Flatulence (Gas) (cont.)
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Flatulence (Gas) Causes
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Excess gas in the digestive tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon/large intestine) can come from two sources: 1) increased intake of gas, for example, from air swallowed; or 2) increased production of gas as certain undigested foods are broken down by harmless bacteria normally found in the colon.
Swallowed air (aerophagia): This can occur with improper swallowing while eating or even unconscious swallowing of air out of habit.
Breakdown of undigested foods: If the body does not digest and absorb some carbohydrates (for example, the sugar, starches, and fiber found in many foods) in the small intestine because of a shortage or absence of certain enzymes there, this undigested food then passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, where normal, harmless bacteria break down the food, producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and, in about a third of all people, methane. Eventually these gases exit through the rectum.
Lactase deficiency: Another major source of flatulence is lactase deficiency, which results in a decreased ability to digest lactose, a natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products such as cheese and ice cream and in certain processed food such as bread, cereal, and salad dressing. This flatulence is often associated with diarrhea and cramping but can appear as only gas. Many people normally have low levels of the enzyme lactase needed to digest lactose after childhood. Also, as people age, their enzyme levels decrease. As a result, over time people may experience increasing amounts of gas after eating food containing lactose.
Other problems: Certain conditions can result in other foods being poorly absorbed in the GI tract, allowing for increased bacterial activity.
Joseph Maslar, MD
Lance W Kreplick, MD, MMM
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