Flatus The complaint of excessive flatus, or gas, is made when a person believes he/she passes wind more often than their friends or more often than in the past. Often this is because an embarrassing incident like a loud or smelly break of wind in public has led to the belief that something is wrong. A normal individual passes wind by the rectum on average 15 times per day (ranging between three and 40 times), depending on diet. A high-fiber diet produces more wind than a low-fiber diet or a low-carbohydrate diet. So if you think you have excessive flatus, count every time you break wind (even the little silent ones) for a day or so. If you break wind less than 40 times a day you are normal.

How is flatulence managed?
But whatever the number, you may wish to reduce it. Most flatus is generated by the normal bacterial fermentation of food residues in the colon. On the principle “no bugs, no gas,” you might think that antibiotics would work, but they don’t. Although the bacteria are killed off by the antibiotics, they quickly re-establish themselves. Besides, antibiotics produce more flatus in most people.

A high-fiber diet has mixed blessings. It produces a soft, easily passed stool, protects against colon cancer and may protect against stroke and heart disease, may help people to lose weight, and improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome. The downside is that a high-fiber diet produces a lot of flatus. However, it is possible to reduce flatus production even on a high-fiber diet by avoiding the big gas producers. They contain carbohydrates called oligosaccharides that cannot be digested in the small intestine but are food to bacteria in the colon. Cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, onions, garlic, leeks and some seeds such as fennel, sunflower and poppy all produce a lot of gas in the colon. Reducing the amount of these foods in the diet will reduce flatus.

Sometimes activated charcoal seems to reduce the amount (and smell) of flatus. Some otherwise healthy people lack the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the sugar in cow’s milk. As a result the lactose is fermented by the colon bacteria with the production of large amounts of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The condition is called lactose intolerance and besides gas production may cause abdominal cramps. It occurs most commonly in people born around the Mediterranean Basin but occurs sporadically in all populations. The “cure” is to reduce milk intake to a level at which symptoms are controlled. Your doctor may carry out special tests to confirm the diagnosis.