A reader recently asked us whether it’s okay to hold in intestinal gas. Not surprisingly, there aren’t any studies comparing people who hold in gas with those who don’t, so we can’t give an evidence-based answer. But a team of physicians from the University of Copenhagen recently voiced their opinion in the New Zealand Medical Journal.
They specifically wrote about flatulence on airplanes, where it occurs frequently since gas expands at higher altitude and cabins are pressurized to about 8,000 feet. Plus, the enclosed space and close proximity of passengers makes passing gas more, well, obvious there.
Holding in gas can cause bloating, indigestion, heartburn and, sometimes, even pain, they noted. Intestinal distension resulting from trapped gas may also increase blood pressure and heart rate. Then there’s the mental stress of trying to keep the gas from escaping. The doctors’ advice: Just let it go.
Keep in mind that it’s not always possible to hold in gas anyway. If you fall asleep—on a plane or perhaps at the movies—the gas escapes on its own. It can also let loose if you sneeze or cough. And some people may just have too much gas to hold in. Perhaps that was the case with the government employee who was in the news last December when he was formally reprimanded for having uncontrolled and excessive flatulence that made the workplace “intolerable” (the reprimand was soon after rescinded).
Everyone produces gas—½ to 2 pints a day, on average; it’s a necessary part of digestion. Eventually, it will exit the body, whether you are aware of it or not. Still, if you feel self-conscious, it’s okay to hold it in until you find a “safe” place to release it.
If you have a serious flatulence issue, however, talk to your health care provider to figure out the cause and how to control it. Excess gassiness is a common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome and lactose (milk sugar) intolerance, for instance, and it may result from other foods (like beans, cruciferous vegetables and “sugar-free” products containing sorbitol or other sugar alcohols). Constipation and certain medications (including laxatives) may also be to blame. Dietary changes and some over-the-counter products (such as simethicone) may help keep it under control. If you continue to have problems, you can even find, believe it or not, charcoal- lined underwear and seat cushions that absorb flatulence odor at websites such as under-tec.com and flat-d.com.