Passing Gas is Completely NormalOct 29, 2013
Interviewer: Even when you're talking to your doctor, it can be kind of embarrassing to bring up, "I'm feeling a little gassy."
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Interviewer: We're here with Dr. Tom Miller, University of Utah hospital. We're talking about, how do you word it, flatus? Is that the . . .
Dr. Miller: That's the technical term, and the one that I use in the office. Other people would know it by different names.
Interviewer: Yes. There are a lot of different names, and a lot of different jokes about it. And that's probably part of the issue, is it's not necessarily . . . some parts of society, well, it depends who you're with. With your guy friends, it's awesome.
Dr. Miller: And funny.
Interviewer: Yes, and if you're with other people, sometimes it's not.
Dr. Miller: And sometimes, it's terrifyingly inhibiting.
Interviewer: Yes, it is. So let's talk about flatulence. What causes it?
Dr. Miller: Flatulence is a normal situation, and all of us produce gas and pass gas 10 to 20 times a day, on average. And those of us who tend to think we have excessive gas production, we're usually misled. When we actually do the studies, everybody passes gas at about the same rate and volume each day.
Interviewer: Ten to 20 times a day? Because I personally don't feel that's anywhere near what I do. I don't think I'm anywhere near that number.
Dr. Miller: I think it has to do with whether or not you're paying attention to it.
Dr. Miller: I think a lot of people don't even think about it, and it just occurs naturally, without concern.
Interviewer: Yeah, I remember the books, growing up, telling me it's okay. And it sounds like you're trying to tell me that it's just a natural thing, it's okay, there's nothing that you should do about it.
Dr. Miller: There's nothing that needs to be done about it, although some people worry that in certain social settings, and we have to admit it's not appropriate to pass gas when you're talking to your boss, or maybe on your first date. And so, people naturally focus on what to do to prevent that. And I think sometimes that worry leads people to believe that they have excessive gas production, when in fact they don't.
Interviewer: All right. Let's say that we've accepted the fact that we're going to be passing gas 10 to 20 times a day. If we feel that we're doing it more often than that, are there things that are happening that could cause that?
Dr. Miller: More rarely. Now, some people will notice a change in gas production or a change in the odor of the gas, which seems to be the most concerning thing.
Interviewer: Yeah, so, for the most part, is the odor pretty much non-existent in an average person ten to 20 times? It's fairly odorless?
Dr. Miller: That I can't tell you. I don't know the answer to that. I know that that's been studied. I think we know it when it smells, and maybe we don't know when there's not an odor.
Interviewer: Gotcha. So you were saying that it tends to be, people are more concerned about the smell than anything else.
Dr. Miller: That seems to be the thing. And of course, when you're in close quarters with people you don't know, the noise, obviously, is a problem as well.
Interviewer: So are there some things that affect that smell? Is that where you were getting ready to go before I interrupted you?
Dr. Miller: Yes. Flatus, with the technical term again, is caused by breakdown of starch, primarily in the large colon by bacteria that normally live in your colon. That's a normal situation. But sometimes certain foods will cause an increase in gas production, but not radically so. But these foods are cabbage, onions, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, wheat germ, and sometimes potatoes. And beans, of course. If you have changed your diet to include these, or find that when you eat them that you have more odorous or more voluminous gas production, than it probably makes sense to cut down on those vegetables.
Interviewer: What about sugar in its purest form? Like, sugar in a brownie or ice cream, or something like that? Does that cause excessive?
Dr. Miller: No, not really. Corn syrup, which has fructose, can increase gas production. And lactose, so dairy products, can also do that. Basically, any vegetable that has high fiber content can produce gas, cause gas, because the bacteria in your colon break the fiber down, whereas your digestive system didn't. So it's left over for the bacteria to work on, and the bacteria in metabolizing the fiber produce gas.
Interviewer: Now let's talk about some of the products that might be able to help. And do you even recommend? I mean, you're saying it's natural, and you shouldn't be concerned.
Dr. Miller: Right. So there are products over-the-counter, Beano, simethicone, activated charcoal. We don't really recommend those. It's been shown that simethicone really doesn't work as it's touted to. And the same with Beano. And we would say that looking at the diet is the first step in trying to cut down on gas production. If you're eating excessive amounts of the vegetables that I mentioned, then maybe you want to cut down on those and do a trial off of them to see if that changes.
Interviewer: What about Gas-X? You didn't mention that one. One that I've used.
Dr. Miller: Same thing. I don't think that the studies bear out that it's very effective. And as you know, many of these items that you can buy in the drug store have been around for a long time. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're effective.
Interviewer: Yeah. If I feel as though they are effective, what's going on there, do you think?
Dr. Miller: I would say that if they seem to work for you, then that's okay.
Interviewer: So to sum up on flatulence, flatus, you have such a nice way of putting it. You make me feel a lot more comfortable about it.
Dr. Miller: Passing as is normal. I wouldn't worry about it too much unless there's a real dramatic change. Sometimes there are illnesses that will cause people to produce gas, and especially if there's other things that go along with that, such as diarrhea, then that might be something that you'd need to see your doctor about.
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