8 Reasons You're So, Um, Gassy
The average woman passes about 700 milliliters of gas a day. Here's why you might be feeling even more bloated than usual.
You've been popping cherry-flavored OTC meds like they're candy.
You may already be aware of sugar-free gum's double whammy: When you chew, you swallow nitrogen-filled air as well as sorbitol, an artificial sweetener that defies the intestines' attempts to break it down, resulting in gale-force gastrointestinal winds. However, you may not be aware that sorbitol is also an ingredient in sweetened medications like cough syrups and liquid antacids. A little bit of this sugar alcohol goes a long way, says Cynthia M. Yoshida, MD, gastroenterologist and author of No More Digestive Problems. Check the "inactive ingredients" on the label to see if your medication has unintended side effects.
You've been staying up later and getting up earlier.
As if we needed another reason to obsess over sleep...but Yoshida says that disrupting your sleep pattern activates a gland that slows the movement of water through the intestines, and that can lead to water retention. She reiterates the popular sleep maxim: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
You finished half a bottle of pinot noir by yourself.
Drinking too much red wine may lead to more than a foggy head and purplish teeth: some people find it makes them gassy. Yoshida can't pinpoint for sure why this happens, but she suspects it may have to do with the fact that the carbs in vineyard grapes, like those in raisins and prunes, may have similar indigestible sugars that are then metabolized by bacteria.
You recently resolved to eat better.
Unfortunately, many of the foods that are best for your health are also the most problematic for your gut. Fruits, vegetables and, of course, legumes contain high amounts of sugars called oligosaccharides that can't be digested by the enzymes in the small intestine, explains Yoshida. When these sugars are instead fermented by bacteria in the colon, they cause the production of hydrogen, which is what causes gas to be released in rapid-fire flatulence. Wheat and oat flour also revs up the production of hydrogen. However, it's worth making the change. "Eating healthy may make you feel a little bloated, but it will also decrease your risks of heart disease, colon polyps or colon cancer," says Yoshida. And there's a chance your body will become used to the increased gas production so that you won't feel quite so bloated and uncomfortable.
You recently decided life's too short to diet.
When the triglycerides in very fatty foods are broken down by stomach acids, they produce carbon dioxide, the other gas (besides hydrogen) found in high amounts in spontaneous eruptions. Sugary foods can be even worse: high-fructose corn syrup passes undigested through the small intestine and enters the colon. The byproduct released as the undigestible sugar is broken down by bacteria? You got it: gas.
You started training for a race.
In her book, Yoshida mentions a study that found that 71 percent of runners—almost three-quarters of them!—experience lower-GI problems like flatulence, bloating and diarrhea, and she adds that other studies have confirmed GI problems in endurance athletes. She speculates that intense exercise may slow the speed at which food moves through the body, and also make the gut more sensitive. Suddenly amping up your workouts, which can result in injuries to your extremities, can also wreak havoc on your insides. Play it safe by gradually increasing the intensity of your training.
You're overwhelmed with stress.
Researchers at the University of Alabama found that volunteers asked to do stressful tasks like listening to irritating noises and viewing unpleasant pictures swallowed three times more frequently than those who engaged in relaxation exercises. The problem? Repeated swallowing sucks excess air into the stomach and the intestines, causing the abdomen to expand. What's more, stress can make your intestines sensitive enough that you feel extra-bloated even when you're just passing your standard 700 milliliters of gas (it can also make you burp). Relax your mind and slow your swallowing with 10 minutes of progressive muscle relaxation or meditation.
You've gone vegetarian.
Tofu, tempeh, soy milk—these staples of a meat-free diet are surprise gas producers. "Many people forget that soybeans are beans," says Yoshida, and beans contain difficult-to-digest starches as well as those notorious oligosaccharides. Enjoy soy in moderation, and use canned beans (rinsed of bloat-causing salt) or dried beans that are thoroughly cooked (they have less complex sugars). Yoshida also recommends Beano, that silly-sounding OTC remedy with an enzyme that digests oligosaccharides. "It really works," she says. Take five drops per serving of beans or legumes.
Next: How to keep a healthy belly
Next: How to keep a healthy belly