Causes of Gas
Triggers list for Gas: The list of triggers mentioned in source as possible causal factors for Gas includes:
- Raffinose (sugar) - such as beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, other vegetables, and whole grains
- Lactose (milk sugar) - from milk and dairy products
- Fructose (fruit sugar) - onions, artichokes, pears, and wheat
- Sorbitol - apples, pears, peaches, and prunes; also various dietetic foods and sugar-free candies and gums.
- Starch - potatoes, corn, noodles, and wheat
Cause details for Gas: Gas is made primarily of odorless vapors--carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sometimes methane. The unpleasant odor of flatulence comes from bacteria in the large intestine that release small amounts of gases that contain sulfur. 1
Gas in the digestive tract (that is, the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine) comes from two sources:
- swallowed air
- normal breakdown of certain undigested foods by harmless bacteria
naturally present in the large intestine (colon)
Air swallowing (aerophagia) is a common cause of gas in the stomach. Everyone swallows small amounts of air when eating and drinking. However, eating or drinking rapidly, chewing gum, smoking, or wearing loose dentures can cause some people to take in more air.
Burping, or belching, is the way most swallowed air--which contains nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide--leaves the stomach. The remaining gas moves into the small intestine, where it is partially absorbed. A small amount travels into the large intestine for release through the rectum. (The stomach also releases carbon dioxide when stomach acid and bicarbonate mix, but most of this gas is absorbed into the bloodstream and does not enter the large intestine.)
Breakdown of undigested foods
The body does not digest and absorb some carbohydrates (the sugar, starches, and fiber found in many foods) in the small intestine because of a shortage or absence of certain enzymes.
This undigested food then passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, where normal, harmless bacteria break down the food, producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and, in about one-third of all people, methane. Eventually these gases exit through the rectum.
People who make methane do not necessarily pass more gas or have unique symptoms. A person who produces methane will have stools that consistently float in water. Research has not shown why some people produce methane and others do not.
Foods that produce gas in one person may not cause gas in another. Some common bacteria in the large intestine can destroy the hydrogen that other bacteria produce. The balance of the two types of bacteria may explain why some people have more gas than others.1
Which foods cause gas?
Most foods that contain carbohydrates can cause gas. By contrast, fats and proteins cause little gas.
The sugars that cause gas are raffinose, lactose, fructose, and sorbitol.
Beans contain large amounts of this complex sugar. Smaller amounts are found in cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, other vegetables, and whole grains.
Lactose is the natural sugar in milk. It is also found in milk products, such as cheese and ice cream, and processed foods, such as bread, cereal, and salad dressing. Many people, particularly those of African, Native American, or Asian background, normally have low levels of the enzyme lactase needed to digest lactose after childhood. Also, as people age, their enzyme levels decrease. As a result, over time people may experience increasing amounts of gas after eating food containing lactose.
Fructose is naturally present in onions, artichokes, pears, and wheat. It is also used as a sweetener in some soft drinks and fruit drinks.
Sorbitol is a sugar found naturally in fruits, including apples, pears, peaches, and prunes. It is also used as an artificial sweetener in many dietetic foods and sugarfree candies and gums.
Most starches, including potatoes, corn, noodles, and wheat, produce gas as they are broken down in the large intestine. Rice is the only starch that does not cause gas.
Many foods contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel-like texture in the intestines. Found in oat bran, beans, peas, and most fruits, soluble fiber is not broken down until it reaches the large intestine, where digestion causes gas.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, passes essentially unchanged through the intestines and produces little gas. Wheat bran and some vegetables contain this kind of fiber.1
Triggers discussion for Gas:
Foods that may cause gas include
- vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, onions, artichokes, and asparagus
- fruits, such as pears, apples, and peaches
- whole grains, such as whole wheat and bran
- soft drinks and fruit drinks
- milk and milk products, such as cheese and ice cream, and packaged foods prepared with lactose, such as bread, cereal, and salad dressing
- foods containing sorbitol, such as dietetic foods and sugarfree candies and gums
Underlying condition causes of Gas: The list of possible underlying conditions (see also Misdiagnosis of underlying causes of Gas) mentioned in various sources as possible causes of Gas includes:
- Air swallowing (aerophagia) - this causes more belching than flatulence; can occur from eating too fast, chewing gum, smoking, ill-fitted dentures, or other reasons.
- Fundoplication surgery - a treatment for GERD that may cause gas as a side effect.
- Digestive surgery - scar tissue or adhesions can cause gas and other problems.
- Lactase deficiency
- Lactose intolerance
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Digestive disease, chronic
Gas as a symptom: Conditions listing Gas as a symptom may also be potential underlying causes of Gas. The list of conditions listing Gas as a symptom in our database includes:
- Blastocystis hominis
- Brainerd diarrhea
- Celiac Disease
- Clostridium perfringens food poisoning
- Colorectal cancer
- Food intolerances
- Hiatal hernia
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Lactose Intolerance
- Stomach cancer
Related information for causes of Gas:
Further relevant information on causes of Gas may be found
in the risk factors for Gas
and underlying causes of Gas.
1. excerpt from Gas in the Digestive Tract: NIDDK
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