In this issue of HEALTHbeat:
  • 12 tips for reducing gas
  • How many calories do I need?

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Harvard Health Publications -- Harvard Medical School HEALTHbeat
December 18, 2007

Dear HEALTHbeat subscriber,

Digestion. It’s a remarkable process that’s often taken for granted. We eat, absorb the nutrients we need for energy and health, and finally, eliminate waste. But digestion is no free lunch. One pesky byproduct of this amazing process, gas, can cause physical discomfort and downright embarrassment. This issue of HEALTHbeat offers 12 tips for minimizing flatulence. Also, Dr. Thomas Lee, editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter, discusses how to calculate the number of calories you need each day.

Wishing you good health,


Nancy Ferrari
Managing Editor
Harvard Health Publications
HEALTHbeat@hms.harvard.edu

In This Issue
1 12 tips for reducing gas
[READ]
2 Notable from Harvard Medical School:
* The Sensitive Gut
* Weigh Less, Live Longer
[READ]
3 How many calories do I need?
[READ]

From Harvard Medical School
The Sensitive Gut
Do you suffer from a sensitive gut? For most people, episodes of gastrointestinal upset are infrequent and relatively tolerable, but one in four people has frequent gastrointestinal (GI) problems that can severely disrupt a normal lifestyle. Whether you suffer from chronic indigestion (also called GERD or acid reflux) or other chronic GI problems like irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers, The Sensitive Gut explains the causes behind many common GI problems, and outlines the lifestyle changes and medical treatments that will help you feel better.
[READ MORE]
 
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1\ 12 tips for reducing gas
Chaucer, Mel Brooks (of course!), even Ingmar Bergman (in the opening scene of Fanny and Alexander) have all used flatulence to get some laughs. But in excess, which often involves a painful bloated feeling, flatulence isn’t much fun for the person having it — or those nearby.
In 2007, the American College of Gastroenterology put out a helpful list of 10 tips for dealing with intestinal gas. We did some of our own research, made some additions, and ended up with an even dozen.
  1. It’s normal — and maybe a good sign. Most adults release intestinal gas 10 to 20 times a day. Some of the most healthful foods — beans, broccoli, some whole grains — tend to cause gas. A little bit of extra flatulence could be an indication that you’re eating the way you should!

  2. Slow down, you’re eating too fast, you’ve got to make the mealtime last. Whenever you eat or drink something, a little bit of air goes down with it. Some of that air beats a hasty retreat in the form of a burp, but some may also get into the stomach and eventually make its way through the entire digestive tract. Much of the advice about reducing flatulence aims to reduce the amount of this incidental air intake: Eat and drink slowly and chew food thoroughly.

  3. Airy now, pay later. Air also gets into the gut if it’s incorporated into food and drinks. Beer, soda, and other carbonated beverages are prime culprits. The gastroenterologists’ tips also warn about air-filled milk shakes, sponge cake, and souffle.

  4. Smoking: What doesn’t it cause! Apparently some air gets swallowed when people smoke. Antismoking campaigns have tried to scare people with dire warnings about heart and lung disease. Maybe flatulence should be added to the list of consequences.

  5. Avoid the brimstone. Flatus contains a mixture of gases, but the bad smell comes from the ones that contain sulfur, chiefly hydrogen sulfide and methylmercaptan. Putting less sulfur into your system can reduce the amount that comes out. Foods with notable sulfur content include eggs, meat, and cauliflower.

  6. Beans and some vegetables can be trouble… There’s a trio of larger sugars — raffinose, stachyose, and verbascose — that manage to arrive in our colons relatively unscathed because we lack the enzymes to digest them. The reprieve doesn’t last long, though. Bacterial residents of the colon feed on these sugars, producing gas as a by-product. Beans, lentils, other legumes, and some vegetables cause flatulence because they contain these sugars. Beans won’t produce as much gas if you boil them briefly, let them sit for an hour in the water, and then cook them again in a fresh pot of water. Just cooking them longer may also do the trick.

  7. …but Beano may help a little. Beano is the brand name for a nonprescription pill that contains alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that breaks down the indigestible sugars before they can reach the colon. An Italian study published in 2006 found that a very high dose (the equivalent of eight regular Beano pills) reduced flatulence, but a more normal dose (two Beano pills) didn’t reach statistical significance. Still, Beano is worth a try.

  8. Not so sweet in the end. Foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup can cause bloating and flatulence in some people because their small intestines can’t absorb large amounts of fructose. Sorbitol and the other sugar alcohols (maltitol, xylitol) can also be gas producers.

  9. Remedies with question marks. Charcoal pills (CharcoCaps, other brands) are supposed to absorb the smelly sulfurous gases in the colon before they’re emitted as flatus, but study results have been inconsistent. Simethicone, the active ingredient in antigas products like Gas-X, works by dissolving gas bubbles. It’s been a mainstay gas medicine for years, but experts rate the benefit as questionable.

  10. Odor-eating underwear. They’re the opposite of the whoopee cushion: seat cushions with charcoal filters that are supposed to absorb flatus. Dr. Michael Levitt, a Minneapolis researcher famous for his flatulence research, reported results comparing the cushions with other products made with odor-eating materials. Underwear made with an activated carbon fiber absorbed nearly all the sulfur-containing gases; pads worn inside underwear, 55% to 77% of it; and the cushions, only 20%. The underwear is expensive, though: The brand that Levitt used in his experiment costs $65.

  11. Adjusting the ecosystem. The bacteria in the intestines operate as a little ecosystem. Too few or too much of a particular species can produce excessive flatulence. Taking probiotics, which restock the gut with bacteria, can help. Sometimes the problem is too much bacteria. Rifaximin (Xifaxan), an antibiotic used primarily to treat traveler’s diarrhea, is also sometimes prescribed for gut problems, including excessive flatulence. However, it’s not approved for that purpose, so it may not be covered by insurance.

  12. Walking away from the problem. A Spanish study published in 2006 showed that study subjects retained less gas in their gut if they gently exercised (pedaling while on their backs so they would be as close as possible to a resting position). Of course, this means more flatulence not less. But if you’re outdoors or in an open area, no one may notice — and you’ll feel a whole lot more comfortable.

For more information on digestion and gastrointestinal disorders, order our Special Health Report, The Sensitive Gut, at www.health.harvard.edu/SG.

 
FOR FURTHER READING
For more information on digestion and gastrointestinal disorders, order our Special Health Report, The Sensitive Gut.
[READ MORE or BUY]
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2\ Notable from Harvard Medical School
** The Sensitive Gut
Do you suffer from a sensitive gut? For most people, episodes of gastrointestinal upset are infrequent and relatively tolerable, but one in four people has frequent gastrointestinal (GI) problems that can severely disrupt a normal lifestyle. Whether you suffer from chronic indigestion (also called GERD or acid reflux) or other chronic GI problems like irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers, The Sensitive Gut explains the causes behind many common GI problems, and outlines the lifestyle changes and medical treatments that will help you feel better.
 
[CLICK TO READ MORE or BUY]
** Weigh Less, Live Longer: Strategies for successful weight loss
Excess weight endangers your health by raising the risk of numerous health problems, including some of the nation’s leading killers — namely, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. But, thankfully, you can protect your health by losing weight and keeping it off. Weigh Less, Live Longer can get you started. It will help you determine the cause of your excess weight and tailor a plan to your particular needs.
 
[CLICK TO READ MORE or BUY]
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3\ How many calories do I need?

Q: How can I figure out how many calories I should take in every day?

A: Clinicians use several equations to calculate how many calories a person should eat each day to maintain a stable weight. The most precise ones include height, weight, age, sex, activity level, and stressors like an injury or disease. The simplest way to estimate your daily target for calories is to multiply your weight by:

  • 12 if you are sedentary (little or no exercise)
  • 13.5 if you are somewhat active (light exercise one to three days a week)
  • 15.5 if you are moderately active (moderate exercise like brisk walking three to five days a week)
  • 17 if you are very active (vigorous exercise or sports six to seven days a week)
  • 19 if you are highly active (daily vigorous exercise or sports and a physical job).

For example, a somewhat active woman who weighs 145 pounds needs about 1,950 calories a day (145 times 13.5) to keep a steady weight.

To lose weight, start by reducing your intake by 250 calories per day. That’s one can of sugared soda and two butter cookies, or a two-ounce bag of potato chips, or a cup of eggnog. If you keep that up for a year, you could shed 20 pounds. Add in more exercise, and you could make it 30.

— Thomas Lee, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter

This Question and Answer first appeared in the November 2007 Harvard Heart Letter, available at www.health.harvard.edu/heart.

 
FOR FURTHER READING
For more information on maintaining a healthy weight, order our Special Health Report, Weigh Less, Live Longer.
[READ MORE or BUY]

 

 

    [Back to top]

Harvard Medical School publishes authoritative Special Health Reports on a wide range of topics. Each report delivers practical information on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of major health concerns in clear, easy-to-understand language. For more information on a specific topic, click the appropriate link below:

Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Bladder, Cholesterol, Depression, Diabetes, Digestion, Energy, Exercise, Eye Disease, Headache, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Memory, Menopause, Prostate, Sexuality, Sleep, Stroke, Vitamins

 
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Harvard Medical School offers special reports on over 50 health topics. Visit our Web site at http://www.health.harvard.edu to find reports of interest to you and your family.

Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
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