You are not alone. Although every healthy person passes wind or farts between 10 and up to 20 times a day there may be reasons why it can get worse as you get older.
Most of the gas in your intestines is formed from gut bacteria, normal chemical reactions caused by the digestive process and the air we swallow. As the bacteria we carry and the food that we eat can vary enormously between each population or person there can also be big differences between the frequency and the volume of air that is expelled by an individual's bottom.
Here are some common factors to consider when trying to identify causes of excess farts:
Excessive wind may be caused by a change in diet. Too much food in a 24-hour period can be too much for an ageing digestive system.
If you think of your digestive system as a production line, imagine what happens when you double the quantity of stuff queuing for processing – it can cause a blockage! Constipation slows the digestive transit and food that would normally be expelled hangs around fermenting, producing even more gas. The stools become harder and dryer the longer they stay put and can block the passage, trapping the wind and causing pain and discomfort.
As people age, they can become more prone to constipation as they can be less physically active. Moving around really does help keep the gut moving too, especially when the abdominal muscles are activated.
Eating smaller portions may help the digestive system break down food more easily. Sometimes a person will be told that they have a 'lazy bowel' that the muscles in their gut are not doing the job of moving the waste along. This muscle movement is called peristalsis, and when this is sluggish it can sometimes indicate low bile production. Bile is produced by the liver to help break down fats and is important for healthy digestion.
Adequate fibre in the diet is essential to keep stools soft and easy to pass, as well as giving the muscles something to grip onto. The average Irish person gets only 7g of fibre in their daily diet which is grossly inadequate: the recommended amount is up to 35g of fibre a day.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water and lubricates the bowel, whilst insoluble fibre doesn't break down but keeps the walls of the bowel free from gooey deposits. All fibre needs plenty of water to function, so be sure to drink more water as you increase the fibre in your diet.Perversely, a suddenly increase in fibre may worsen the wind problem in the short term. We need certain bacteria to break down and digest fibre, and it may take a week or two for these friendly bacterial elements to get used to a change in diet. This is a temporary issue!
Longer-term, increasing the fibre in your diet will improve the symptoms of excessive and smelly farting, as well as alleviating constipation. Additional dietary fibre is also an excellent way of positively influencing the populations of good bacteria and microorganisms in the body, strengthening the immune system as well as improving overall health.
Frequent antibiotic use can damage and negatively influence the friendly bacteria in our intestines. Older people may suffer from more respiratory infections that require medications like this. This can result in an overgrowth in yeasts and undesirable bacteria that may adversely affect digestion, causing diarrhoea, bloating and wind.
Different foods can contain elements that may be hard to break down. As a person ages, they may not produce enzymes like lactase as efficiently as they once did. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose, the milk sugar that is found in dairy products like cheese and milk. You will know that this is you if cheese fondue parties
give you flatulence, bloating and diarrhoea.
Other food intolerances
My mother can't look at an undercooked onion without embarrassing herself! Onions are rich in a substance called FODMAPs, which are short-chain carbohydrates.
They can be particularly prone to fermenting in the gut and are ace gas producers if you are not good at breaking these FODMAPS down. Other foods that are rich in this are lentils, cabbage, broccoli and apples. As the body ages, the ability to digest certain foods can become weakened. Taking digestive enzymes or bitter foods can help strengthen the body's natural abilities in this regard.
Low stomach acid
Stomach acid can become lower due to age and because of commonly used medications, e.g. antacids. Stomach acid is one of the body's first lines of defence against harmful bacteria that try to enter the body through the digestive system. It also dissolves and breaks down nutrients like proteins and calcium, ready for absorption. Low stomach acid can result in undigested proteins arriving in the intestine, and this can cause very smelly gas and foul odours.
Sugars and carbohydrates
A really bloated, swollen and flatulent gut can be likened to a little beer factory, fermenting away, carbonating, fizzing and belching. The three ingredients of any craft beer are yeast, grain and sugars. You too can have an internal micro-brewery if you bulk up on sugary foods (sweets, cake, fizzy drinks), white fibre-free carbs
(pasta, sliced pan, white rice) and yeasty treats (wine, more beer andvinegars). Reducing these foods can really help reduce unpleasant gassy expulsions.
There are many reasons why menopause can negatively affect the digestive system. Poor sleep quality is common during the menopause and this can directly influence eating habits. Even one hour's sleep less a night has been linked to an increase of up to 385 more calories a day, which are invariably unhealthy foods like crisps and cake.*
This can have a knock-on effect, slowing the digestive system, which may already be affected by fluctuating and falling oestrogen levels. Menopause can also disrupt fluid regulation and can cause an increase in fluid retention and also bloating.
Sorting it out
As well as being active, increasing the fibre in your diet and reducing the dietary elements that can cause the symptoms of bloating and wind, there are many good and old-fashioned remedies that can help.
Herbal bitters are a traditional remedy for helping to trigger the production of digestive enzymes, improve bile flow and balance stomach acid. They taste bitter, which can be difficult to get used to if you have a very sweet palate; but it is this bitter taste that can help stimulate enzyme production, starting in the mouth with saliva. A bitter aperitif like a Martini or an Aperol is often served before a meal in Mediterranean countries for this reason. Herbal tinctures may not be as glamorous, but can be a healthier and more cost-effective version of James Bond's favourite cocktail.
Bitters are taken in a small amount of water, preferably 10-15 minutes before a meal. They can stimulate digestive secretions, like digestive enzymes or bile (this can help with peristalsis, moving the muscles of the bowel), and work with the body to increase stomach acid when low or reduce it when too high. They can be useful as well for regulating appetite. If the appetite has suffered after an illness, a bitter can help reduce feelings of nausea and can restore a desire for food. Alternatively, if the appetite is insatiable, bitters can improve feelings of satisfaction after a meal and can help reduce food cravings.
A.Vogel's Yarrow Complex contains five herbs chosen to act as a complete system's reboot for the digestive system. Lemon Balm and Yarrow can ease spasms and calm painful wind and cramping. Dandelion helps stimulate bile flow and can help reduce bloating. Gentian and Blessed Thistle are the bitters: tasting bad but doing good!
Molkosan Original is an organic liquid whey drink and is a staple in any traditional Swiss home. Here, whey is used as pig food – lucky pigs! It is a wonderful remedy to recommend for any bloating or wind. The dose starts at only 1tsp a day in a glass of water. It's rich in L+ lactic acid, with which a normal healthy gut is teaming. Good bacteria produce L+ lactic acid, and it is the substance they like to swim around in. If the gut has an undesirable pH balance due to antibiotic use, illness or poor diet, beneficial bacteria cannot thrive. Often a probiotic is used to improve gut flora and to influence the amount of friendly bacteria in the bowel.
However, they may not do well or be able to colonise the gut if the environment is hostile. Molkosan can be used alone to improve the gut environment, encouraging the populations of our microorganisms. It is also excellent if used as a 'primer' during probiotic supplementation, as it may enhance their ability to populate the colon.
It is important to talk to your GP if changes in your digestive system are sudden and dramatic, if there is blood in your stools or if the situation is not improving using over the counter or home remedies. Any chronic situation should be investigated.