Wind is a natural product of the action of the digestive system in the bowel, as enzymes and bacteria break down carbohydrates and proteins in the diet.
Many people think wind passes right through the gastrointestinal system. However, gas produced in the top end of the gut (in the stomach, mostly) travels upwards as burps or belches. Wind generated in the intestines or bowel (commonly known by the slang term ‘fart’) passes down and out through the rectum and anus, or back passage.
Our gut is a muscular tube stretching from the gullet (oesophagus) to the back passage (rectum) and is about 40 feet long when stretched out. It usually contains about 200ml of gas and every day we pass 400–2000ml of this gas out through the back passage as wind (or flatus, as it is technically known).
Over 90% of flatus is made up of 5 gases – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane: the remaining 10% contains small amounts of other gases.
The nitrogen and oxygen come from air which is swallowed; the carbon dioxide is produced by stomach acid mixing with bicarbonate in bile and pancreatic juices. These gases get into the small intestine where most of the oxygen and carbon dioxide are absorbed into the blood stream; the nitrogen is passed down the large bowel (colon).
The small intestine is the place where the food we eat is digested and absorbed; the residues, such as dietary fibre and some carbohydrates, pass on to the large bowel. The colon contains different kinds of bacteria which are essential to good health and which ferment material from the small intestine, producing large volumes of hydrogen, methane, carbon dioxide and other gases. Most of these gases are absorbed into the blood stream and eventually excreted in the breath: the rest is passed as flatus.
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One symptom of a bloated stomach or wind is tight fitting cloths even if you have not gained weight. Another symptom is passing excessive amounts of gas. You could also be experiencing a noticeably bloated abdomen and having abdominal craps. Your stomach will feel very full even though you have not eaten recently. It could also be due to water retention.
Belching or burping (air eructation) :
Every time we swallow we take some air into the stomach. A belch is an involuntary expulsion of wind (gas) by the stomach when it becomes distended from an excess of swallowed air. Eating rapidly or gulping food and drink, drinking a lot of liquid with meals, chewing gum, smoking or wearing loose dentures promote air swallowing. Some people swallow saliva to relieve heartburn and swallow air at the same time. Other people swallow air without noticing it, especially when they are tense. Fizzy drinks including beer cause belching because they release gas (carbon dioxide) into the stomach.
Chronic or repetitive burping (aerophagy) :
In this case air is not swallowed into the stomach but sucked into the gullet and rapidly expelled. Repetitive belching like this can last for minutes at a time and is very embarrassing. There is no medical treatment and the cure lies in realising the cause. Air cannot be sucked in when the jaws are separated, so repetitive belching can be temporarily controlled by firmly clenching something like a pencil between the teeth. Some people develop aerophagy because of discomfort in the chest. If you develop belching associated with chest discomfort – especially discomfort associated with exertion – or if you have difficulties in swallowing – you should seek medical advice.
Abdominal bloating is a common complaint that is often blamed on excess gas in the bowel. In people with irritable bowel syndrome, in which the gut is more sensitive to distension, that is not the case and the normal amount of gas causes discomfort. Because the muscular contractions of the gut are not co-ordinated, its contents do not pass along in an orderly fashion and this causes additional discomfort. Research has shown that when small amounts of gas are passed into the intestine, people with irritable bowel syndrome experience bloating and pain, whereas other people tolerate the same or even larger amounts of gas without any discomfort. Bloating may also be caused by rich, fatty meals which delay stomach emptying.
Bloating is often associated with abdominal distension so that clothing has to be loosened. This is usually due to relaxation of the abdominal muscles in an unconscious attempt to relieve discomfort. The distension usually disappears on lying flat or on contracting the abdominal muscles.
Bloating is difficult to treat. A high fibre diet can cause bloating in some people, but in others may relieve bloating, because fibre absorbs water in the gut and gently distends it, helping to prevent the uncoordinated contractions that are partly responsible for bloating. Irritable bowel syndrome may be made worse by stress or anxiety so that stress may also be responsible for your bloating. Some people find that activated charcoal or defoaming agents (containing simethicone) are helpful. Avoiding gassy drinks may help. If the bloating is severe your doctor may prescribe drugs that help to coordinate the contractions of the gut or prevent spasms.
Bloating due to a build up of gas also occurs in some intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease or bowel tumour. These conditions cause other symptoms such as weight loss, abdominal pain or diarrhoea and require prompt medical investigation.
Rumblings/grumblings or noisy guts (borborygmi):
Bowel noises or borborygmi are produced when the liquid and gas contents of the intestine are shuffled backwards and forwards by vigorous movements of the gut. They may be produced by hunger, or by anxiety, or a fright: they are very common in irritable bowel syndrome.
Loud borborygmi or rumblings result from contractions of the intestines caused by diseases like Crohn’s disease or bowel obstruction. These conditions are associated with other symptoms such as severe abdominal pain and should be reported to your doctor.
The complaint of excessive flatus is made when a person believes he/she passes wind more often than their friends or more often than in the past. Often this is because an embarrassing incident like a loud or smelly break of wind in public has led to the belief that something is wrong.
A normal individual passes wind through the rectum an average of 15 times per day (ranging between 3 and 40 times), depending on diet. A high fibre diet produces more wind than a low fibre diet or a low carbohydrate diet. So if you think you have excessive flatus, count every time you break wind – even the little silent ones – for a day or so. If you break wind fewer than 40 times a day then you are normal.
But whatever your count you may wish to reduce it. Most flatus is generated by the normal bacterial fermentation of food residues in the colon. On the principle ‘no bugs – no gas’ you might think that antibiotics would work. But they don’t. Although the bacteria are killed off by the antibiotics, they quickly re-establish themselves. Besides, antibiotics produce more flatus in most people.
A high fibre diet has mixed blessings. It produces a satisfying stool, protects against colon cancer, may protect against stroke and heart disease, may help people to lose weight and improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome. The downside is that a high fibre diet produces a lot of flatus. However, it is possible to reduce flatus production even on a high fibre diet by avoiding the big gas producers. Beans are notorious gas producers – “beans are good for the heart: the more you eat the more you break wind”. They contain certain carbohydrates called oligosaccharides which cannot be digested in the small intestine but are like food to bacteria in the colon. Cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, onions, garlic, leeks and some seeds such as fennel, sunflower and poppy all produce a lot of gas in the colon. Reducing the amount of these foods in the diet will reduce flatus. Sometimes activated charcoal seems to reduce the amount (and smell) of flatus.
Some otherwise healthy people lack the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the sugar in cow’s milk. As a result the lactose is fermented by the colon bacteria with the production of large amounts of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The condition is called lactose intolerance and besides gas production may cause abdominal cramps. It occurs most commonly in people born in the Mediterranean area, but can occur anywhere. The ‘cure’ is to reduce milk intake to a level at which symptoms are controlled. Your doctor may carry out special tests to confirm the diagnosis. CORE produces a separate factsheet on lactose intolerance , available on our website.
Sorbitol, a sweetener used in diabetic diets and present in jams, sweets and sugarless chewing gum, is also not digested in the small intestine and can give rise to flatus for the same reason as lactose.
Certain medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease and other disorders which interfere with small bowel absorption of nutrients cause excess flatus because of impaired digestion. These conditions are usually associated with symptoms such as abdominal pains, weight loss, anaemia and/or persistent diarrhoea with pale, smelly stools that tend to float in the toilet pan. These symptoms require medical investigation. CORE produces separate leaflets on both Crohn’s disease ,Coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
Loud wind is produced by powerful contractions of the bowel wall forcing gas out through a narrow anus – the muscle at the bottom of the rectum that keeps the intestinal contents in their place. There is not much you can do about this except grin and bear it, but measures to reduce flatus production may help.
This is not your fault! It is caused by smelly substances like indoles, skatoles and hydrogen sulphide that are produced by bacterial fermentation in the colon. Garlic and onions, many spices and some herbs of the fennel family, particularly asafoetida which are used in Indian cooking, produce smelly gases. Beer, white wine and fruit juices give rise to smelly hydrogen sulphide in some people. Worse still, some of these smelly gases are absorbed into the blood stream and excreted in the breath as well, so that you may smell at both ends: be warned. Eating a lot of fatty food can cause smelly wind, and it is worth cutting down on fat if this is a problem.
Causes & Risk Factors:-
Part of the reason why some people seem windier than others is simply a matter of habit and personal preference.
Some people are super-sensitive to gas in the stomach and get used to relieving the symptoms by belching or burping.
Others dislike the sensation of bloating lower in the gut and prefer to expel this as flatulence.
Studies have shown we all release gas from the back passage more than a hundred times a day. It’s just that most of us do it quietly or in such small amounts that we don’t even notice.
Excess wind may be a symptom of several conditions, including:
•Swallowing air – we all swallow air, especially as we eat, but some problems can increase the amount. These include anxiety and hyperventilation, chronic nasal stuffiness and mouth or dental problems.
•Irritable bowel syndrome.
•Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s.
•Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance.
Anything that stops food being broken down and absorbed in the small bowel causes the food to travel into the lower bowel before it’s properly digested, where it’s more likely to make wind.
In lactose intolerance, for example, the gut lacks the enzyme needed to break down the sugar in milk called lactose, so it passes into the colon. Here it is fermented by the large number of friendly bacteria, leading to gas production and painful cramps.
Some foods can increase the amount of gas produced or make it smell so it’s more noticeable. These include:
•Pulses, such as peas, beans and lentils – these contain complex carbohydrates that aren’t broken down or digested high in the bowel but are left to the action of bacteria lower in the gut.
•Brussels sprouts, cabbage and artichokes – these are from the brassica family and produce particularly unpleasant smells when digested.
•Sudden increases in the amount of high-fibre foods, such as bran.
Treatment & Recovery:
The following may help to aid digestion and reduce wind:
•Eat slowly with small mouthfuls, avoid heavy meals and try not to gulp liquids.
•Cut down on fizzy drinks.
•Add herbs and spices to meals, especially fennel seeds, thyme, sage and caraway.
•If you must have dried pulses, ensure they’ve been soaked overnight and cooked in fresh water to cut down the difficult-to-digest sugars.
•Eat live yoghurt every day to help provide adequate supplies of the bacteria that aid digestion.
•Drink herbal teas, such as fennel and mint. Peppermint tea also relaxes the muscles of the bowel and stops the discomfort that makes many people feel the need to pass wind.
Anxiety can play a part in wind. For some people, the more they burp, the more they feel the need to burp. Try to relax about it as much as you can, and you may find the problem fades away.
One remedy for bloated stomach is proper diet and exercise. You should get the recommended minimum of 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week.
This will keep your body running the way it should. A diet rich in lean protein, whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables will keep your digestive system running like a well tuned auto mobile.
Your digestive track really is a like a car in that you have to put in the right type of fuel or you will have problems. The fibre in the whole grains, vegetables and fruits will keep you regular and decrease bloating. You should avoid processed and packaged foods whenever possible. Make easy switches in your diet such as a baked potato for French fries. There are many herbs that can be used to treat a bloated stomach. Peppermint is a good remedy because of its ability to sooth the digestive track.
Lemon balm is another member of the mint family that has soothing properties. It is often combined with other soothing herbs such as chamomile. Evening primrose has an essential fatty acid that aids digestion. Astragalus has anti-inflammatory properties and can help the body fight of physical stresses as well as treat digestive discomfort.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.
- Franklin Gutierrez diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)
- Do I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? (zocdoc.com)
- M’s Gutierrez has irritable bowel syndrome (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Peppermint relieves irritable bowel disorder (news.bioscholar.com)
- Help! I feel bloated several times a week (theglobeandmail.com)
- What is Flatus? Natural Human Gas from Colon, Bowel (healthhype.com)
- M’s Gutierrez has irritable bowel syndrome (boston.com)
- M’s Gutierrez has irritable bowel syndrome (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Seattle Mariners’ Franklin Gutierrez diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (sports.espn.go.com)
- Mariners Franklin Gutierrez has irritable bowel syndrome (seattletimes.nwsource.com)