With the pandemic keeping us at home during March, April, and even in May depending on where you live, you might have noticed a few things about yourself or roommates or family members that otherwise would have gone undetected. Are wearing your mask at home because of your own or someone else’s digestive dysfunction?
Today you will learn why we have gas - or flatulence according to medical jargon. You will learn to identify triggers to the development of this odoriferous event as well as what you can start now to reduce its effects on you and everyone you live with. Tame those blue angels with the following supportive rules for digestion. Spoiler alert: It does not involve separate bathrooms.
Your Digestive System is the Gas Management System.
Gas happens at various sections in the system, but it always comes from that system and no other. A quick review of our digestive system will show that 99% of the time it is a one-way process. When we are hungry or thirsty, we eat food, drink liquids, and generally that is all the thought we give to the system. In more detail – we have enzymes in our mouth and stomach, gall bladder and pancreas that work to digest carbohydrates, protein, and fat in that order. If we disrupt any of that process, we do not get a second chance further along in the system. Also, digestion is greatly affected by what is going on around us at the time we eat.
Below is an IDEAL process to ensure good digestion – consider each of these with your eating habits:
1. Your food is cooked at home and you control the ingredients and portions.
2. You eat when you are hungry in a relaxed environment.
3. You chew your food slowly and carefully until it is a thick paste, without the aid of any liquid to swallow this food.
Does any of this happen for at least 75% of the meals you eat each week? If you eat three meals per day at home that works out to 15-16 meals eaten under the above ideal conditions. If so – that means you endocrine and digestive systems are ideally engaged to support good digestion and can handle a few rushed meals eaten under stress.
Continuing from step 3 above, the food is now a paste for you swallow – sounds bad but it is not. It is this consistency because of the digestive enzymes that are sent out to break down carbohydrates into a more digestible form for the small intestine to work with. The enzymes come from your salivary glands located in your cheeks and under your tongue.
Once that leaves your mouth, the food bolus is on the way to protein breakdown via the stomach acid. If you swallow food with a liquid while you are eating, you may also be swallowing air, which leads to burping during and after the meal. The liquid also dilutes your stomach acid, and affects protein breakdown. After that, the fat in that bolus is further digested with bile from the gall bladder and pancreatic enzymes from the pancreas.
After leaving the stomach these carbohydrate, protein and fat nutrients are now ready for a chemical process called assimilation and absorption by the small intestine. This food is in its most simple state as smaller molecules and is absorbed across the small intestine wall for entry into the bloodstream. Food that is not completely broken down into these molecules become irritants to the small intestine and disruptive immune reactions take place in response to the irritation. This is where IBS and SIBO and other similar conditions arise.
So why the gas?
We are all unique amazing human beings with the exception that our digestive needs and functions are the same. Remove the work of the teeth, the stomach acid, the pancreas, a gall bladder, or change the gut microbiome in the small intestine or large intestine with antibiotics or prescription medication and so begins a cascade of disruption in digestion. Digestion is a like a complex dance where all the steps need to happen in the correct order.
Your stomach does not have teeth and you MUST chew your food. That is step 1 for the particularly important fact that the stomach has a different function than the mouth and salivary glands. Chewing sounds simple but is often taken for granted by fast eaters. For every patient I have seen in the last 18 years, 90% have a digestive challenge that starts in the mouth and usually sounds like this: Eating in a hurry, under stress, chewing twice and using a big swallow of water or other drink to wash it all down and get back to work.
When we give the stomach food that is not completely chewed up and mixed well with salivary enzymes, the stomach cannot do that for us. It is a set function. If protein is not broken down by chewing well enough in the mouth, incomplete protein breakdown by the stomach follows. Then that incomplete food is moving on to the small intestine where it causes more problems.
*As an aside note for you: With reflux medication and stomach acid blocking drugs, this prevents protein digestion altogether. And most people should know that the FDA approved the use of these drugs for no more than 2 weeks. I encourage you to discuss your antacid drugs with your provider and ask for a safer option. I have already written about how these affect the development of osteoporosis by causing mineral malabsorption, and there are many other ways to support healing without the use of antacids.
What is That Smell? It’s Fermentation.
You already know that if the stomach cannot break down a meal eaten in a hurry, then the small and large intestines cannot either. That smell? Your body is sending a message loud and clear. This is from the carbohydrates and protein fermenting in your large intestine. Because the previous steps needed for digestion did not happen, all the undigested food continued along to the large intestine. Here, the bacteria, yeast and other organisms making up the microbiome are working to digest these food items via fermentation. Fermentation of protein and carbohydrates is what causes your gas. With high protein and low fiber intake a buildup of gas happens along with constipation and can also give you a painful bloated feeling. Sometimes you can see undigested food in your toilet bowl - these are all messages that you need to pay attention to in order to determine the cause of this gas.
When Will it End?
Usually a supplement or prescription is not needed if you can make some changes in how, when, and what you eat. Begin with the three steps above, and aim to reduce fluids while you eat. Move fluid intake to between meals and hydrate with plenty of clean water.
Gas does not have to be contributing to the many reasons for social distancing at this time. If this does not resolve after a few weeks of changing your mealtime habits, consider running some tests to see if you have a more complex problem going on. These could be testing for simple food intolerance to colitis or other more serious conditions and need a proper diagnosis for complete treatment and resolution. Get started now by scheduling a free discovery call to discuss your specific concerns.