What can I do to stop passing gas?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I pass a lot of gas. It’s bad enough when I’m alone. But it’s absolutely mortifying when I have to pass gas in public. What can I do?

DEAR READER:

It’s normal to have air in the digestive tract. Some gets there when you swallow it and some is produced during digestion. Your body normally produces up to two quarts of gas a day. This air moves in your digestive tract along with food and waste products. Eventually it needs to be expelled to prevent painful stretching of the stomach and intestine.

Passing gas (flatulence) is normal and natural. But that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing when it happens in public — especially if the release of gas is accompanied by noise, a foul smell or both.

There’s nothing you can do to prevent flatulence completely. But here are some tips to help you reduce the amount of gas you pass.

The first step is to figure out which foods make you gassy and avoid them. Foods that are more likely to cause gas include:

  • beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and peas;
  • oat bran and other high-fiber foods;
  • carbonated beverages;
  • foods containing sorbitol (an artificial sweetener);
  • fructose, a natural sugar present in many fruits (including prunes, pears, grapes, dates and figs) and in many sweeteners;
  • fried and fatty foods, because they cause the stomach to empty more slowly, allowing gas to build up.

Certain medicines also slow down the stomach and can cause more problems with gas. Common examples are antihistamines and calcium channel blockers.

A drastic reduction in dietary sugars and some cutback in refined starches and wheat flour may also help.

Make sure to eat and drink slowly — speed-eating makes you swallow more gas. Eating more slowly can help with being overweight, as well. When you start eating a meal, your gut starts sending signals to your brain saying, “I’m getting full.” It takes about 20 minutes for these gut signals to register with your brain and for your appetite to wane.

Let’s say you have a big plate with 3,000 calories of food — meat, potatoes and gravy. Your body may need only 1,000 calories, but if you eat all 3,000 in 20 minutes or less, you won’t feel full. Eating slower makes it possible to be satisfied with smaller portion sizes.

We have a lot more information on flatulence and excessive gas in our Special Health Report called “The Sensitive Gut.” You can find out more about it on the Harvard Health Publications website.

A product called Beano may help metabolize difficult-to-digest complex carbohydrates when taken before meals. And over-the-counter preparations containing the enzymes lipase, trypsin and amylase may reduce gassy emissions.

Activated charcoal absorbs gas and may help cut down on your gassiness. Occasional use is not harmful. Additionally, Pepto-Bismol may reduce the odor of your gas.

Prescription medications can also help. Talk to your doctor if you want to try one.

Related Information: The Sensitive Gut