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Friday, December 28, 2007

Gas Guzzlers Unite

Flatulence. That's the medical term for farting, to be used in polite company and newspaper articles.

There's no good polite way to talk about farting, but the science of it is important.

The Canadian Press interviewed Dr. Michael Levitt, the world's foremost expert on gas. (Levitt is probably better known as the father as Steven Levitt, the "Freakonomics" guru.)

So what wisdom can Levitt impart? Here are some pearls.

Studies in which volunteers tracked their gas passage suggest people fart 10 to 20 times a day, with some hitting the 30, 40, even 50 mark...

In the main, flatulence is made up of five gases -- nitrogen and oxygen, which are swallowed while talking, chewing or drinking fizzy beverages, and carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane, which are produced in the gastrointestinal tract during digestion of food.

Gas produced or trapped in the intestine only has three possible routes it can follow. Some will be absorbed into the body. Some will be burped out. And some will pass as flatulence.

People who lack bacteria that break down certain food components -- say lactose, the sugar in milk or some of the sugars in carbohydrates -- may produce more gas when they consume those foods.

That explains the potency of beans. They contain sugars humans can't break down. "So it's automatic that they're delivered to your large intestine, these sugars, where they churn out and make gas," Levitt says.

Levitt noted that there's really nothing you can do to cut down your normal production of gas. Swallowing less air would help, but swallowers generally don't know that they're doing so. Extremely low carbohydrate diets produce little gas, but those can be extremely unhealthy.

Of course, those with lactose intolerance can take lactase pills. And its chemical analog, Beano, will help reduce flatulence from beans.

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