Flatulence, is caused by excessive gas in the stomach and intestines of mammals and other animals. It is colloquially known as passing gas, breaking wind, and farting, and is quite normal. There are two main causes of flatulence. One cause is the swallowing of air, as can happen with rapid drinking, smoking tobacco products or hyperventilation. The second of the main causes of flatulence is produced from bacteria normally found in the intestines and colon that help break down undigested foods. The gas is a byproduct of the intestinal bacteria as it breaks down food, particularly sugars and polysaccharides, such as starch and cellulose. Hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide are the byproduct gases of the bacteria.
One of the main causes of flatulence is the body's failure to properly breakdown food and absorb the nutrients, which is also called malabsorption. The degree of flatulence commonly varies by person — foods that produce gas in one person may not cause gas in another. This generally can be explained by intestinal bacteria. During digestion, it is important to have a balance of two types of bacteria in the intestines, those that produce hydrogen and those that destroy hydrogen. In simpler terms, one bacteria produces gas, the other eats the gas. Too much or too little of one bacteria in a person's system is one of the common causes of flatulence that results in some people having more gas than others.
Certain foods also cause more gas than others. Foods containing complex sugars, such as beans, cabbage, asparagus and broccoli are some well-known causes of flatulence. Starchy foods such as potatoes, noodles and wheat products can also cause an increase in gas. Even red wine and dark beer can be common culprits.
Sorbitol, a common sweetener in low calorie foods, and fructose, used in candies and drinks, is also a common source of malabsorbion which can lead to excessive gas. Another source of flatulence is caused by lactose deficiency, the decreased ability to digest natural sugars found in milk and other dairy products. Asians, Native Americans, and those of African backgrounds tend to have low levels of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose after childhood. The incidence of lactose deficiency also tends to increase with age.
Decreased enzyme levels in the pancreas or problems with the gallbladder or intestinal lining may also cause malabsorption. Any condition that slows down digestion or the transit through the colon, such as constipation, often causes more fermentation and flatulence may be increased. Pregnancy is also a well-known cause of slowed digestion, and hence more gas is usually produced.
Flatulence in and of itself isn't usually detrimental to health. In certain cases, however, chronic flatulence may be cause for concern. If it persists or is accompanied by symptoms such as diarrhea, blood in the stool, fever or vomiting, it may be best to seek medical attention to ensure the gas isn't a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.