulses from their diet, as their protein intake would then have to come almost exclusively from algae and nuts!
In the same vein, there’s no point following a gluten-free diet (which is particularly restrictive) without first eliminating the foods that are primarily causing your flatulence.
Finally, it may be help to take more exercise and/or sit on an ergonomic chair when working to reduce the time you spend ‘slumped’ over your desk.
Used for thousands of years in traditional medicine and phytotherapy, certain plants are invaluable for helping to reduce flatulence.
Indeed, grandmothers’ remedies for such problems very often centred around teas and tisanes made from plants such as camomile.
Peppermint is well-known for promoting good digestive tract function and for helping to eliminate digestive discomfort (7). Fenugreek, too, has a similar positive effect on digestion (8).
To benefit from an excellent intake of peppermint and fenugreek (among other useful compounds), a good option is the excellent supplement Digestive Enzymes.
Activated charcoal is a natural remedy recognised by European health authorities and doctors for helping to reduce excessive flatulence after meals (9).
Its use dates back to antiquity when it was recommended by Hippocrates as a way of purifying water. An entirely natural substance, activated charcoal comes from a carbonaceous material such as coconut shells and certain types of wood, which is then activated to increase its porosity and surface area, and consequently, its effect on the gut. When it reaches the intestine, activated charcoal captures molecules of gas or fluid around it: it is thus termed ‘adsorbent’. Activated charcoal can retain up to 100 times its volume in intestinal gas!
A note of caution: as charcoal remains in the body and has an indiscriminate action, it can also ‘adsorb’ certain drugs. It’s therefore important to consult your doctor before taking an activate charcoal supplement if you are on any medication.
So now you have all the information you need to get rid of your intestinal gas naturally.
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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is extremely common. A diet low in fermentable sugars, known as FODMAP, can help relieve symptoms. Discover which foods to prioritise and which to avoid.
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