11 Sneaky Reasons You're So Gassy
Photo: Getty / grinvalds
Being gassy stinks, sometimes literally. Sure, it's a totally normal part of being human (word is most people let one rip between 10 and 20 times a day), but if you're feeling the effects of excessive gas more often than not and it's getting uncomfortable-or straight-up embarrassing-what's the best way to turn things around?
"Intestinal gas is comprised of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen from swallowed air, as well as methane and hydrogen from food being broken down by colonic bacteria," says Marc Bernstein, MD, gastroenterologist at Florida Digestive Health Specialists. "Poorly digested food, especially, causes excess fermentation in the colon and can lead to the development of gas bubbles."
Gassiness is usually not something to worry about, and can often be alleviated by nailing down the exact culprit and making adjustments accordingly-cruciferous veggies and carbonated drinks are common offenders. But if your gas is persistent or leads to severe symptoms like diarrhea, bloody stools, or vomiting, you should see your doctor for a consult, says Bernstein.
There are also several sneakier reasons why your insides might be feeling particularly balloon-like, many of which have nothing to do with your diet. Here, experts break down 11 reasons you're so gassy, and exactly what to do about them:
1. Your sleep pattern is messed up.
Out-of-whack sleep patterns can cause dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of gut flora. "When this happens, levels of methane and hydrogen can surge and lead to increased gas," says Bernstein. This gastrointestinal imbalance can lead to many other pesky digestive issues, such as cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.
Experts recommend going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, including weekends, and doing your best to get at least seven hours of consistent, uninterrupted sleep each night.
2. You're on medication.
Some medications have unwanted side effects, such as gas. Pain-relievers in the NSAID family, for example, can disrupt the production of mucous in the GI tract and cause the stomach lining to become irritated and inflamed, says New York-based registered dietitian Maya Feller, RD. Cue excessive gas.
Other medications that affect the GI tract and cause gas in a similar fashion include cholesterol-lowering medications (statins), certain anti-depressants, antibiotics, laxatives, and acid-suppressing medications. If you think your meds are the cause of your gassiness, get in touch with your doc to find out if adjustments can be made-say, by finding another class of drugs that do the same job sans side effects, suggests Feller.
3. You talk while you eat.
Swallowing air between bites of food may lead to excess gas. The pros call it aerophagia, which literally means excessive or repetitive air swallowing-the air enters the esophagus and accumulates in the stomach and small intestine, says Los Angeles-based double board-certified gastroenterologist Peyton Berookim, MD. Do your gut a solid by making sure you've chewed thoroughly and swallowed before adding to the dinner convo.
4. You're super-stressed.
Experiencing stress can prevent your body from processing food efficiently, often passing it through your system too slowly. "This can cause bacteria in your body to build up, producing excess gas and bloating," says Kansas-based registered dietitian Cheryl Mussatto, RD, author of The Nourished Brain. (The subsequent constipation can also make it harder to pass gas, says Bernstein. It's a one-two punch that, ironically, can lead to more stress). Excessive emotional stress can also increase the amount of hydrochloric acid in the intestinal tract and stomach, leading to gas buildup in the intestines.
You can reduce how often this happens by regularly practicing stress-busting techniques, such as deep breathing, exercise, and yoga, says Mussatto. And since we also tend to hoover our food when we're stressed, taking the time to enjoy your meals (and chew them thoroughly) can not only aid in digestion, but prevent you from swallowing excess air and feeling even gassier.
5. You've amped up your cardio.
Cardio workouts increase heart rate and respiratory rate, which translates into breathing more frequently and heavily. "This can result in the consumption of air through the mouth, to the esophagus, and into the stomach," says Berookim. Additionally, it can cause the physical jostling of the digestive organs, causing an uptick in gassiness and the need to go.
Waiting at least 30-60 minutes after eating to exercise may help prevent symptoms of gas and urgency while working out, says Berookim. Avoiding gas-inducing foods pre-workout, such as beans, lentils, cabbage, and broccoli, can also be helpful.
6. You're constipated.
"Constipation is ultimately the top reason we experience more gas," says Bernstein. "When stool remains in the colon for too long, the digestive process becomes less active and bacteria has even more time for fermentation." As a result, you'll feel uncomfortably bloated and gassy.
Increasing your fiber intake by enjoying a diet full of fruits and veggies can help your digestive system retain water, bulk your stool, and ease constipation, says Bernstein. Aim for 25-30 grams of fiber per day, making sure to increase your intake slowly (over the course of several weeks) to let your body get used to the extra fiber, says Mussatto. Keep the number two train on track by staying hydrated, too-here's how to calculate how much water you should drink.
7. You regularly eat fatty foods.
A diet filled with fatty foods (think: hot dogs, burgers, fries, bacon, chips) can leave you feeling bloated and gassy. "Because these foods reduce motility, bacteria can break down undigested food, resulting in increased hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane production in the colon," says Mussatto. Get things moving again by swapping out fattier foods with more fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, lean meats, and fish. Drinking enough water and exercising regularly can also improve motility, Mussatto adds.
8. You constantly drink from a water bottle.
These days, accessorizing with a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated (and help the environment) is pretty standard-but many of us don't so much drink out of them as we do chug (especially after a killer workout). This usually means we're swallowing air in the process, says Feller, and any air we don't immediately burp out will eventually mosey out the other end. It's best to sip slowly and keep excess air swallowing to a minimum.
9. You've got an infection.
Enteric pathogens (e.coli, salmonella) can typically result in diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and gassiness. "They do this by causing inflammation of the small intestine," says Berookim. "When the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) gets inflamed, it can cause delayed emptying of gastric contents, which can result in bloating."
To reduce symptoms as you recover, make sure to drink plenty of clear liquids, stick to foods that are easy on the stomach (such as toast, soda crackers, rice, or eggs), and avoid dairy products, as well as fatty, high-fiber, and spicy foods until you're feeling better, according to the Mayo Clinic. To prevent future infections, follow up your recovery with a diverse, plant-based diet, eat plenty of fiber, and wash your hands when appropriate, says Bernstein.
10. You've changed your diet recently.
If you've recently decided to add more high-fiber foods to your diet (fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains), doing so too quickly can lead to the unpleasant side effect of excessive gas. "Complex carbs, especially beans, contain a type of carb called oligosaccharides, and the bacteria in your gut love this particular carb," says Mussatto. "When they munch on it, they produce nitrogen gas, which gets released as flatulence."
And since the fiber these foods contain isn't absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract but is instead fermented, gas builds up in the large intestine or colon. To prevent discomfort, start out by eating small portions of high-fiber foods to help your digestive tract get used to digesting them, and wait to increase your intake until your body adjusts, says Mussatto. (And don't forget to increase your water intake at the same time. Otherwise, constipation.)
11. You have sleep apnea.
Many people with sleep apnea breathe through their mouth at night. "Mouth breathing causes the body to swallow more air and can lead to feeling bloated," says Bernstein. Using a CPAP machine to help you breathe properly through the mouth can also cause the stomach to fill with air and increase gassiness.
"If the CPAP pressure is too high, the extra air has nowhere else to go-thus, it's directed into the esophagus and into the belly," explains Berookim. "If the pressure's too low and inadequate to resolve the apnea event, you may gulp air in quickly, which is then forced into the esophagus instead."
The machine has to be finely tuned to the individual to maximize effectiveness. Talk to your doctor if you think this might be why you're extra gassy-you may need to either adjust your CPAP machine or try a different approach to treat your sleep woes.