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The passing of intestinal gas is a normal process, but it can become unpleasant, uncomfortable, or embarrassing. Intestinal gas has two primary sources: bacteria in the intestines and air swallowed by mouth (aerophagia). Certain foods greatly increase the production of gas in the intestines by providing nutrients to gas-producing bacteria. Common gas-increasing foods include beans, beer, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, fructose, onions, prunes, red wine, and sorbitol. In general, high-fiber foods cause more gas than low-fiber ones, and, for this reason, people who switch to a whole foods diet frequently experience more gas.
Certain medical conditions can also increase gas-related symptoms, including celiac sprue, colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, fat malabsorption, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, and ulcerative colitis. Finally, some people may experience significant gas discomfort without actually producing more gas than other people.
Treatment of excess gas begins with treating the underlying disease, if there is one. Beyond that, general steps include avoiding gas-producing foods and minimizing habits that cause aerophagia (such as gulping of beverages). Medications such as simethicone, metoclopramide, and antibiotics may also help, although the supporting evidence to indicate that they are effective remains incomplete.
Proposed Natural Treatments
There has been little meaningful scientific investigation of natural treatments to reduce gas in people who are otherwise healthy. However, some evidence supports the use of natural treatments for reducing gas production among those with irritable bowel syndrome (a cluster of nonspecific intestinal complaints) or dyspepsia (a cluster of nonspecific stomach-related complaints). It is likely, although not guaranteed, that the benefits seen in these studies would carry over to people without these conditions.
For example, a 4-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 60 people with irritable bowel syndrome found that use of probiotics (friendly bacteria) reduced gas-related discomfort.1 Probiotics are presumed to work by replacing gas-producing bacteria with others that are less likely to create gas. Note : Initial use of probiotics reportedly can increase gas production for a short time.
Beano, a product containing the enzyme beta-galactosidase, is widely available for reducing gas caused by consuming beans. This enzyme breaks down some of the gas-producing carbohydrates in beans. However, a study designed to test this substance found only weak evidence of effectiveness.2
Activated charcoal taken by mouth may reduce the amount of flatulence, although not all studies agree.3,4
Certain herbs called carminatives are traditionally believed to aid the movement of gas. These include anise, caraway, cardamom, chamomile, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, parsley, and spearmint.
In addition, numerous alternative therapies are said to help improve digestion and reduce gas, including Chinese herbal medicine, intestinal cleansing, and food allergen identification and avoidance. However, there is little supporting evidence for these approaches.
One study in dogs indicates that a combination of charcoal, yucca, and zinc acetate significantly reduced the smell of intestinal gas, although not the amount that was released.5 Taken separately, charcoal was the most effective of these treatments. Garments containing activated charcoal have also shown promise for reducing the odor of flatulence.6
References[ + ]
1. Nobaek S, Johansson ML, Molin G, et al. Alteration of intestinal microflora is associated with reduction in abdominal bloating and pain in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol. 2000;95:1231-1238.
2. Ganiats TG, Norcross WA, et al. Does Beano prevent gas? A double-blind crossover study of oral alpha-galactosidase to treat dietary oligosaccharide intolerance. J Fam Pract. 1994;39:441-445.
3. Hall RG Jr, Thompson H, Strother A. Effects of orally administered activated charcoal on intestinal gas. Am J Gastroenterol. 1981;75:192-196.
4. Suarez FL, Furne J, Springfield J, et al. Failure of activated charcoal to reduce the release of gases produced by the colonic flora. Am J Gastroenterol. 1999;94:208-212.
5. Giffard CJ, Collins SB, Stoodley NC, et al. Administration of charcoal, Yucca schidigera, and zinc acetate to reduce malodorous flatulence in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001;218:892-896.
6. Fink RN, Lembo AJ. Intestinal Gas. Curr Treat Options Gastroenterol. 2001;4:333-337.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015