Last week at The Elder Storytelling Place, Nancy Leitz told us about Uncle Arthur:
“It was a beautiful day and even Uncle Arthur had come to spend the afternoon. He was about 83 then and was not only hard of hearing but he had a flatulence problem that only got worse as he got older.
“I suppose it got worse because he not only could not smell his problem, he couldn’t hear it either which, to him, meant there was NO problem.”
It appears that like Uncle Arthur, I am gassier than when I was younger. Or maybe not. Maybe I just let fly because I can, because I’m no longer surrounded by coworkers, fellow subway riders and others most of the time.
Nowadays, living alone with no one but the cat to offend, I allow myself to putt, putt around the house while reminding myself not to let it become a habit so that I remember to control myself when I am with people.
Still, I was not certain that the affliction has increased and I wondered if old farts really do fart more.
As it turns out, the answer is yes, we do get gassier in our old age. Before I explain why, let’s get an – ahem, refresher – course in the reasons anyone farts.
The National Institutes of Health tell us that the “average person passes intestinal gas 14 times a day and produces about 1 to 4 pints of the stuff.” It is a normal occurrence and comes mostly from two sources: air we swallow and as a byproduct of digestion.
Culprits in the air category include smoking, chewing gum, drinking through a straw, hard candies, carbonated drinks, eating or drinking too quickly and wearing loose dentures.
As to digestion, the volume of intestinal gas is directly related to the amount of undigested food making its way through the intestines. When the small intestine can’t absorb certain foods, the large intestine tries to help out by creating more gas.
The gases involved are hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and, according to WebMD, “in about one-third of people, methane.”
That, methane, is the stinky one.
You probably know most of these but for the sake of thoroughness, here is a list of some foods most likely to cause excess gas: Beans, of course, and
Foods with sorbitol (an artificial sweetener)
In regard to whole grains, here’s a little anecdote I like from WebMD: “The word pumpernickel is believed to stem from Middle German and mean, roughly, ‘goblin that breaks wind.’”
I have no idea if that’s true but I intend to repeat it whenever an occasion arises because it’s such a good story that if it’s not true, it ought to be.
What definitely is true is that flatulence increases with age. The general reason is that like so much else about our bodies as we get older, digestion slows down and food moves through the gut more slowly creating more gas.
Some conditions and diseases that are more prevalent in old people contribute to excessive gas: diverticular disease, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, colitis, some cancers and complications from diabetes can slow the movement of food through the intestines. Inadequate salivation may contribute to improper digestion.
Also, elders use more prescription drugs than young people and gas is a side effect of some antibiotics and blood-pressure medications, for example, and of course, flatulence often accompanies constipation.
So you see, there are reasons we’re sometimes called old farts.
Is there any way to reduce the amount of gas we produce? Only sort of. It doesn’t seem fair that the healthiest foods – certain vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. – are the worst offenders but we shouldn’t stop eating them although cutting down a little could help.
We can also spend more time chewing. That allows enzymes in saliva to further break down food, making digestion easier.
Another suggestion is to try probiotics – that stuff Jamie Curtis advertises on TV. What it is, is gut-friendly bacteria you can find at the market in such products as yogurt, kefir and tempeh.
Try to stop doing the things that cause air to be swallowed – see the list above – and take your time eating meals. Slow down, relax while eating and take a short walk after each meal.
Not convinced that any of this will help much? Me neither. Some experts suggest antacids but then warn that they have limited effectiveness and results from such anti-flatulence products as Lactaid and Beano vary from person to person.
Farting has been on the minds of contributors at The Elder Storytelling Place recently. Just a couple of weeks before Nancy Leitz told us about Uncle Arthur, Johna Ferguson may have provided the only practical answer to this elder affliction in Gas Emissions:
“I find that occasionally I’ll let out a fart without thinking about it happening; it just does,” wrote Johna. “I look around in sheer embarrassment in case someone else heard it or gets a whiff of it. Oh I could die on the spot when it happens.
“I know one should drink more water and also eat slowly to prevent swallowing air but those I things I often forget. So please, if it happens when I am standing by you, don’t dash out the door for you may be the next one to join the symphony.”
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sydney Halet: Yesterday