We’ve all dated someone, at some point, who for some reason had pretty gnarly gas.
In the beginning of a courtship, they can hide it, hold it in during long movies and car rides. But eventually, they cave in. They get comfortable. And one evening, while you’re watching a Law & Order rerun, something changes.
They got lazy. You clench your nostrils, aghast, and silently, slowly concede Phase One of the courtship- where doors are opened and eyes are gazed upon- has officially come to a close. It was only a matter of time, you sigh to no one in particular.
Or alternatively, maybe this person, this destroyer of love and all things innocent is (GULP) you?
Statistically, it’s probably both. I’ve only known one couple who swore they would never dare to bare their gassiness in front of one another, but with about 60 to 70 million people in the United States suffering from gastrointestinal disease, two offending parties is more likely. And if the two lovers are meat eaters, it’s also more likely their vociferous odoriferousness scares the dog away, because meat remnants in the colon produce something called hydrogen sulfide.
Yes, it sounds like it might stink. And it does.
Let’s look at this more broadly. As I’m dealing with baby bee’s bowel movements on a semi-hourly basis, I thought it a fitting topic to explore. So why do we have rank gas? And why do some people have it worse than others?
Gas is generally a result of our diets and the composition of gut bacteria. Having the wrong kind of bacterial makeup, called dysbiosis, can cause issues- and not just in our relationships.
Dysbiosis, or having an out of whack gut microbe, is an unfavorable ratio of bad bugs to good bugs. In our gut, we have a host of bacterial strains that are acting on us every second.
The makeup of our gut bacteria is influenced by genetics, environment at birth and mother’s bacteria, our built environment, medications and supplements, and largely, what we chow on. Part of why I was adamant to try and have a natural, vaginal birth was because the bacteria we transfer to our baby on the way out determines the bacteria that populates our baby’s gut. Vaginal births have been found to decrease the risk of allergies, asthma, and possibly metabolic consequences as baby grows up.
So what is going on? Essentially we’ve discovered that bacteria in the gut communicates with our brain via neuronal cells that send messages by way of the vagus nerve. We call this connection the gut-brain axis.
This gut-brain relationship affects our immune system function, metabolism, nutrient production, mental health and brain function, gut lining, and even our circadian rhythms. Some bacterial strains promote positive symptoms while others can cause disease and inflammation. Inflammation can be chronic and encourage the development of diabetes, dementia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, and cancers. Dysbiosis has also been connected to an increased risk for autoimmune diseases, obesity, depression and anxiety, and GI disorders.
Not too mention, gnarly gas.
There are more bacteria in our body than our own cells! And they act like a second brain, a second immune system, and often take the reigns more than we realize.
Luckily, we can control the composition of our gut to some degree through our lifestyle choices. For example, OTC medications such as NSAIDs have been shown to negatively influence our gut bacteria, increasing unfavorable strains. Not over-using NSAIDs is an important step. Stress has also been shown to encourage an unfavorable environment. Exercise and meditation can make our bodies more resilient to stress.
Largely, however, we can focus on consuming prebiotic and probiotic foods sources.
Prebiotics are considered functional foods which means they provide benefit above and beyond their basic nutritional makeup. They are low-digestible foods, comprised primarily of carbohydrates or short chains of saccharide molecules, that help feed the gut bacteria (a process called “fermentation”) so that the favorable strains will become more robust and widespread. This helps to “crowd out” the bad bacteria responsible for dysregulation of metabolism and inflammation.
Probiotic foods are a bit different. Probiotic foods aren’t feeding the gut bacteria, they already contain some live bacteria. Think of yogurt- we’ve all seen the advertisement for Activa.
Probiotics can help modulate the immune system, decrease inflammation, increase our resilience to stress, and may even decrease the risk of certain cancers. The benefit depends on the type of bacteria, but lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are generally the ones to look for. On the shelves today, Align has shown to be favorable for IBS while some other brands show no benefit.
Research is still trying to identify what probiotic strains in isolation would produce what outcome or benefit for what disease state. It’s an ongoing search.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, likely promote the development on an overall favorable gut environment and therefore, may be of more benefit than individually supplemented strains.
Studies have mostly been done in animals thus far, but there is strong data suggesting prebiotics may help regulate emotional responses and reduce anxiety, promote overall gut health, increase calcium and overall nutrient absorption, and promote weight loss.
Not to mention, help decrease gnarly gas.
Probiotics are live cultures of bacteria in supplemental form or fermented food form. Prebiotics are foods that gut microbes ferment themselves.
Prebiotic foods include soy foods, onions, green veggies like asparagus, artichokes, spinach, and leeks, garlic, bananas, whole-wheat grains and oats, and beans such as lentils, navy beans, chick peas, and black beans.
Fruits are a good source of fiber, but not all fruits have prebiotic potential. Blueberries may confer a benefit. Gluten-free grains that have prebiotic promise include amaranth, quinoa, millet and buckwheat.
Probiotic foods include functional foods like yogurt, fermented products like pickled vegetables, kimchi, tempeh and miso, kefir and aged cheeses, sauerkraut, and soy sauce.
So how can we process all this info into finding something to actually eat? It sounds bizarre to plan a meal around kimchi and kefir. Although, the last time Dr. P and I went to Costco we bought an abnormally large container of kimchi, and henceforth we’ve been on a mission to eat kimchi in every way possible. We haven’t quite figured out how to slip it into breakfast, though. Kimchi pancakes just don’t sound appealing.
So here is an example of a gut-friendly meal plan I threw together for you. If nothing else, you can share it with your date the next time romance is threatening to cease and desist…
GUT FRIENDLY MEAL PLAN
Breakfast: Oatmeal with half sliced banana and kefir and wheat germ, mixed
Lunch: Spinach salad with quinoa, pan-seared tempeh, sauteed onions, blueberries, asparagus
Dinner: Garlic roasted sweet potato covered topped with black beans, tomato salsa, red pepper, and aged cheddar
You might be wondering how eating more beans and veggies will decrease your stinkies.
After all, aren’t beans the magical fruit? It’s true that it does take awhile for our bodies to adjust to higher amounts of fiber and prebiotic foods, but as you develop a healthier gut profile, not only will your inflammation and disease risk decrease, your bowel movements and gas will be less distinctively smelly as well.
And lastly, what about foods that negatively affect our gut bacteria?
This is an entire other post, and probably, a larger part of the American GI disease equation than we know. For the most part, food processed with too much flour, sugar, saturated fats, and salt increase the bad bugs and decrease favorable bacteria. So basically, what we eat at fast food restaurants, from vending machines, pretty much all packaged foods, heavily processed meats and processed grains, and treats all contribute to a less healthy gut.
Now, off to change some diapers.