Burp, burp, windbreak: everyone does it. And more often than you might think: the average person burps 30 times a day; and with passing wind, while eight to 15 times is average, up to 25 times is perfectly normal.
In both cases, it can be so subtle that you don’t notice it. But for some people, it can be a problem, usually because it’s too frequent, uncontrollable, or itchy.
However, there are steps you can take to curb these problems.
First, burping: This is essentially the body’s way of getting rid of excess air that is carried into the feeding tube instead of the airway.
We all do this to some degree when we eat or talk, but some people swallow too much. This is called aerophagy.
The average person burps 30 times a day; and with passing wind, while eight to 15 times is average, anything up to 25 times is perfectly normal
Studies suggest that people who suffer from acid reflux or indigestion may burp much more frequently.
Fast eaters are prone to this. Ill-fitting dentures can also cause it, since you take in more air when you swallow food, just like chewing gum.
However, excessive burping can also be a sign of an underlying health condition.
Inflammation of the stomach lining can cause more belching, and studies suggest that people who suffer from acid reflux or indigestion also tend to swallow more air and burp more as a result. This is because these uncomfortable sensations in the gut trigger altered respiratory mechanisms that cause people to take in more air.
One way to combat this is with diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing. It takes just five to ten minutes a day and works by using the correct muscles when you breathe to prevent air from being diverted into the supply line.
In a study published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2017, 80% of patients with acid reflux and excessive belching who did abdominal breathing daily for four weeks saw a significant improvement, compared to just 19% in a group of control.
To do belly breathing, sit or lie down and then place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Inhale through your nose for about four seconds, feeling your abdomen expand. Hold your breath for two seconds. Then slowly breathe out through your mouth for about six seconds and repeat for five to 15 minutes.
When it comes to flatulence, let me emphasize that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and, in fact, it would be unhealthy not to pass gas. It’s a sign that gut bacteria are doing their job, namely breaking down food that can’t be digested elsewhere. A byproduct of this process is gas, which then has to go somewhere.
did you know
Have you ever noticed that in water, lemons float but limes sink?
This has nothing to do with their freshness or acidity, but simply because limes are a bit denser (they have more weight per unit volume).
Also, fresh eggs sink while old eggs float.
This is because as the egg ages, gas is produced inside it, increasing its buoyancy.
One concern that people have is the smell. I have seen clients whose gas is of an intensity that clears the room. It doesn’t have to be this way, since 99 percent of the gas our intestinal bugs produce—hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane—is odorless. The whiff comes from sulfur-containing compounds, particularly hydrogen sulfide gas.
And how much of that you emit is dictated by your diet. Sources of sulfur include meat, poultry, eggs, some additives in beer and wine, and protein supplements (see recipe below).
Another type of sulfur comes from vegetables like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, and leeks. However, studies show that vegetables have less odor potential than other sources of sulfur.
So if you’re worried about the smell of your wind, try cutting back on meat, beer, and wine for two weeks, but not vegetables. In fact, there’s a case for upping your greens since your bacteria prefer to consume fiber—the more you get, the less they’ll ferment the potentially smellier protein in your diet. For some people it is not the smell but the frequency that bothers them. Excess flatulence can be the result of an overfeeding of intestinal bacteria. This can happen if, for example, you suffer from a traveler’s belly.
In this case, the food reaches your gut faster than normal, which means that by the time it reaches your gut microbes (which mostly live in the last 5 feet of your 30-foot-long gut), it doesn’t it digests as well as it should. This gives the bacteria more to bite, therefore more gas.
This can also happen if you have a food intolerance, for example to lactose (the sugar in milk).
Because it lacks the enzyme that breaks down lactose, large amounts of it affect your gut microbes, causing a feeding frenzy and lots of gas.
Increasing your fiber intake too quickly can have a similar effect, giving your gut microbes plenty to eat.
Fiber-induced gas normally must be pushed into the bloodstream and dispersed that way. But if you are not used to eating a lot of fiber, this mechanism will not work well (your intestine needs time to increase its efficiency) and the gases will be expelled in the form of flatulence.
Don’t let this discourage you from following a high fiber diet because it has many health benefits; just slow down the rate at which you add it. Think of it like a marathon, not a sprint—your gut is in training.
Also, eating more fiber can curb flatulence in the long run, as it helps reduce the risk of constipation (if food stays in the colon, it is fermented more than normal, leading to excess flatulence). Excess flatulence and bloating are also symptoms of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), where bacteria that normally live in the lower intestine creep up, meaning they can feast on the food before it spoils.
SIBO is more common in people with diabetes because they are at higher risk of impaired bowel movement due to damaged nerves in the intestine.
In the clinic, we usually diagnose SIBO with a breath test that detects excess hydrogen production, along with a symptom diary kept by the patient.
And finally, some people struggle with not being able to control their gas when this is socially appropriate, known as flatulence incontinence.
One possible remedy for this is pelvic floor exercises, which can give you a bit more control over your anal sphincter (the muscle that controls gas release).
This involves first squeezing the back duct as if to stop the outflow of gas. Then extend that contraction forward as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine. The pelvic floor muscles are now contracted. Now squeeze and hold this muscle for ten seconds, before releasing and repeating (or hold for three seconds if ten is too hard at first, and work your way up).
Repeat five times and then try ten quick clicks, tensing the muscle back and forth rapidly (this works another type of pelvic floor muscle). Ideally, do this once a day.
As with diaphragmatic burping breathing, pelvic floor exercises are an easy move with a big payoff.
TRY THIS: Coconut and Cocoa Bites
These are high in plant protein and fiber, and make a great mid-morning or post-gym snack, without the unwanted sulfur load you might get from protein bars.
- ¾ cup nut butter of choice
- 3 Medjool dates, pressed into a paste with ¼ cup boiling water or 45g sweetener of your choice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- ¼ cup dark chocolate chips
- 3 tablespoons grated coconut
Place the nut butter, date paste, vanilla extract, and cocoa in a bowl and stir to mix well. Shape the mixture into a large, smooth dough ball. Cut small pieces to create ten bite-sized balls. Freeze for 30 minutes to allow the dough balls to set. Add the chocolate chips to a heatproof bowl and melt slowly in the microwave or over a saucepan of hot water, stirring every 15 seconds until smooth.
Dip the frozen morsels into the melted chocolate and sprinkle with the shredded coconut. (For an extra intake of plants, add additional toppings like chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, or ground almonds.) Return to the freezer to set the chocolate and store in the fridge or freezer.
Sprinkle the bars with sprinkle with the grated coconut
I just received the results of a food intolerance antibody test. Are these tests accurate, since it seems to reflect a high intolerance to certain foods that I eat often (eg, ginger root, sweet potato, almonds, kiwi, eggs, and dairy products)?
Sandra eels, E. Sussex.
Despite convincing commercial claims, there is no valid test for food intolerances (other than lactose).
And I’d be particularly wary of scientific-sounding ‘IgG tests’, where a sample of your blood is exposed to different foods and the resulting antibody (IgG) is measured. Unlike IgE tests, which are valid for diagnosing certain allergies, most of us will develop IgG antibodies to food during our lives, without symptoms.
So, as you’ve discovered, IgG is an indicator of repeated exposure, not food intolerance. Therefore, he would not let those results affect his dietary choices.
In clinical practice, we follow a three-step approach to diagnosis, which I call the 3Rs: record food intake and symptoms; restrain the alleged culprits; and finally, reintroduce these foods.
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