The digestive system and wind
What is wind?
Wind is a normal by-product of the foods we eat and our normal digestive processes. As the digestive system breaks food down, it produces gas, which is mainly composed of carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and methane.
Usually, we eliminate this gas through the mouth (burping) or through the anus ( flatulence). We typically break wind around 20 times a day on average. Wind is an ordinary occurrence, but its presence can be awkward and socially embarrassing.
What causes wind?
We produce wind in two ways: when we swallow air, and when the bacteria in the large intestine get to work helping to digest the food we eat.
Carbohydrates are especially troublesome. Humans cannot digest certain carbohydrates in the small intestine because we may not have (or may not have enough of) the enzymes that can aid their digestion. The food then moves in an undigested state from the small intestine to the large intestine. It is here that the bacteria go to work, producing the gases hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane, which are then expelled from the body.
Not everybody will suffer from wind after eating the same foods.
We also swallow a certain amount of air when we eat and drink. This contributes to the production of wind. We usually release swallowed air by burping it out. Whatever isn't released by burping goes into the small or large intestine, where it is eventually released as flatulence.
Which foods are most likely to produce wind?
You are most likely to experience wind after eating carbohydrates, especially those containing insoluble fibre that is poorly absorbed. These are found especially in foods such as beans and certain vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and onions. High fibre foods can also increase the volume of wind produced - examples are baked beans and brown rice. Fizzy drinks may contribute to wind. Any sudden changes to your diet, as when travelling, can also generate more wind than usual.
What are the symptoms of wind?
In addition to burping and flatulence, people who have wind may feel bloated. They may also have pain in the abdomen, which they may mistake for another condition such as appendicitis.
Could wind be a sign of a medical problem?
Yes. Chronic (long-lasting) belching may be a sign of disease in the upper digestive tract, such as ulcers or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
Bloating may be caused by a variety of diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colon cancer and Crohn's disease, or by a hernia.
How are wind-related illnesses diagnosed?
Since diet is the main cause of wind, your GP will want to know what you eat and what symptoms you have. He or she may ask you to keep a record of what you eat and drink to help identify offending foods. You may also need to keep track of how many times a day you pass wind.