Dear Alice,

This is rather embarrassing, so I'm going to you for answers before I have to talk to anyone face to face about it. I have recently, in the last two months, developed a chronic gas problem. My stomach churns all day and night. To say the least, it is extremely embarrassing in class or in social situations. The other day I let one out in the middle of statistics and several people turned and looked at me. I have tried everything over-the-counter to put an end to the odorous problem. I haven't changed my diet in any significant way, so I'm really at a loss as to what would be causing this. What can I do?


Dear Flatulent,

Okay, who among us hasn't “let one out” in a similar situation? Let them cast the first stone. Of course, it's those same people who turn and stare who blame their own gaseous outbursts on the dog, their shoes, or their chair cushions.

Stomach upsets and gas usually can be attributed to excess food, alcohol, smoking, and certain kinds of food. You say you haven’t changed your diet in any significant way, but maybe your body has changed in its ability to digest some of the foods in your diet. Think about your diet in terms of these foods that may cause gas: beans, fruits (e.g., pears, apples, and peaches), whole grains, veggies (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, onions, and asparagus), milk and dairy products, carbonated drinks, some dietetic foods, sugar-free candies, and gum.

It sounds like you may be under more stress than usual right now. How you eat, versus what you eat, can affect intestinal gas, too. Are you taking enough time to eat at meals? Eating fast and not chewing your food thoroughly can cause you to take in too much air. So does chewing gum, eating hard candies, and smoking. More air going in equals more gas in the intestinal tract, and more air coming out.

To decrease gas, cut down on foods that cause gas and swallow less air when eating, chewing gum, etc. Eliminate foods that cause gas, one at a time, so that you’ll be able to identify which ones make a difference. Try an experiment: Start with the most likely foods first, like milk and dairy, then beans, and then some of the others listed above. At the same time, concentrate on chewing your food well and on eating slowly. This may be a big drag if your daily schedule is hectic, but meals may become a welcome break in your day, instead of unwanted “breaks of wind.”

You talk of trying every over-the-counter medication. Are you referring to antacids? Antacids are substances that neutralize stomach acid. Those that contain combinations of aluminum and magnesium salts are preferable to the other types, so you have to read the labels. Products containing calcium carbonate are effective, but excess use may have harmful side effects. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is the least preferable antacid as it can cause a variety of side effects, sometimes even more gas! Instead of the over-the-counter remedies you've used, try activated charcoal tablets or capsules available at health food stores. They may be effective for gas and upset stomach without knocking your bowel movements off balance. It may also be worth a visit to your health care provider to see what recommendations s/he might have regarding medication and dietary changes that may help relieve your abdominal air.

Remember, too, that gas is normal. Many people think they have too much gas, mainly because of the social stigma attached to “anal acoustics” and belching in public. Use discretion, and, if worst comes to worst, say “excuse me” or go into another well-ventilated room before it happens. As a last resort, laugh, because the world is laughing with you.

Last updated Jun 30, 2015
Originally published Feb 01, 1994

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