Gas – How Much Is Too Much?

Everyone has gas. Kids fart, adults fart, grandmas fart – even cats fart. In fact, mammals in general… fart.

But when is enough, enough?

If you ask Google, it’s perfectly fine to break wind all day long, from sun up to sun down, even while sleeping.  But while this is categorically “normal,” it’s not productive to health or happiness.

Frequent gas can:

  1. Lose you a date.
  2. Kill your canary.
  3. Keep your loved ones up at night (true story).

Worse yet, excessive farting is a sign of poor digestion, unclean bowels, infection, food intolerance, and nutritional deficiency. The gas produced in your stomach and intestines burdens every system of the body, especially the blood and lungs – the result of diffusion of sulfurous compounds. Belching itself is benign, but when it gets out of hand it points to gastric microbial infection.

So how much is actually healthy? This may shock some of you, but the optimal low for gas expulsion during a day is zero. In the case that you consume foods that cause rampant farting – which will be listed soon – you can expect a lot more. (Just because you can predict it, though, does not make it good for you.)

For belching, one or two times per meal is an acceptable amount, due to the fact that some foods release gas during the first stages of digestion, and of course it’s possible to swallow air. Fumes are fine – when they’re fine. Foul odors, humidity, and heat are obviously not.

The statements above are idealistic, for sure, and for many will seem ridiculous. Yogis and saints in the East may go weeks without a toot, because they eat a “sattvic” diet and avoid the “rajasic” quality foods that generate gas. But a yogic diet doesn’t realistically apply to most people; our aim as average, everyday gas factories is not to eliminate the farts entirely, but to bring it down to a comfortable, manageable rate.

To start, here’s a list of foods and factors that can exacerbate flatulence:

  1. Probiotics: these can be very good for you when you need them, but in excess they damage the environment of your intestines. Bacteria’s bacteria, no matter how you look at it. Too much bacteria means too much of your food is being digested by things other than you. A good bug can become a parasite if given the chance, so if you’re one of those people that sounds like a motor boat, consider cutting back on your daily probiotic. If you’re taking it because of infection, ulcers, IBS, GERD, allergies, etc, consider adding psyllium, slippery elm, marshmallow root, lavender, chamomile, aloe vera, and other gentle digestive herbs to your therapy.
  2. Prebiotics: these can be present naturally, but can also be taken as a supplement or added to food. Prebiotics are generally considered healthy, as they discourage growth of the bad bacteria and parasites and stimulate growth of the good. But too much increases gas production.
  3. Exercise: according to ayurveda, excessive activity of any sort, but especially cardiovascular activity in the heat, can cause increased gas production in the intestines. Exercise increases core temperature, which allows specific strains common to your intestines to proliferate. (Yep; even a couple degrees for a couple minutes can make a big impact over time!) Exercise also modifies the way your intestinal nervous system works, and affects digestive secretions, absorption, and peristalsis. Dehydration caused by exercise also dries the body, causing your bowels in particular a lot of problems. Intestinal dehydration impairs bowel motility, for example. Also, in hydration emergencies, your body sucks the stool dry. If your intestines are frequently dried and slowed, bacteria (especially in the colon) get to feast, and you get farts!
  4. Nervous conditions: which isn’t just anxiety! Nervous stress in general can cause digestive problems, including gas. Too much time spent on computers, video games, and television alters the natural state of your nervous system – especially at night, and especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle. Your intestines and stomach are greatly controlled by the nervous system. By now, we’ve all heard the term “fight or flight.” But there’s also “rest and digest.” Nervous upset of any kind effectively alters which “mode” you’re in, with fight or flight inhibiting your ability to digest properly. This can have a lot to do with exercise, too, by the way!
  5. Poor sleep: also including insufficient sleep, poor sleep affects the way your bowels function. Just like your brain and muscles, your digestive system needs rest. Fasting at night is essential for proper bowel and stomach function. Without good sleep, your hormones and nervous system are knocked off balance. For more information on sleep, see some of our previous articles like this one and this one.
  6. Stimulants: caffeine, coffee, guarana, green tea, black tea, oolong tea (…any tea), guayusa, yerba mate, cola nut, chocolate, cacao, sodas, energy drinks, black drink, yaupon, té o’ maté, and the list goes on. Even non-caffeinated stimulants can cause gas, like tobacco. The important thing to know here is that the effects are sneaky and cumulative. When abused or used over a long period of time, strong stimulants cause problems with nerves, bowel contraction, fluid metabolism, and digestive flora. Coffee especially is said to blow the bacteria clean out of your gut. When the good bugs leave, the bad bugs move in. Candida, pylori, and various parasitic organisms are largely kept in check by positive intestinal flora. When overgrown, these bad boys’ll have you farting to the moon.
  7. Food sensitivities: really anything that contains carbohydrates or proteins that your body has trouble digesting (or can’t digest at all) causes gas. For people with food sensitivities, this is a no-brainer. During gluten intolerance, gluten causes gas. With lactose intolerance, lactose causes gas. (etc) But everyone’s susceptible to…
  8. Beans: because they’re so good at causing gas, they get their own listing. Besides the smaller beans (like mung), pretty much all types can cause flatulence.
  9. Others: mushrooms, sulfurous vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach, beets, leeks, onions, garlic, etc), tomato, hot peppers, high-protein food, peanuts, and eggs are some of the worst. In excess, spices like black pepper, pippali (Indian Long Pepper), and paprika can cause gas. Nuts and seeds, when eaten alone, combined improperly, or in excess, are also culprits. Cold leftovers and fermented foods can do it, too.
  10. Last but not least, a high-sugar diet can eventually lead to flora imbalance and gas generation.

What all these things have in common: they disturb the balance of microbes in your digestive system. Peanuts, for example, have proteins that are very difficult to digest. What isn’t fully digested over-feeds microbes, which produce gas. Lots of black pepper irritates gastric and intestinal mucosa, which leads to indigestion, motility problems, and eventually microbial overgrowth and gas. It pretty much all has to do with what kind of flora inhabit your intestines, what their number is, and what you feed them.  And that’s all a pretty complicated subject, if you dig deep enough.

But luckily, remedies for occasional and chronic gas are numerous and simple!

 

Some of the best remedies for gas include:

  1. Aromatics: lavender, chamomile, rose (flower), sage, white sage, basil (all types), peppermint, spearmint, catnip, rosemary,  oregano, lemon balm, and pretty much any edible plant with a strong, fresh scent.
  2. Spices: cardamom, ginger, pippali (Indian Long Pepper), nutmeg, turmeric, cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, clove, cumin, dill, parsley, caraway, allspice, anise, ajwain, coriander, fennel, mace, saffron, and savory – though I’m sure there are more!
  3. Miscellaneous: black walnut hull, mugwort, wormwood, dandelion root/flower (small amount), angelica root, aloe vera, myrhh, hops, alfalfa, hyssop, juniper berry, carrot tops, cilantro, raw manuka honey, raw neem honey, kawakawa, neem, licorice root, jatamansi (Indian valerian), American spikenard, guggul (and other resins), buttermilk (live culture, small amount w/ meal), bentonite (but not every time), digestive enzymes, amalaki (“amla”), triphala, lemon zest, and lime zest.

Really anything bitter will help a little. Some astringent medicines (like bentonite) work wonders, but shouldn’t be overdone. My favorites in all three of the above carminative (gas-relieving) categories are in bold. Of them, the most effective I’ve used are black walnut hull, turmeric, ginger, and triphala. If I had to choose only one, it would be triphala, used first as a bowel cleanse, and then a spoonful or two with each gassy meal. Chili with beans every night is no problem with a couple spoonfuls of high quality triphala!

To use any of these medicines, combine as many as you’re willing and get it down any way you can. If it’s a powder, combine it with a small amount of water and take right before meals. If it’s the whole herb, buy a cheap coffee grinder and make a powder (don’t try this with fenugreek…), or otherwise chew a handful before the meal. With bad gas problems, small amounts of four or five of the above should give you some relief. It all depends on combination and dose! Last note: for bentonite, a half or whole tsp should be dissolved in a glass of water. Be patient though; it works way better if it soaks for a while.

And that pretty much sums it up! Hopefully you gas sufferers out there stop suffocating your pets and choke down some good-for-you herbal medicines!

 
References:
-Herbal Remedies (Andrew Chevallier)
-Upon a Clay Tablet (Jason R. Eaton)
-Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care: a Complete Program for Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management (Dr. Bernard Jensen)

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