Why do we get gas troubles on an empty stomach?

What do you think of when somebody complains of constant burping, belching, feeling bloated and nauseated, distension, abdominal discomfort and flatulence? Many would attribute these gastrointestinal symptoms to having “excess gas” in their stomachs. In fact, a healthy human body produces up to four pints of gas per day and the body passes gas up to 20 times a day! However, it is usually incorrect to jump into conclusion of diagnosing those symptoms with just gas troubles. Nonetheless, when excessive gas does occur, it can be due to a number of reasons, including not eating on time, excess air swallowing, malabsorption or intestinal obstruction. These cause a build up of gas within the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in the feeling of “full of gas”. 

  1. Missed meals 

We often find ourselves having gas troubles on an empty stomach, especially when we skip a meal or two, or do not eat on time. Our hectic lifestyle may demand time including meal times, but this creates a problem because our bodies are wired to follow specific routines. Physiologically, our body helps to prepare the stomach in anticipation of the process of digestion. Just with the thought of food, or when we smell or see food, to the moment we consume our food, the stomach has already been secreting gastric juice to digest the food. Gastric juice or acid contains a mixture of hydrochloric acid, enzymes, water and electrolytes. The hydrochloric acid, particularly, helps digestion by converting pepsinogen to pepsin, an enzyme that breaks down large protein into absorbable amino acids. Moreover, the hydrochloric acid maintains a low pH of 1.0 to 2.0 in the stomach, keeping the stomach sterile and free from microorganisms. However, in the absence of food to digest, the hydrochloric acid starts acting on the stomach walls. While this may not seem like a problem at first, the long term may lead to gastric acid destroying the stomach walls, ultimately resulting in gastritis or gastric ulcers. When this happens, any missed meals can cause severe abdominal pain, and untreated ulcers may perforate, bleed internally, and is a risk factor for stomach cancer. 

2.  Excessive air swallowing

Another possible cause for having excessive gas in the stomach is swallowing air, also known as aerophagia. This can occur when a person eats or drinks too fast, drinks with a straw, chewing gum, having loose dentures and smoking. Aerophagia may also be a manifestation of anxiety. Swallowed air mostly consists of oxygen and nitrogen, and the posture influences the amount of swallowed air passing from stomach into the small intestine. Usually, swallowed air is erutated (expelled by belching or burping). 

3.  Malabsorption

Another way a person can have excess gas in his intestinal tracts is by the breakdown of undigested food and malabsorbed nutrients by bacteria in the large intestines. This gas, made up of carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane, are often expelled through the anus as flatulence. Carbon dioxide is derived from the digestion of fat and protein, often from bacterial fermentation of nutrients. Hydrogen is produced by fecal bacteria mainly in the large intestines, and is derived from carbohydrates and proteins found in food that cannot be completely digested in the small intestines. For example, beans, cabbages, potatoes, corn, pasta, apples, peaches, pears, onions, artichokes, and spicy, fried, fatty foods are known to cause flatus (farts) because of the increased gas production by this food in the large intestines. Fun fact, the only starch that does not produce gas is rice. If this is the reason for your bloating and flatulence, consider cutting down on the intake. If it happens in excess, consult a doctor.