Breaking Wind

by Lisa J. Binkley

Everyone begins life germ-free and pristine. That changes with the first breath.
Bacteria invade a baby within hours of birth. The various organisms settle into the newborn's intestines, replicate madly, and establish a permanent home. As soon as the human host eats, the microbes - utilizing the undigested nutrients of that meal - initiate their designated function. The once unusable matter is broken down into more easily absorbed forms or into by-products that are returned back to the intestinal contents.

Some time later, these by-products gain access to the outside world. The particular manner of passing, whether silent or noisy, is a matter of adolescent humor, marital strife, social embarrassment, or even international politics.
On the average, most humans expel a total of about 200 - 2000 ml of gas in 7 - 15 events that occur in a day. Each episode varies in quantity, chemical make-up, and audibility depending on the particular flora residing within that human's gut, the foods consumed, and the physiology of the individual.

Though most people produce the same volume of gas, some have increased sensitivity to the presence of air within their intestines that leads to complaints about too much. In addition, gas accumulation in certain sections of the gut can cause discomfort or a feeling of being bloated.

Air swallowed while eating, drinking carbonated beverages, smoking, chewing gum, and from loose-fitting dentures is the source of stomach gas. Only a small portion of this leaves through the intestines, however, and is usually burped or belched.

Fatty foods slow digestion and are frequently to blame for the sensation of too much gas. Several gastrointestinal diseases, which block or inflame the lining of the intestines, will also increase sensitivity to the presence of even small amounts of gas.

Complex sugars are to blame for the whole issue. Many vegetables and fruits are full of sugars that humans can't digest. These compounds become fuel for the myriad bacteria that inhabit the gut lining. Raffinose from mushrooms, lactose from dairy, fructose used as a common sweetener, sorbitol substituted for other sugars, and the starches present in potatoes, beans, and other fruits and vegetables, are the usual suspects. Foods that contain soluble fiber also result in increased gas production.

Intestinal gas contains several major components, including nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and rarely methane. Varying quantities of sulfur compounds cause the offensive odor, while dimethyl imparts a completely different and, supposedly, less unpleasant smell.

The distinctive sound is dependent on the elasticity of the sphincter, the presence or absence of hemorrhoids, and the muscle tone of the surrounding flesh. Though, based on relative body mass, men do not have more gas than women, they do release more frequently - twelve times per day as opposed to seven - and are less reserved in the delivery.

In the absence of true motility disorders, doctors generally recommend simple solutions for the common complaint. Foods are selectively eliminated from the diet until the particularly guilty parties are discovered. Because the exact populations of microbes vary from person to person, trial and error is the only method to determine which of these foods should be avoided. In general, sticking to a lower carbohydrate diet helps.

Over the counter medications, such as Mylanta, Maalox, Gas-X, or Di-Gel, which contain simethicone, combine with stomach gas and promote belching. Beano, a product that helps break down the less digestible sugars, taken before eating the usual culprits of excess gas formation, reduces the volume and odor. Activated charcoal tablets are very effective for the malodorous moments. Lactase is a naturally occurring enzyme that many adults lose as they age. Supplements can aid the digestion of uncooked foods containing milk or cheese. Herbal remedies, like lemon balm and peppermint, have been effective.

A pad containing activated charcoal and baffle technology is available for people who worry about offending clients or business associates during after-lunch meetings.(## see reference) Hemorrhoid removal and weight loss can reduce the telltale noise.
There is very little that embarrasses a person worse than inadvertently releasing gas - though the fault lies not in us but in the unlucky chance of intestinal flora.

For such a minor and natural process, flatulence has never been the subject of scholarly conversation, or prestigious academic debate. Though a topic of nearly universal distress, studies of the function are taken as humorous anecdotes and, for the most part, result in little scientific discovery or advancement. Remedies are sequestered in a remote aisle of the pharmacy, and questions go unanswered or, worse, unasked. Jokes abound, but valid information about causes and cures do not.

Gastrointestinal gas has been blamed for marital dissolution and dinosaur extinction. Adolescent methane producers entertain their friends with their flame-throwing antics. Stage acts have featured 'flatuologists', and Adolph Hitler drank motor oil as a cure. A Roman soldier let one rip, voicing his noisy and noisome opinion of the Jewish assemblage. That insult resulted in days of rioting and ten thousand deaths.
Intestinal gas has a long history of making history.

Ben Franklin once wrote, "Fart proudly." Perhaps he merely acknowledged that flatus was a byproduct of having enough to eat and meant one possessed material wealth. But maybe he, as a forward-thinking man, had something more basic in mind.

People, regardless of race, religion, gender, creed, or status, are fundamentally equal because we share a common denominator.

People fart.

## GasBGon, Flatulence Filter Seat Cushions

Copyright © 2002 Lisa J. Binkley
All rights reserved