Gone with the Wind

Is your tummy bloated? Is flatulence causing you concern?

Yes and yes are the answers I commonly hear from patients. Even for the most ladylike among us, it is normal to pass 200-2,400ml of wind (flatus) each day.

Flatulence is made up of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and the flammable and smelly gas, methane. Two-thirds of the wind we expel is formed by microflora (bacteria in the bowel), the rest being made up of air we swallow. Just who and how this flatus is measured is another story.

Poor eating habits contribute to bloating and flatulence. Chewing with your mouth open allows excess air into the intestine, another reason why Mother said to eat with your mouth closed. If a client walks into my room chewing gum, I proffer a tissue, and ask them to spit it out. Chewing gum, particularly on an empty stomach is a common cause of bloating. Drinking more than a cup of liquids with meals is also asking for trouble.

The first stage of digestion occurs in the mouth, and teeth play an important role in grinding the food into smaller bits. If you fail to chew properly, the undigested bits will be met by an enthusiastic crowd of gas-producing microflora in the large bowel.

A proper chew was once defined by Horace Fletcher, an American obsessed with mastication in the 1930’s, as 32 times each mouthful: one chew for every tooth. Quite obviously, this leaves little time for living between mealtimes. In late 20th century Australia, ten thorough chews per mouthful is adequate, a couple more for tough meat.

An imbalance in microflora is a common cause of flatulence and bloating. Taking a course of ‘good’ bacteria such as acidophilus and bifidus may resolve this. As well as adding probiotic (promoting good bacteria) foods such as yoghurt and miso to your diet, to introduce beneficial bacteria into the digestive tract. Avoid sugar, as it will only feed the bad bowel bugs.

Flatulence and bloating may also be signs of digestive disorders including reflux, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome and lactose (milk sugar) intolerance. Taking a tablet containing digestive enzymes with hydrochloric acid with each meal might help. Another good idea is to sip before dinner, a glass of water in which a teaspoon of herbal bitters has been added.

If all else fails, follow my grandfather’s advice and ‘wherever you may be, let the air flow free’!