Letting body gases escape
In the old days, it was good manners to let the body make itself heard after a hearty meal. But today, releasing wind is considered indecent, which is why we are uptight about it, in the truest sense of the word. But this is wrong, because whatever can be let out can no longer cause discomfort inside.
Flatulence is often self-inflicted. While rules of etiquette represent one reason for this, certain unhealthy everyday habits also contribute: gulping down food in a hurry, eating over-sized portions, as well as eating foods that are difficult to digest. A few changes to your behaviour will make life easier for your stomach (see box).
It’s actually a normal and natural process for the body to produce intestinal gases such as carbon dioxide, methane or hydrogen sulphide. Intestinal bacteria decompose the food components that we cannot digest – fibre, for example – and the waste is converted into gases. Some of these find their way out through the "back door".
Only when an excessive amount of this gas is released into the atmosphere do experts speak of flatulence. Or of meteorism, a bulging bloated belly that also makes rumbling, gurgling sounds. Both can have a strong negative impact on our well-being, especially if they occur after practically every meal.
One reason for these conditions could be a dysfunction like irritable bowel syndrome. Or intolerances to gluten or certain sugar compounds such as fructose or sorbitol. These are substances that end up undigested in the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria. The reactions incurred include cramps and bloatedness – plus excessive intestinal gas. Sufferers may find the new FODMAP concept of help. This is used by nutrition experts to identify the triggers that are responsible and suggest more digestible foods.
Another aspect is the fact that our digestive capacity often decreases over the course of a lifetime, which can mean that too little of the enzyme that digests milk sugar (lactose) is produced. Whether someone suffers from lactose intolerance can be tested by means of a hydrogen breath test. If this is the case, sufferers are often advised to avoid milk and only eat more digestible dairy products such as yoghurt or cheese.
In any case, if flatulence occurs frequently and becomes increasingly troublesome, it’s worth consulting a doctor. Organic causes – such as chronic inflammation of the pancreas – are rare, but pain, diarrhoea, blood in the stool or lack of appetite should be treated as a warning.