ILLUSTRATION / IVÁN BRAVO

Breaking wind is not a question of manners, but of health

It must be vented. Its noise and odour can alert us to problems

MARTA FERNÁNDEZ VALLEJO

Flatulence is not a laughing matter or bad manners, but a sign of our health. Breaking wind in public is considered one of the most socially rejected acts. But it is a natural, healthy reaction... and necessary for the organism! In some cases, a build-up of gas can reveal digestive problems, food intolerances and bad eating habits (such as eating fast) and avoiding expelling it can cause abdominal pain and lead to more serious disorders. Marta Romero, nutritionist and qualified dietician, explains to us the clues to look out for and the warning signs.

Between 12 and 20 a day is normal

It is a natural process derived from digestion. Flatulence can be generated by the type of food that is ingested, the air that is introduced when eating or by the bacteria that are generated during the digestion process. It is normal to have gas every day -between 12 and 20-. In fact, we expel between 0.5 and 1.5 litres of gas daily, a volume enough to fill a medium-sized balloon. Men tend to generate more than women and smoking increases flatulence. In older people flatulence is more frequent, as digestive processes slow down due to the changes they undergo with the passing of the years.

When to worry

We should pay attention when gas is accompanied by other symptoms such as an unpleasant odour, bloating, abdominal pain, heartburn, reflux.... This could be because of an imbalance of microbiota -living microorganisms or bacteria found in the intestine or digestive tract-, food intolerances, eating too fast, constipation or little variety in the foods that we eat, among others. Alarm signals are triggered when these gases prevent us from leading a normal life -a high amount of flatulence every time we eat- accompanied by changes in stool consistency.

Why are they different?

The noisiest gases are those caused by the air we swallow when we eat. They are pushed out by that same air, at a higher speed. And they sound louder. This type of wind is usually related to constipation and can be accompanied by becoming overweight, alteration of blood lipids, type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel and low serotonin levels: origin of headaches, insomnia, irritability and depression.

Flatulence resulting from the fermentation of food by bacteria in the intestine tends to be more odorous but silent. If the smell is like rotten eggs, it is caused by hydrogen sulfide, and it is common for pale and very soft stools to appear as well. This type of wind is often accompanied by irritable colon, low blood pressure, bleeding gums and chronic pain. The odour can also come from the fermentation of feces if we have constipation.

What foods are the worst?

There are some foods that we can't digest. The bacteria in the intestine are in charge of this process, but each one 'eats' one thing - they generate substances such as butyrate, which is indispensable for the cells of the intestine. As a consequence of this process, gases are created, but if we do not have the bacteria that eat the food we have just eaten, flatulence increases.

Among the foods that cause the most wind are cabbage, broccoli, leeks, artichokes, legumes, whole grains, fruit in syrup and sweeteners. The smelliest flatulence is caused by foods rich in sulphur such as cauliflower, soy, animal protein, cabbage, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, cashew nuts, garlic, wheat and maize.

The danger of holding it in

Flatulence should never be held in. The gas has to come out and holding it in can lead to abdominal and chest pain as well as inflammation and trigger diverticulitis - rupture of the pouches in the inner wall of the intestine due to increased pressure from stool or gas - and even peritonitis. Research at Newcastle University showed that if gas is not expelled "it can pass through the intestinal wall and is absorbed into the blood and released on exhalation with the breath".

Relation to anxiety

Flatulence can also be a consequence of anxiety and stress. "We swallow a good amount of air when we eat, and it increases significantly if we chew food when we are anxious. Likewise, common acts such as smoking or chewing gum also make us swallow more air," says Reme Navarro, who has a degree in pharmacy and in nutrition and dietetics. Therefore, "eating more slowly, making sure that you are chewing your food correctly and avoiding fizzy drinks, as well as not smoking or chewing gum, can reduce the incidence of this troublesome disorder, Navarro explained.

Advice

If it is smelly wind...

Increase the intake of foods rich in healthy fats, such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil and nuts; and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso and keffir, along with vegetables, except those rich in sulphites such as garlic, onion, leek and asparagus, says nutritionist Marta Romero. Legumes should be soaked for 24 hours and cumin and fennel should be added when cooking.

If its noisy but not smelly

This is the type of flatulence that is due more to the air we swallow when we eat too fast. It is necessary to let the stomach rest for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, exercise and combat stress with yoga and mindfulness. Eating three meals a day instead of five will help a lot, says Romero.

Natural remedies

Papaya and pineapple provide enzymes necessary to improve digestion and therefore help reduce gas. Ginger is another excellent remedy, either as an infusion or grated with food. Infusions of dandelion, chamomile and green anise also help to prevent gas, points out Reme Navarro Escrivá, who has a degree in pharmacy and nutrition and dietetics.