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Gas may make you uncomfortable. It may make you bloated. It may even make you embarrassed.
But for the most part it’s perfectly normal and doesn’t suggest anything is wrong with your digestive system.
“Gas is the result of how you eat and what you eat and what your bowel habits are,” said Dr. Michelle Cohen, a gastroenterologist and an assistant professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. “All those things affect the bacteria in the gut.”
What causes gas?
Essentially, Cohen said, some of our behaviors cause gut bacteria to multiple and then “they’re going to have a party.”
Constipation can lead to a spell of gas because it causes “the stool to sit in the colon and that’s food for the bacteria,” Cohen says. “Then you get fermentation and then you get more gas.”
Often, gas can be traced to what you’ve been eating. There are quite a few foods that can fuel gas production because our body absorb their breakdown products:
- Lactose: If you’re lactose intolerant you don’t have enough of the enzyme to breakdown the dairy related sugar, Cohen said. “The extra sugar stays in the gut and that’s party food for the bacteria,” she adds.
- Cruciferous vegetables: They’re definitely part of a healthy diet, but they contain a certain sugar, raffinose, that the body can’t digest on its own. So the sugar hangs around in your digestive system once again, it’s party time for the gut bacteria, Cohen said.
- Artificial sweeteners: These can often spark gas production, Cohen said. They are yet another substance that the body can’t absorb on its own so they sit in the gut until the bacteria break them down, producing gas as an unhappy byproduct.
- Carbonated drinks: “You’re literally drinking gas,” Cohen said.
- Chewing gum: If you chew a lot of gum, you’re likely to make yourself gassy, Cohen said. That’s because as you chew the gum “you’re sucking in a lot of air,” she explained. “That makes you feel gassy. Most of it ends up being burped before being passed as gas.”
- Fiber: While a certain amount of fiber is good for you, if you consume it in excess it can make you gassy because your digestive system can’t break it down.
Another cause of gas is sedentary behavior. “That’s because it can affect gut motility,” Cohen said. “Just as your heart needs you to exercise, so does your gut.” Moving around can bump up gut motility and that will help you process food and help you pass gas.
People can also get gassy after they’ve taken antibiotics, Cohen said. “After antibiotics things can get off in the gut,” she says. “We live in a symbiotic relationship with the gut bacteria. We need them and they need us.”
It’s also possible to get an overgrowth of the wrong kinds of bacteria in the gut, Cohen said, “or the balance between good and bad bacteria can get off balance.”
While gas is usually just a normal part of gut function, it can, rarely, be the sign of an illness. Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, can lead to gas and bloating. Excessive gas can also be the result of pancreatic insufficiency, a disease in which the pancreas doesn’t produce enough of the enzymes needed to digest food.
Ultimately, the vast majority of us experience gas regularly without any ill effects, other than a little discomfort or embarrassment, Cohen said. “There is definitely social pressure and societal norms that make gas something people don’t want to talk about,” she adds. “But it’s just a normal part of life.”