Gas relief can come in many forms. For some, it may be a simple fix. Others may find it requires a little more effort. Yet, no matter what your situation is, you can get relief from gas and bloating.
It’s also worth noting, gas and bloating become more problematic with age. Digestion becomes more inefficient as you age which leads to common symptoms like gas and bloating. That’s not to say you should accept that you’ll suffer from it. Rather, you should:
- Know what causes gas
- Why it becomes a problem, and
- How to reduce or prevent it.
Once you understand these, you’ll find it easier to control and possibly even end gas and bloating when it comes regardless of your age.
What Causes Gas and Bloating?
The Mayo Clinic keeps it simple and says there are two types of gas: upper and lower intestinal gas.[i]
Upper intestinal gas happens when you swallow too much air. Swallowing air happens naturally, but chewing gum, smoking, overeating, eating fast and chewing with your mouth open can make it worse. Drinking carbonated beverages like soda and beer can also make it bad. This kind of gas causes you to burp.
Lower intestinal gas occurs in the colon. It can happen as a result of an imbalance in the bacteria that live in the digestive tract, eating too much of certain foods or undigested food in the colon. Anyone of these could cause lower intestinal gas, or it could be a combination of all three.
Either way, let’s face it, gas is unpleasant and distracting. It makes you feel bloated and uncomfortable. It can be painful.
Is there anything that takes the joy out of living more than being embarrassed and self-conscious about gas, or feeling the intestinal pain it brings with it?
Carbs: The #1 Cause of Gas and Bloating in Your Colon
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says undigested carbs are the reason you experience that gas and bloating that causes flatulence. When these undigested sugars, starches and fibers reach your colon, the bacteria there go to work breaking them down. The result is gas.
Some of these sugars are supposed to make it to the large intestine. A lot of dietary fiber, for example, is often undigestible. This is how fiber helps keep you regular. It holds water as it passes through the intestines and keeps stool soft, especially in the colon.
Some fibers act as prebiotics, or food for the probiotic bacteria in your digestive tract. [LINK TO PREBIOTIC PROBIOTIC ARTICLE]. These fibers help you maintain a healthy balance of beneficial “probiotic” bacteria like B. bifidum.
Most fibers are meant to reach your digestive tract. In a healthy colon, they won’t produce a lot of gas. This doesn’t mean they won’t cause gas though. Bacterial imbalance or overgrowth in the intestines, disrupted digestion due to conditions like “leaky gut” or Crohn’s Disease can interfere with your body’s natural digestive processes making fiber a big problem.
Sugars and starches do, however, cause gas as they break down.
Sugars to Watch Out for to Reduce Gas
John Hopkins Medicine notes the following sugars cause the biggest problems[ii]:
- Raffinose. It’s a complex sugar you encounter in beans and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts.
- Lactose. Found in dairy, it’s a common cause of lactose intolerance. You need lactase, a digestive enzyme, to break it down; people who don’t produce enough lactase often become lactose intolerant.
- Fructose. It’s a common sugar, though there is a difference between the fructose found in fruit and that used as the artificial sweetener in Corn Syrup or High-fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Fruit fructose is bound up with fiber, regulating digestion and making it slower and less likely to cause as much gas. Artificial fructose is pure sugar which taxes your body’s ability to break it down before it starts to cause problems.
- Sorbitol. This sugar alcohol occurs naturally in apples, peaches, pears and prunes, but can be created artificially as well. Your body doesn’t digest them well, meaning they reach the large intestine and ferment. Fruit sugars again are released more slowly, reducing their effect while those added to foods delivers a large load which can cause stomach upset. In fact, the FDA requires manufacturers to list if a product contains more than 50 grams of it.[iii]
- Starches. A starch is nothing more than a complex sugar. Eating too much too quickly overloads the system and leaves plenty of extra to ferment in the colon. Rice starch is the only exception.
Why Digestive Enzymes Can Reduce Bloating and Offer Gas Relief
Some of the beneficial bacteria in the colon ferment sugar, although most prefer prebiotic fiber. Harmful bacteria that make you sick, however, do thrive on sugar. Candida, a fungal yeast, does too.
In fact, sugars like those added sugars in so many foods cause Candida to get out of control. Candida naturally occurs in your digestive tract and in small amounts supports digestion. When its overfed with sugar though, it disrupts digestion, the immune system and even mental function.
Undigested sugars aren’t the only problem though. If proteins do not get digested, they’ll sit in the intestines and rot, creating an environment which favors harmful bacteria.
Probiotics can help, but they’ll struggle to establish themselves in a hostile environment. That’s where digestive enzymes come in.
Digestive enzymes increase the breakdown of carbs so fewer sugars reach the colon. They also improve the breakdown of protein and fats. Altogether, digestive enzymes reduce the amount of undigested food that reaches the colon.
This improved digestion also speeds nutrient absorption, so you get more from the food you eat.
Just as importantly, these digestive enzymes reduce the top cause of gas and bloating.
Additional Ways to Reduce Gas and Bloating
Anyone over the age of 20 should consider taking digestive enzymes. Why? That’s the age when your body’s production of enzymes slows down.
Avoiding foods that make you gassy is another way to reduce gas and bloating. Common foods that lead to excess gas according to the Mayo Clinic include[iv]:
- Cabbage, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
- Dairy products, especially those with lactose
- Fructose, particularly as an added sugar
- Carbonated beverages
Of course, some foods bother some people and not others. Most experts recommend keeping a food journal to identify if you have any triggers. If it happens all the time, it may be an indication your digestion has been disrupted. While this may be an indication you have a more serious problem, it could also be that you simply need to improve digestion.
WebMD provides a few recommendations for reducing gas and bloating such as[v] –
- Don’t chew gum
- Chew more slowly (this improves digestion)
- Avoid soda, beer, champagne and other bubbly drinks
- Also avoid fruit juices, especially apple and pear
- Don’t smoke
- Take a pill to improve digestion
If you’ve already tried all the others, this last one may be the way to go.
When to Try Digestive Enzymes for Gas and Bloating
Digestion is so important, you really don’t want to wait until you constantly suffer from indigestion before you act.
If you do, in addition to the discomfort you’re feeling, you’ve also allowed poor digestion to deprive your body of the nutrients in your food. This is not good for your health. It also means you’re not getting as much from your food, even when it is “healthy” food that’s good for you.
It would be over-simplifying it to say start taking digestive enzymes at age 20. Some people may need it before, others may not benefit until later.
Realistically, if gas and bloating are a regular problem, it may be worth it to try digestive enzymes with your meals. The condition of your digestive tract will determine how big an impact you get, but if you take them long enough, you’ll –
- Reduce or prevent undigested food like sugar from reaching your colon,
- Deprive harmful bacteria and Candida of the foods they need to thrive, an important first step in restoring a balance of beneficial probiotic bacteria, and
- Restore and improve your digestive health.
Perhaps the best part of digestive enzymes is this…they do only one thing – break down the carbs, proteins or fats Mother Nature designed them too! This means they are safe and without potential side effects.
So, when should you try digestive enzymes for gas and bloating? Since gas and bloating often indicate poor digestion, the best answer is…if you often suffer from gas and bloating, as-soon-as-possible.