Why is flatulence more common among elderly? Or is it?
You probably haven’t met an 8-year-old boy who doesn’t fall about laughing when someone farts. Whoopee cushions have long been the source of belly laughs for older folk. But there’s no doubt, when you suffer flatulence in a social situation, it’s embarrassing. And it appears the problem does worsen as you grow older.
While flatulence is an important signal of normal bowel activity, and people on average fart 14 times a day, as we age typically our digestion slows. That gives our intestinal bacteria more time to produce turn dinner into gases like methane and hydrogen.
So we have more gas as we get older, and also it doesn’t behave as discreetly as it did when we were younger.
As we age gas tends to build up in the lower colon before making a sometimes rapid and noisy escape, says Karen Hall, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan who specializes in geriatrics and gastroenterology. “There isn’t necessarily more gas,” she says, “but there’s a higher potential for embarrassment.”
The noises commonly associated with flatulence are caused by the vibration of the anal sphincter, and occasionally by the closed buttocks as the gas formed as a by-product of the digestive process is expelled from the rectum..
Diet plays a major role in what causes flatulence. Gas-producing foods such as beans, cabbage, and broccoli are some of the major culprits, but they are healthful, so don’t cut back on them. Instead try chewing your food slowly and thoroughly. Chewing food for longer allows the enzymes in saliva to break the food down before it enters the stomach and digestive tract.
The more that food is chewed, the more it is broken down for the digestive system. What’s more, swallowed air is a prime cause of flatulence, and careful chewing avoids the swallowing of air that occurs when food is eaten too quickly.
Also try probiotics, gut-friendly bacteria available in supplements and foods like yogurt, kefir, and tempeh. A 2005 Mayo Clinic study of 48 patients found that taking probiotics containing acidophilus and bifidobacterium bacteria for 4 weeks decreased flatulence and bloating.
You can also keep excess air out of your system by going easy on carbonated beverages. And get regular exercise, which keeps things moving in your digestive system, giving bacteria in your intestines less time to make gas.