Gas is a fact of life. We eat, digest, burp and toot. In fact, you’ll likely pass gas — either by belching or through flatulence — up to 2 dozen times today. That’s normal! It can be embarrassing or funny, depending on your sense of humor. But sometimes gas won’t pass as easily or as quickly as you’d like. When that happens, it can cause pain in your abdomen, which might be severe. There are two main reasons:
Digestion When the food you eat is broken down by the bacteria in your digestive tract, that process produces gas. Some foods, especially higher-fiber foods, produce more gas than others. If you eat a lot of whole grains and fiber-rich veggies (which you should!), you may experience more gas.
Swallowing air Air is a gas, and you can swallow too much of it if you eat or drink too quickly, chew gum, smoke or use a straw. There are also foods that contain a lot of air — ice cream, bread and apples. The more air you swallow, the more gas ends up in your belly.
“When you swallow air, the vast majority will not be absorbed,” says Joseph Weiss, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Either you belch or burp it up, which is the body’s normal way of getting rid of it, or it’s going to come out the other end several hours later.”
Gas pain rarely indicates a serious problem, but it can be seriously uncomfortable. Fortunately, you have options. Dr. Weiss walks us through the top remedies:
Simple strategies for blasting gas
1. Burping or belching Sometimes this is all you need to do to eliminate trapped gas and relieve your discomfort. Of course, that might be easier said than done, especially in social situations. If the opportunity presents itself, go for it, because that gas wants to come out.
“If you feel like belching or burping, do it,” Dr. Weiss advises. He cautions that big belches could damage your esophagus, so go easy. “Let the air out but don’t increase the pressure.”
2. Nonprescription anti-gas remedies Gas-X®, Maalox® Plus, and other over-the-counter (OTC) options that contain simethicone might help. These products allow small gas bubbles to coalesce into a large bubble, which permits the gas to pass more easily — from either end. They don’t work for everyone, and studies haven’t confirmed their effectiveness, but they may be worth a try. “If it helps you, terrific.” Dr. Weiss says. “If not, no harm done.”
3. Peppermint Those peppermint candies at the diner are more than just breath fresheners: They can help relax the muscles in your esophagus, which helps you pass digestive gases. If candy’s not your thing, peppermint tea offers the same assist. Anise, fennel, ginger, cloves and chamomile also may offer relief.
4. Exercise Movement has real belly benefits. It takes muscle to move food through your gut, and by engaging those muscles, you help speed food through the digestive process. “If there were no movement, everyone would be bloated and distended,” says Dr. Weiss. Take a walk after a meal or try some yoga moves. Yoga is known to stimulate gut activity, says Dr. Weiss. There’s even a yoga pose called “wind relieving.”
5. Massage Self-massage of your abdomen can help relieve gas symptoms and stimulate your digestive system. Lie on your back and massage your stomach in a clockwise circular motion, starting on the right by your hip bone and moving up to your ribs. Then go across to your left ribs, down to your left hip, and up to your belly button. Inhale and exhale deeply through your nose as you move your hands around your stomach area.
6. Meditation As you take deep, stress-relieving breaths through your nose, your muscles relax. This aids the passage of digesting food. Plus, you swallow less air when you breathe deeply than when you take shallow breaths.
7. Heat Try using a hot water bottle, lying under a hot blanket, or using a sauna. “Heat relaxes your gut muscles,” Dr. Weiss explains. “This helps reduce spasms that help trap gas in the first place.”
8. Digestive enzymes If you know you’re sensitive to the gas caused by beans and some vegetables, try Beano®, BeanAssist™, or another OTC product that contains the digestive enzyme alpha-galactosidase. (Check the label.) If your gas is a result of lactose intolerance, Lactaid® or another OTC product that contains the enzyme lactase can offer relief.