The Other  F-Word

by Ann Marie Mershon

I know, I’m sorry. It’s indelicate of me to even mention it, but--well, we all face it. Flatulence. Gas. Wind. And it’s doggone embarrassing.

Actually, I have to admit I’ve found this a hilarious topic all my life. In the area of flatulence, I’ve never really grown up. My friends were raised in sophisticated (deaf?) families that dealt with gas mishaps maturely, either ignoring them or excusing themselves. I grew up with brothers. When The Event occurred, one of them would jeer, “Who Let One?” and the culprit would either turn crimson or laugh demonically, setting the rest of us off into gales of mirth. Because my offenses were silent ones (Silent But Deadly), my brothers grew up thinking that girls didn’t pass gas.

Well, the gig’s up. We do. Everyone does.

You seldom see this delicate issue discussed in the media. I guess our puritan sensitivities balk at such candor. It’s never mentioned in books, and people never do it on T.V. (except on Saturday Night Live).

In 1781, Benjamin Franklin dealt with flatulence in a paper to the Royal Academy  (of science) of Brusselles. Franklin was world reknowned for his discoveries in the field of electricity, so imagine their surprise (or mirth) at his proposal:

“It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.

“That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.

“That all well bred People therefore, to avoid giving such Offence, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.”

In his paper, Franklin proposes that someone “discover some Drug wholesome and not disagreeable to be mixed with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the Natural Discharges, of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreeable as Perfumes.”

Dream on, Benjamin! It hasn’t happened yet, but we can always hope. At least we have Bean-o and Gas-x, which dispel the pressure and pain of gas build-up by introducing an enzyme that breaks down the gas-producing carbohydrates in food. Unfortunately, the aroma continues unscathed.

Gastric disturbances affect us all. According to my research, our bodies produce three-fourths to a liter of gas every day in our intestinal tracts. This collection of oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane has to be expelled somehow, and we pass it in the form of burps and toots. Quite an orchestra, wouldn’t you say? Research shows that men tend to experience a greater number of “toots” than women, but we all produce about 10 to 15 emissions a day. Fortunately, most go unnoticed--usually. I chuckle, though, as I recall my three-year-old sister exclaiming, “Daddy just burped in his pants!” (One down, fourteen to go!)

One of my own more disturbing discoveries is that flatulence seems to increase with age. One possible explanation for this is that our systems become more intolerant of lactose and other gas-producing foods. If you want to ease back on your “organ recital”, try some of these tips:

Limit your lactose intake or use reduced lactose dairy products. As we age, our systems don’t produce enough enzymes to fully digest the lactose (natural sugar) in milk products, so it begins to ferment as it moves into the lower intestines, and voila! PFoooot!

You should also avoid the artificial sweeteners sorbitol and manitol, which are used to sweeten some sugarless gums, candies, and other sugar-free products. These sugar alcohols are fermented by colon bacteria, causing gas and abdominal discomfort.

If you tend to eat a high fiber diet (which is a good thing to do), you should vary the types of beans, fruits, and vegetables you ingest. It helps, too, to eat small meals. Your system produces less gas if fiber is introduced in smaller portions throughout the day.

It is also recommended that you wait a while after a tough workout before you eat. Heavy exercise reduces blood flow to the intestinal tract, so you should let your system regain its natural balance before downing a meal. Waiting 30 to 60 minutes after exercise should reduce gas production following that meal.

I offer my apologies for challenging your sensibilities with this volatile topic. I’ve done my best to use nice ways to say The Other F-word. I hope it helped.