Q & A: Natural remedies for relieving gas

by Jackie Hart, MD

Q: Is there a natural remedy to relieve gas? This has become a real problem for me and I prefer not to take medication.

A: Gas production, which can cause belching, bloating, and flatulence, can be very frustrating and embarrassing. You may be surprised to learn, however, that as many as 20 gas eruptions per day is considered normal; the average for a 24-hour period is eight to nine for women and 12-13 for men.

The first step in treating the condition is to work with your physician to try to identify an underlying cause, particularly if you have noticed a change in your usual habits. Causes may include, but are not limited to:
  • swallowing of air (called aerophagia)
  • anxiety with hyperventilation
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • hiatal hernia
  • slow motility of the gut (which may occur with diabetes or other conditions)
  • ulcers
  • postnasal drip from sinus congestion
  • inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohns disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • excess gas caused by medication (commonly seen with the cholesterol-lowering medication atorvastatin as well as many antibiotics)
  • infection
  • tobacco use
  • pregnancy
In rare cases, symptoms of belching may be an unusual sign of unexpected physical or psychologic illness, such as heart disease or obsessive-compulsive disorder. People with lactose intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often have bloating and flatulence. Plus, diets high in starch-containing foods, such as beans, legumes, corn, and fruit while very healthful overall tend to cause a lot of flatus because these unabsorbed complex carbohydrates reach the large intestine where they are fermented and hydrogen gas is produced.

Research has shown that dietary supplement Beano, which contains an enzyme (alpha-galactosidase) to counteract the gas-producing process, provides relief for many people. Take Beano tablets before a high starch meal or place a few drops of liquid Beano directly on your first bite of food.

Despite popular belief, charcoal tablets are generally not useful for alleviating bloating or gas, but they may be helpful in reducing the odor from flatulence if taken before a meal.

There are some general measures for alleviating excess gas as well: do not use smoking or chewing tobacco and avoid chewing gum, hard candies, and carbonated beverages; drink plenty of water throughout the day eight glasses or more and exercise to help regulate your bowel habits, which may reduce or eliminate gas over time.

Oil of peppermint (one capsule three to four times per day 15-30 minutes prior to a meal) seems to help a high percentage of people. Also, try keeping a diary of what you eat and when you experience excess gas; you might be able to identify a correctable pattern. I recommend working with a registered dietitian once you have ruled out medical conditions with your doctor.

The spice cardamom is supposed to help dispel gas, but its not clear what amount is necessary or if cooking eliminates its anti-flatulent properties. Its certainly worth trying to use cardamom, though, particularly if you already stock the spice on your shelf.

Finally, when the simple measures described are not enough, try hypnotherapy, which has been quite successful for eliminating belching, bloating and flatulence, particularly in the presence of irritable bowel syndrome.