Passing gas is a normal physiological function that your body needs to do on a regular basis. In fact, the average person passes gas anywhere from 14 to 23 times a day.
Unfortunately, sometimes this gas can get out of hand and be uncomfortable. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might be extra gassy and what we can do about it.
In your gut, you have plenty of great enzymes and bacteria responsible for the chemical breakdown of your food.
Sometimes as a byproduct of these reactions gas is formed, especially when digested by bacteria. One of the biggest contributing factors to gut health is your microbiome.
The microbiome is considered at its strongest when it has the greatest diversity. Increasing the diversity of your gut microbiome requires there to be initial cultures to propagate and for each species to be kept alive.
Many people will have most of the cultures at birth, although c-sections do disrupt this process. If you cut out a particular food from your diet, you may remove the bacteria that helped facilitate the digestion of that food and lower your microbiome diversity.
Some species specialize in breaking down different foods and therefore require other foods to be eaten to keep them alive. If you lose a few cultures, you can always bring them back through supplementing with a probiotic. In general, supporting a diverse microbiome requires eating a diverse selection of foods.
Health Factors of the Microbiome
When your microbiome is strong, diverse, it acts as the first line of defense for the stomach. The bacteria can break down pathogens and prevent them from reaching the bloodstream.
Pathogens, which make you sick, need to do this to enter your body, so maintaining a good gut microbiome can help prevent sickness and pathogen-associated gut inflammation.
Some things that can destroy the microbiome include:
- Not eating whole foods with prebiotics
- Lack of regular physical activity
- Not getting enough sleep
If your microbiome diversity is suffering or wiped out, you may see detrimental health effects.
The microbiome has been shown to be an instrumental factor for a wide range of health areas such as mental health. Other health relationships between microbiota and disease have been established for:
- Weight gain
- Childhood-onset asthma
- And many more
The Microbiome and Gas
Unsurprisingly, the state of the gut microbiome has a rather large effect on gas production. One study found that patients with a more diverse gut microbiome had greater microbiome stability when introduced to a high-flatulogenic diet.
While the actual volume of gas between the groups had negligible differences, the subjective amount of pain, bloating, gut discomfort, and noticeable flatulence were far less in people with a diverse microbiome.
This study also linked gas production to two specific types of bacteria. They found evidence that linked Bacteroides fragilis to the number of gas evacuations, while Bilophila wadsworthia was correlated with the volume of gas evacuated.
Bacteroides fragilis has been shown to be more prevalent in persons eating a diet rich in soluble fiber.
Soluble fibers help the development of many microbes, and when obtained from a variety of different food sources, help promote microbiome diversity. Although the number of gas evacuations was shown to be correlated with the increase in Bacteroides fragilis cultures in the gut, the development of this bacterial family is primarily seen as beneficial to digestive health, since it recruits the development of Immunoglobulin A.
Immunoglobulin A is important for protecting the mucosal layer of the gut and prevents bacteria from entering the epithelium.
On the other hand, Bilophila wadsworthia cultures develop in the gut in response to milk fat, and the literature does not kindly look at these microbes. They are thought to break down the gut mucosal layer, allowing for a greater number of infections.
Gas - What Good Is It?
Gas is produced throughout the digestion process in the stomach, the small intestine, and the colon. While this gas can be expelled through the mouth or anus, about 80% of the gasses that are produced are absorbed through the mucosa, pass through the blood, and are breathed out.
While in the bloodstream, these gasses can have a variety of effects. The gasses are produced by the gut microbiome and include:
- carbon dioxide
- hydrogen sulfide
Gasses act in the body for communication and react with other substances, just like substances in the solid and liquid forms.
Some of these gases have benefits to the body. For instance, recent studies found that hydrogen gas may have antioxidant qualities by reducing reactive oxygen species and regulating cellular antioxidant systems.
However, other gasses, like methane and hydrogen sulfide, have toxic effects on the body and promote a variety of diseases.
Bloating and other abdominal discomforts can come from a variety of sources. Sometimes it does occur because of too much gas or by swallowing too much air/carbonated beverages, but there are other things to watch out for as well:
- Intestinal infections such as giardia
- Visceral hypersensitivity
- Anatomical or structural abnormalities causing obstruction such as a previous surgery with scar tissue formation
- Before or during menstruation leading to a fluctuation in hormones, with bloating being a common symptom
- Food intolerances/sensitivities: classic ones being lactose or gluten intolerance
- Ineffective digestion of food and malabsorption of macronutrients: such as with poor microbiome diversity, pancreatic insufficiency.
- Delayed emptying of the stomach due to dyspepsia or gastroparesis
Because of all the reasons you could be experiencing gut issues, it can be difficult to narrow it down. The best thing to do would be to complete the following:
- Determine the problem foods through elimination diets.
- Reintroduce good foods into your diet.
- Take a probiotic for a few months to get your microbiome back
- And if you’re still having trouble, consider the possibility of other abdominal issues: pathogens, structural issues, functional quirks.
- Follow up with your doctor.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that gas doesn’t tell the complete story for gut health. If you want to reduce the amount of gas, try cutting down on milk products and soluble fibers, but beware that this might have unintended consequences on your gut health.
The literature shows that the best way to reduce the pain and adverse immune effects due to specifically gas has nothing to do with the amount of gas or evacuations but the actual state of the gut microbiome. Start with a probiotic to get back the diversity of microbes you are missing and keep them all going strong through diet variability. If you are still having gut issues, you likely have other structural issues or sensitivities that might be causing the problem.
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