Natural Treatments for Flatulence
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
INTESTINAL GAS IS A BY-PRODUCT OF DIGESTION that produces varying symptoms in different people, including bloating, abdominal distention, belching, and the release of rectal gas. The genteel English gave us a more civilized word for gas: flatulence.
Though embarrassing and uncomfortable, the production and release of intestinal gas is a normal digestive process. The fermentation and breakdown of foods by intestinal bacteria produces gas. The major causes of excessive flatulence are poor diet and improper digestion. Highly processed foods loaded with chemicals can overwhelm the digestive system, leading to a decline in function and excessive waste products, which can ferment and produce gas. A less common cause of excessive flatulence is aerophagia, or swallowing air with the food we eat.
Chinese medicine recognizes both the dietary causes of flatulence and the emotional element. Flatulence and bloating are signs of a diminished flow of liver energy, which is greatly influenced by mood and feelings. Digestive weakness and a buildup of dampness due to poor dietary habits often accompany liver stagnation. I often ask my patients about their emotional state when treating digestive disorders.
My treatments focus on a balanced approach - I use herbal therapy and acupuncture to help support healthy intestinal function and promote smooth flow of energy in the liver-gallbladder network. I also educate my patients about proper eating habits.
DIET FOR FLATULENCE
- The food we eat is directly responsible for the production of intestinal gas. The speed at which we eat also has a direct effect. The faster we eat, the more air we’re bound to swallow. Carbohydrates are more gas producing than fats or proteins. Eating smaller, evenly spaced meals more frequently and properly chewing your food are helpful. Foods that reduce flatulence include carrots, black pepper, coriander, chiles, cilantro, limes, lemons, and papaya. Dill, anise, parsley, cumin, caraway, turmeric, and seaweed are also helpful.
- Beans and legumes tend to elicit gas because they are rich in insoluble fiber; in this family focusing on split peas, lima beans, and lentils is your best bet. Beans are less gas producing if you soak them in water overnight before cooking. To further reduce gas production, cook beans with herbs and spices. Fermented soy products such as tofu or soybean are less gas producing. Yogurt and naturally fermented drinks containing lactobacillus acidophilus, a beneficial intestinal bacteria, counteract flatulence.
- Foods containing polysaccharides, including most beans, onions, radishes, sweet potatoes, milk and other dairy products, cashews, broccoli, cabbage, Jerusalem artichokes, oats, and yeast (found in most breads) produce excessive amounts of gas and should be avoided. Stay away from carbonated drinks, as drinking them directly causes gas. Lactose is a major source of gas especially in those who are lactose intolerant. If you do eat dairy products, take the enzyme lactase. Butter and other fatty foods containing butyric acid are responsible for the foul odor in flatulence.
HOME REMEDIES FOR FLATULENCE
- For immediate relief from gas, mix 1 teaspoon dried ginger powder with a pinch of asafetida (a resin from the ferula plant, used in pickles) and a pinch of rock salt in 1 cup of warm water, and drink.
- After meals, chew on fresh ginger slices soaked in lime juice to reduce gas production.
- Make a tea by steeping 4 or s sprigs of fresh mint in 1 cup of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drink after meals to reduce indigestion and bloating.
- Eat naturally fermented sauerkraut or make your own pickled vegetables by soaking sliced vegetables such as carrots, radishes, or turnips in rice vinegar. Bottle in an airtight jar, and age for at least 1 month in a dark space. Eat a few slices with each meal to help with digestion.
DAILY VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR FLATULENCE
- Probiotics containing 3 to 5 million live bacterial cultures taken daily can help strengthen digestion and reduce flatulence. Use non-dairy-based probiotics if you are lactose intolerant.
- Taking 3 to 4 grams of the digestive enzyme pancreatin with each meal can help with digestion and improve absorption of vital nutrients. Take 2 charcoal tablets (500 milligrams) every hour until the symptoms subside.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR FLATULENCE
- Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to www.askdrmao.com.
- Taking 3 to 5 grams of dandelion root twice daily can aid digestion by supporting liver and gallbladder function.
- Make tea by steeping 1 teaspoon of any of the following herbs and spices in 1 cup of boiling water: dried dill, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, sage, bay leaf, mint, basil, coriander, fennel, anise, cardamom, or turmeric. Drink after each meal to soothe and prevent bloating.
- Traditional Chinese herbs such as hawthorn, massa fermentata, daikon radish seed, tangerine peel, poria, ginger, and licorice are used to support healthy digestion and relieve gas.
EXERCISE FOR FLATULENCE
To help move food along the digestive tract and to improve digestion and absorption, the best exercise is walking. The energetic meridians of the digestive organs run along the large muscles of the legs, so walking stimulates energy flow within the channels and promotes digestion. Take an easy 10-minute walk after each meal. While walking, massage your abdomen with your palms in a circular motion around your navel. This helps move food through your digestive tract, avoiding prolonged accumulation.
The following is a movement from the Eight Treasures Qi Gong called Raising the Hands to Adjust the Stomach and Spleen.
- Begin in a standing posture with your spine erect, feet drawn close together, and arms at your sides. Tilt your head slightly forward. Begin regular, rhythmic breathing.
- Form a cup or plate with your right hand. Facing your palm toward the sky, inhale and make a large circular motion in front of you from the left to right while raising your arm above your head. Be sure to keep your palm facing the sky. As you complete this motion, move your left hand to your back with the palm facing the ground.
- As your right hand reaches its highest point above your head, begin to stretch your torso, lifting your body on the balls of your feet. Exhale gently, and simultaneously push your left hand toward the ground. Be sure to push in opposite directions - your right hand pushing to the sky and the left pushing to the ground.
- Repeat this movement 3 times, inhaling as your arm goes up and exhaling as you stretch.
- Switch sides and repeat the exercise. Do this for 15 minutes, twice daily.
The exercise helps stretch the abdominal organs, and stimulates the intestines, spleen, and stomach.
SELF ACUPRESSURE FOR FLATULENCE
- Locate the acupoint Valley of
Harmony (LI-4), in the web
between your thumb and index
finger on your right hand.
Apply steady pressure with
your left thumb until you
feel soreness. Hold for 2
minutes. Repeat on the
- Find the acupoint Upper Great
Opening (ST-37) by measuring
two hand-widths or eight
finger-widths below the outer
indentation of your right knee
next to your shinbone. Apply
steady pressure with your left
thumb until you feel soreness.
Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on
the left leg.
FLATULENCE: WHAT TO AVOID
- Overeating and eating while anxious, as this takes the digestive energy away from the stomach, making it harder to absorb the nutrients from your food.
- Eating when you are stressed, angry, emotionally upset, or otherwise preoccupied with strong emotional feelings. This stagnates the energy, slows down digestion, and produces gas.