Managing intestinal gas – the science of the gut microbiome

The science around the gut microbiome is one of the fastest-developing fields of research today, particularly with regards to how the delicate ecosystem of bacteria behaves and interacts. With each research cycle, the nutrition and health sectors are better understanding how to successfully modulate the gut microbiome to influence overall health. 

A significant challenge in gut health management is understanding the role and tolerance levels of intestinal gases that gut microbiota naturally produce during the process of fermentation, which can contribute to trapped wind, bloating, flatulence and discomfort in some people.

The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (‘ISAPP’) has recently released an article in collaboration with Dr Fernando Azpiroz, Chief of Gastrointestinal Research at the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute, that makes for essential reading on the topic.

The article highlights a number of contemporary solutions to reducing and managing intestinal gases, and one highlighted example is the inclusion of prebiotic supplements as part of a regular diet.

Click here to read the article in full.

What influences the amount of gas produced?

The amount of gas produced in different subjects depends on two factors: one is the diet —the amount of residues (i.e. fibre) in the diet—and the second is the type of microbiota, which is very individual. It varies a lot from one subject to another.

How much intestinal gas is ‘too much’?

From the point of view of patients, of symptoms, what might be relevant is the volume of gases produced, and possibly the type of gases. One evolving idea is that some gases, which are produced in very small quantities, might serve as neurotransmitters, might play a role, but so far the information we have about the role of these gases is very limited so we cannot extrapolate that to clinical use.

What are the options for dietary change when someone has IBS or wants to reduce gas symptoms?

One thing that has been shown recently is that the effect of a low-residue diet is similar regardless of the type of diet. The problem with low-residue diets, in particular the low-FODMAP diet, is that they introduce a restriction of the substrates for the feeding of the microbiota, and this is deleterious to the microbiota. The microbiota is impoverished. The other limitation of low-residue diet is that the moment that the patient returns to a normal diet, the symptoms come back.

There is an alternative that has been shown in the past few years, which is to use some type of prebiotics that initially—because they are fermented—produce symptoms, but after a few days they induce an adaptation of the microbiota towards a microbiota that produces less gas with normal fermentation. 

And down the road, these prebiotics have a positive effect on symptoms in patients. As a matter of fact, the effect on symptoms is similar to a restrictive diet. The advantage of the prebiotics is that, after interruption, the effect is sustained at least over a few weeks. And this is because it has been shown that prebiotics serve as substrates for microbiota and induce a proliferation of beneficial organisms.

There is also some preliminary evidence that some probiotics reduce the volume of gas production and reduce digestive symptoms in patients.

The article with Dr Azpiroz highlights the potential benefits of prebiotic supplements in reducing intestinal gas by promoting a diverse microbiome. Click here to read the ISAPP article in full, or click here to find out more about the scientific backing of second-generation prebiotic ingredient Bimuno®, that selectively targets bifidobacteria to positively affect overall health and wellbeing.