Flatulence and gas are normal bodily functions, and most healthy adults pass gas somewhere between 13 and 21 times each day. Flatulence is a healthy part of the digestive process, but it can cause discomfort and pain as gas builds up in the intestines. Expelling the gas normally relieves the pain; however, if the pain persists or worsens, it may be a sign of a more serious condition and you should consult with your physician as soon as possible.
In addition to pain and flatulence, gas can cause bloating. Bloating is a temporary condition caused when air or gas becomes stuck in the abdomen. The result can be visible as the stomach, depending on the level of air and gas build up, can protrude significantly. In the vast majority of cases, gas pains and bloating are nothing to worry about, however, if you experience any of the following symptoms along with gas, seek medical attention as quickly as possible: (1)
- Hives or a skin rash that develops quickly
- Tight throat or trouble breathing which may signal an allergic reaction
- Blood in the stool or urine
- Pain in the lymph nodes of the throat, armpits and groin
- Chest pains
- Weight loss
- Persistent or recurrent nausea or vomiting
- Trouble concentrating
If you’ve recently changed your diet by adding high-fiber foods or cruciferous vegetables, you can expect some gas and gas pain. In addition, foods known as FODMAPs as well as foods you have a sensitivity to like lactose, can also cause gas pain. And, of course, if you overindulge in a high-fat or a spicy meal, you may experience more gas than normal.
For many, if gas is a persistent problem, avoiding the foods that lead to gas pain is often the easiest and best way to prevent recurrence of symptoms. Fortunately, when acute gas pains occur, there are a number of natural remedies that help to relieve the discomfort that don’t carry the same side effects as conventional treatments for flatulence.
What Is Gas?
Gas is a natural by-product of the digestive process that is a combination of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and sometimes methane. Gas can be passed by burping or through flatus. These gas vapors alone are generally odorless and if gas has an unpleasant odor, it is typically due to bacteria residing in the large intestine. (2)
Gas can be caused by swallowing too much air, or as undigested foods begin to break down. Belching can get rid of swallowed air containing oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, but as the gas moves into the large intestine, it is expelled through flatulence.
The reason gas develops and must be passed is simply that the body cannot digest and absorb all of the sugar, starches, proteins and fiber consumed. As they pass into the large intestine, the gut flora attacks them, breaking them down. This results in the production of hydrogen and carbon dioxide gases, and sometimes in methane. (2)
Having gas is common and natural, but it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Certain conditions like lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance as well as other sensitivities to foods can cause digestive upset. Learning your personal triggers and avoiding those foods and beverages that cause gas to develop in your system can help prevent gas pains and potential embarrassment.
Popular over-the-counter antacids may not relieve all symptoms and may cause side effects. Fortunately, there are a number of natural treatments for gas pains that are safe and effective.
Signs and Symptoms of Gas
Commons symptoms of gas include: (3)
- Knotted feeling in the abdomen
- Sharp cramps
- Jabbing pains
- Voluntary or involuntary belching
- Voluntary or involuntary flatus
- Abdominal bloating
- A feeling of bubbles in the stomach
Gas Causes and Risk Factors
Foods are often the tigger for gas, and the foods that commonly cause gas include:
- Beans and legumes
- Brussels sprouts
- Red Cabbage
- Soluble fiber from oat bran, beans and peas
- Whole-wheat bread
- Bran cereals
- Bran muffins
- Ice cream
- Sodas and other carbonated beverages
- Fiber supplements containing psyllium husk
- Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols including sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, aspartame and others
In addition to diet, there are a number of medical conditions that can cause gas pains. These include:
- Lactose Intolerance: A very common condition where the body cannot breakdown lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. A lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine stops making enough lactase necessary to breakdown the lactose. The undigested lactose migrates to the large intestine and the result is often bloating, diarrhea and gas.
- Celiac Disease: This is a fairly common condition where a sensitivity to the protein gluten causes an immune system response in the small intestine. Over time, it can permanently damage the lining of the stomach preventing the absorption of key nutrients. Celiac disease can cause gas as well as other digestive problems like diarrhea, bloating and heartburn, but long-term, more serious conditions including anemia, osteoporosis and osteomalacia are a significant concern.
- Crohn’s Disease: This is an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, gas, weight loss and malnutrition. Crohn’s Disease is a painful and sometimes debilitating condition that can lead to potentially life-threatening fistulas.
- Peptic Ulcer: This type of ulcer occurs when there are open sores in the lining of the small intestine. Peptic ulcers can lead to intolerance of fatty foods, burning stomach pain, heartburn, nausea, gas and bloating.
- IBS: This common digestive disorder affects the large intestine causing gas and gas pain, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating. IBS is a chronic condition that must be managed long-term and many of the symptoms are triggered by intolerance to foods like wheat, dairy, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, carbonated drinks and citrus fruits.
- Gastroenteritis: Typically an acute condition, gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines often caused by parasites, bacteria or viral infections. It can also be a reaction to a new food, and as a side effect of certain medications. Common symptoms include gas and gas pain, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.
- Diverticulitis: Diverticula are small pouches that can form in the lining of the lower part of the large intestine. Diverticulitis is a relatively common condition, particularly after the age of 40, that occurs when the pouches become inflamed or infected. Common symptoms include gas, pain, vomiting, fever, constipation and a change in bowel habits.
- Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth: SIBO is a condition occurs when there is excessive bacteria in the small intestine that causes a disruption in the digestive process. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and generally include chronic gas, diarrhea, weight loss and malabsorption of nutrients.
How to Get Rid of Gas Conventionally
When gas pains are severe and reoccur frequently, a trip to the doctor is in order. It is important to receive a proper diagnosis for the cause of the gas pain as some potentially serious conditions can present with bloating and pain.
In addition to a medical history and physical examination to check for distension, your physician will review your diet and perhaps order tests. Commonly requested tests include: blood tests, lactose intolerance tests, fructose malabsorption tests, colon cancer screening and, in some cases, an upper GI series of X-rays. (4)
If persistent gas pain is determined to be caused by an underlying health condition, successful treatment of the condition should help to relieve symptoms. In other cases, your physician will often recommended dietary changes, lifestyle modifications and over-the-counter medications. (5)
Medications recommended may include:
- Beano: Made from a sugar digesting enzyme, this medication may be recommended to help you digest the sugar in vegetables and beans.
- Lactase Supplements: A supplement made from lactase, the digestive enzyme that helps to breakdown lactose.
- Bisumth Subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol): A medication that generally reduces the odor of flatus. This medication should not be taken long-term or if you have an allergy to aspirin.
- Simethicone Antacids (GasX, Mylanta): Medications that help to break up the bubbles in the gas, making it easier to expel.
- Antibiotics: In you have SIBO or another infection.
How to Get Rid of Gas Naturally
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Mix two tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar (that contains the mother culture) with a cup of water and drink right before a meal. This can help to relieve digestive conditions including acid reflux and heartburn by boosting healthy bacteria and acid in the gut. (6)
Try switchel, a fermented drink made from apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger, real maple syrup and water. You can use natural sparkling water to add some fizz to the drink that may help you belch some of the gas in your system. Fresh ginger is known for combatting nausea, promoting digestion and protecting against stomach ulcers. (7, 8, 9)
2. Clove Oil
Add 2–5 drops of clove essential oil to eight ounces of water to reduce bloating and gas. It may also help other digestive problems like indigestion, motion sickness and hiccups. (1)
3. Activated Charcoal
Take 2 to 4 tablets of activated charcoal just before eating and again one hour after a meal to relieve gas pains. Activated charcoal may help relieve symptoms including flatulence, bloating and distention of the abdomen by eliminating gas trapped in the colon. (10, 11)
4. Digestive Enzymes
Take a full-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement as recommended. Look for a high-quality supplement that contains lactase to breakdown lactose in dairy, lipase to breakdown fats, amylase to breakdown starches and protease to breakdown proteins. For further digestive support, look for one with ginger and peppermint that also support healthy gut function. (12)
A high-quality probiotic supplement can help to maintain a healthy digestive tract by adding healthy bacteria to the gut. Gas symptoms may be relieved as the bacterial flora is altered according to the Cleveland Clinic. In addition, a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials has found that probiotics reduce pain, flatulence and bloating in patients with IBS. (13)
In addition to a probiotic supplement add probiotic-rich foods to your diet including kefir, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, natto, raw cheeses, tempeh and apple cider vinegar to improve digestion.
6. Fennel Essential Oils
Known for its digestive health and licorice-like flavor, fennel essential oil has antiseptic properties that may help relieve constipation, bloating and gas pains. Add 1 to 2 drops of fennel essential oil to water and tea and slip slowly to relieve digestive upset and flatulence.
Take 200 milligrams to 500 milligrams of a high-quality asafoeida supplement to relieve flatulence and gas. This powerful spice is central to Ayurvedic medicine and other traditional medicinal practices for preventing and relieving digestive upset. It is widely used in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines when preparing lentil dishes, legumes and soups. It has a very strong sulfurous odor that cooks out, making it ideal for longer cooking preparations like stews and braises. (14)
Asafoeida is not recommended for pregnant women, nursing moms, children, those with high or low blood pressure, or those with a bleeding disorder. It is known to interact with anticoagulants, antihypertensive drugs and anti-platelet medications.
8. Physical Activity
When symptoms arise, take a walk, jump rope or try rebounding. The physical activity may help to relieve gas pains by expelling gas naturally.
5 Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent Gas
1. Eat smaller portions of foods that cause you gas
2. Eat more slowly
3. Chew foods well
4. Don’t chew gum, smoke or drink through a straw as they can cause excessive swallowing of air
5. Avoid carbonated beverages
Gas pains can be mistaken for certain serious conditions including:
- Heart disease
- Bowel obstruction
Seek emergency medical attention if gas pains are accompanied by any of the following:
- Prolonged abdominal pain
- Blood in urine
- Blood in stools
- Weight loss
- Chest pain
- Persistent or recurrent nausea or vomiting
- Tight throat
- Trouble breathing
- Pain in the lymph nodes of the throat, armpits or groin
- Unusual fatigue
- Gas is a natural part of the digestive process and most healthy adults pass gas somewhere between 13 and 21 times each day.
- Gas can cause sharp cramps, jabbing pains, belching, flatulence, bloating and distention of the abdomen.
- While generally caused by food, certain health conditions including lactose intolerance, Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, a peptic ulcer, IBS, diverticulitis or gastroenteritis can cause gas and gas pains.
- Conventional treatments include the use of enzyme supplements and over-the-counter antacids.
- Numerous natural treatments for gas include apple cider vinegar, clove oil, digestive enzymes and more.