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Everybody breaks wind, but nobody talks about it.

Flatulence is a by-product of certain foods or caused when something is not properly digested. While everyone can expect to break wind every now and again, excessive flatulence is embarrassing and distressing. It can also be a sign that something is causing you to have an irritated bowel.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, commonly known as IBS, has been incredibly difficult for scientists to research because it's typical to have no underlying cause (for example, an allergy or celiac disease). An irritated bowel is simply described as sensitivity relating to the gut and digestive system, usually causing flatulence and irregular bowel movements.

People with irritable bowels usually have at least one of four symptoms: flatulence, indigestion, diarrhoea, and constipation. 

Flatulence is a gaseous discharge produced in your intestines, while indigestion is general pain in your stomach, often caused by acid irritating the lining of your gut.

When a food moves too quickly through your digestive system it causes diarrhoea, as your body doesn't have enough time to absorb the water from your food. When it moves too slowly you get constipated because too much water is absorbed, resulting in hard, difficult-to-pass stools.

When there is no implicit cause for an irritated bowel, a trial-and-error change in diet will usually resolve your issues within a matter of days or weeks. There are some common foods that can cause flatulence and other embarrassing bowel issues. Try cutting them out one-by-one to see how your bowels react.

1. Gluten

Many scoff at how many people say they are "gluten free" in spite of scientific evidence that only 1 per cent of Westerners are coeliacs. It's suggested, however, that one in three people are gluten sensitive and eating wheat products (such as bread) causes the gaseous symptoms of IBS (if not indigestion, diarrhoea or constipation symptoms as well). This is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It's usually the insoluble fibre content of grains that causes these reactions.

2. Dairy

Even if you're not technically lactose intolerant, dairy is a common trigger for those with delicate bowels. Dairy-based foods contain whey and casein, both proteins your gut may be sensitive to. Dairy products like milk and icecream usually pose the most difficulty for sufferers, while something like cheese may be slightly less problematic because it has a lower lactose content. Butter, sour cream, yoghurt and cream cheese can also cause flatulence issues.

3. Sugar

Sugar, like gluten- and dairy-based foods, is a carbohydrate. Some bowel problem sufferers have a sensitivity or intolerance to certain sugar-based carbohydrates, which can include chemical compounds such as fructose, glucose and sucrose.

Gut problems from sugar usually comes from malabsorption of that carbohydrate, whereby fermentation of the sugar causes gas production or has a laxative effect. Some people only have bowel problems when they consume foods containing sucrose (table sugar), while others may find they are sensitive to fructose-rich fruits and some vegetables as well.

4. Artificial sweeteners

Sorbitol, maltitol, sucralose, aspartame... you see these artificial sweeteners (and others) in the ingredients list of sugar-free beverages and foods, but they can be just as aggravating for an irritable bowel as regular sugar. There is no strong scientific evidence as to why artificial sweeteners can cause such symptoms, except for the fact that excess consumption of them can have a laxative effect.

5. High saturated fat content

Foods with a high saturated fat content, such as hot chips and potato crisps, onion rings, fried chicken (or any other deep-fried food), fatty cuts of red meat, chocolate, shortening and lard, pastry, and others can activate uncomfortable bowel symptoms in some people. This is largely because high-fat foods take a long time to digest, which can be an easy trigger for certain people's sensitive guts.

6. Caffeine

Caffeinated drinks stimulate the intestines and are also diuretic, meaning they increase the water your body expels. While some people drink a cup of coffee in the morning to keep them regular for these reasons, for problem bowel sufferers, caffeine can be a trigger for diarrhoea. The agitating aspect of coffee is not just because of its caffeine content; it also contains enzymes (catechols and n-alkanoly-5-hydroxtryptamides) that can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.

Written by Lee Suckling. First appeared on Stuff.co.nz.

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