Are Lady-like Habits Causing Not-So-Feminine Gas?

5 min read  |  June 18, 2024  | 

Many everyday habits among women can cause bloating, burping and gas. If the following habits don’t describe you, it likely sounds like someone you know:

  • You sweeten your morning coffee with an artificial sweetener like aspartame or Stevia.
  • You drink that coffee from a straw so it doesn’t stain your teeth yellow or ruin your lipstick.
  • You sip seltzer water once or twice a day, or maybe a diet Coke as a treat.
  • You chew sugar-free gum throughout the day.
  • You drink a smoothie for the fiber, add chickpeas to your salad and stick to whole grains.
  • You munch on popcorn for a snack.

Whether fibrous or bubbly, our foods and drinks cause our stomachs to fill with excess air that needs an exit. “Everybody passes gas because it’s a normal body function. We need to stop pretending that it’s unladylike or that it’s some sort of defect,” says Morgan Allyn Sendzischew Shane, M.D., MSCTI, a gastroenterologist with the University of Miami Health System’s Comprehensive Women’s Health Alliance.

That said, women need to know if gas is caused by diet, a gastrointestinal issue or even menopause.

Dietary triggers of gas

Many common dietary choices can lead to gas, burping and bloating.

Dairy products:

Lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, is a common culprit, as many women lack the enzyme lactase, which is necessary for its digestion. This deficiency causes fermentation of lactose in the gut, producing gas and discomfort.

Artificial sweeteners:

Some women don’t tolerate non-nutritive sweeteners well. “When you take out sugar, but food still tastes sweet, there’s something else in there that some people tolerate just fine, but some people really frankly don’t,” says Dr. Shane.

Processed foods:

Additives in processed foods, such as emulsifiers and preservatives like soy lecithin and carrageenan, can disrupt normal digestive processes. Packaged foods with a long list of ingredients that can be difficult to digest can contribute to gas production.

Although only about 1% of the population actually has celiac disease, the gluten-free diet is popular. This diet can lead to excessive gas if it causes you to eat more processed things. For example, some gluten-free cookies have loads more ingredients, while traditional chocolate chip cookies have only a few. “Processed foods often have more elaborate and complicated ingredients, and those extra things aren’t always well digested,” says Dr. Shane.

Lifestyle habits:

Of course, lifestyle choices such as consuming carbonated beverages, chewing gum or drinking through a straw introduce additional air into the digestive system. Knowing what habits and foods cause more gas than usual can help you reduce flatulence.

“All of those things cause you to swallow more air, and that air has to go somewhere. A few lifestyle changes help women who come to me for bloating and passing gas,” says Dr. Shane.

Bodily functions that cause gas

Constipation can cause gas

Some topics are taboo for typical conversation, especially among women. This means some women don’t realize when their bathroom habits fall outside of the normal range. “Many women tend to avoid talking about pooping, so people don’t know what is or isn’t normal,” says Dr. Shane.

Bowel movement frequency can vary. For most women, a normal range is generally from three times a day to three times a week. What’s most important is consistency and ease of passage rather than a strict number of times.

If you consistently have fewer than three bowel movements per week, especially if the stools are hard and difficult to pass, you might be constipated. Conversely, more than three bowel movements per day can be excessive and might indicate other digestive issues, especially if the stool is consistently loose or watery.

If you have residual, hard stool in your gastrointestinal tract, your body’s natural microbiome, made up of the bacteria that live in your gut, is going to keep fermenting any fiber and protein that hasn’t been completely digested. This produces excess gas. An imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in your small intestine can cause additional bloating that may need to be addressed. Foods high in FODMAPs can cause excessive gas production in the gut. FODMAPS are carbohydrates that produce gas when they’re broken down by your gut’s natural bacteria.

Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause gas

Women with a history of multiple vaginal deliveries that included an episiotomy, forceps or a vacuum-assisted delivery may have some damage to the pelvic floor. In cases where the anal sphincter isn’t tight, gas can leak out more easily than in someone whose pelvic floor is more intact. Pelvic floor physical therapy can help women address pelvic floor damage.

How menopause changes the digestive system

Menopause changes many women’s bodily functions, including digestion and bowel habits. Among postmenopausal women, 38% self-reported altered bowel function compared to only 14% of women before menopause.

About 10% of postmenopausal women who experience constipation report using laxatives, which can cause excessive flatulence.

Gastrointestinal conditions can cause gas

For some women, gas accompanied by other symptoms — like stomach pain or irregular bowel movements — is an indicator of a bigger health problem.

Speak to your doctor if discomfort becomes noticeable enough to affect your quality of life. A gastroenterologist can diagnoses gastrointestinal disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and abdominal migraines.

A gastroenterologist can diagnose the cause of your discomfort and help you treat it with lifestyle changes and medication.

Gas on its own, though, is a perfectly healthy bodily function.

“We don’t need to be so horrified if gas happens because it’s a natural part of life. Get it checked out if it’s excessive or uncomfortable and not just embarrassing,” says Dr. Shane.

Wendy Margolin is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.

The UHealth’s Comprehensive Women’s Health Alliance provides specialized care for women’s health at all ages. Call 855-3-4-WOMEN (96636) or request an appointment online.

Tags: Comprehensive Women's Health Alliance, Dr. Morgan Sendzischew Shane, got gas

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