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Strategies to ease frequent belching

DEAR DOCTOR K: I belch a lot more than I used to, and I feel an uncomfortable fullness in my upper abdomen after eating. Are there any natural ways to treat this?

DEAR READER: If you’re belching and feeling bloated more than you’d like, there are natural treatments you should consider. To understand them, you need to understand why we belch.

Every time we swallow, we take in a little bit of air. Some of it travels down the esophagus and into the upper part of the stomach. When the stomach starts to expand from the accumulated air inside it, little sensors in the stomach wall may trigger a reaction to expel the air. This reaction opens the small ring of muscle between the esophagus (the swallowing tube) and the stomach.

That ring normally is closed tight to prevent stomach contents from entering the esophagus. When the ring relaxes, the air that has built up in the stomach gets vented back up the esophagus and out of the mouth.

Our bodies were built to breathe in the air around us, not to swallow it. So why do we swallow air? These are the most common reasons:

• Air swallowing. Some people get into a pattern of swallowing air and quickly belching it out again. This isn’t something they plan to do, or are even aware of doing. It just happens.

• Carbonated drinks. Carbonated beverages bring extra air into the stomach; the gas in the drink becomes gas inside the stomach. Gulping them down or drinking through a straw worsens the problem.

• Gum and hard candy. Many people swallow air without realizing it when chewing gum or sucking on hard candies.

Cutting back on carbonated beverages, gum and hard candies might help. If you’re a fast eater, slow down; you might swallow less air with your food.

Also try eliminating foods known to cause gas from your diet: cabbage, broccoli, beets, asparagus, Brussels sprouts. For people with sensitivity to wheat, wheat-based products can produce gas. For people with lactose intolerance, milk-based products can cause gas along with other symptoms.