What effects on raffinose do anti-flatulence meds like Beano and Gas-X have?

Stan Megraw
23 January 2012

There once was a fellow from Sparta

A really magnificent farter

On the strength of one bean

He farted "God Save the Queen"

And Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata"

- Anonymous

It's common knowledge that beans cause "farts" - or more correctly, flatulence. And a well-timed fart in a movie, TV show, or commercial is pretty much guaranteed to get a few chuckles - at least among guys.

Did You Know? A survey by 20th Century Fox found males are more amused by farting than females, and females think burping is funnier than farting!

So what's up with beans and flatulence? You can read all about it in the CurioCity article: Why Do Beans Cause Gas?

Let's briefly review some key points that are relevant to this week's question.

Raffinose — Enemy Number One

All members of the bean family have a high content of raffinose, a carbohydrate consisting of three sugars — glucose, fructose and galactose. It can also be found in other vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Some people don't have enough of the enzyme in the small intestine that breaks raffinose down. So, raffinose passes into the large intestine and becomes a source of food for bacteria. Through fermentation (the breakdown of matter in the absence of oxygen), the bacteria form hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and sometimes methane, as waste gases.

Did You Know? Males produce more gas than females, but the flatus of females contains more of the chemical that gives a "fart" its distinctive smell - hydrogen sulphide.

So how do Beano and Gas-X work?

Flatus Relief

Beano

The essential digestive enzyme that our body needs to break down raffinose (and other complex carbohydrates) into simple sugars is alpha-galactosidase. And this is the active ingredient in Beano.

Extracted from the mold Aspergillus niger, this natural enzyme hydrolyzes raffinose (aka breaks it down through a reaction with water) into sucrose and galactose. These are sugars that can be easily absorbed in the small intestine.

Did You Know? Hydrolysis is a chemical reaction in which the hydrogen (H) and hydroxyl (OH) ions of water are used to split the bonds holding two or more molecules together.

Beano does a good job of attacking sugar-containing, gas-inducing carbohydrates, but is ineffective in preventing gas caused by lactose or fiber.

Gas-X

Gas-X works much differently than Beano. It has no effect on raffinose and it doesn't prevent flatus. Instead, it's used to relieve painful pressure caused by the build-up of gas in the stomach or intestines. Stomach gas may happen, for example, if we eat too quickly or drink carbonated beverages. Belching is the usual way of getting rid of this gas.

Gas-X (and many other similar products) contains a silicone-based chemical called simethicone. It acts by reducing the surface tension of gas bubbles. This results in smaller bubbles joining to become bigger ones that can then be eliminated from the body more easily (by burping or "passing wind").

Did You Know? Technically, simethicone is not a drug since it is chemically inert and not absorbed by the body.

In Closing...

Most of us are embarrassed by flatulence. The sound is considered rude. The smell can be horrible. And belching doesn't fair much better in the etiquette department. But the reality is.... both farting and burping are as natural and healthy as breathing!

Learn More!

CRAM Science would like to thank Dr. Stan Megraw for his help and expertise in answering this question. Stan is a writer/researcher specializing in science, technology and medicine. He has more than 30 years experience as contributing author for research institutes, universities, government agencies and non-profit organizations.

Stan Megraw

Stan is a writer/researcher, a PhD graduate of McGill University and was a member of the CurioCity team for several years. As a kid he dreamed of playing hockey in the NHL then becoming an astronaut with NASA. Instead, he ended up as an environmental research scientist. In his spare time Stan enjoys working on DIY projects, cooking and exploring his Irish roots.


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