Sulfur burps are burps that are often described as smelling like rotten eggs. They occur when the digestive tract creates a type of gas called hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is not always present in the gas we expel. Nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, hydrogen, and sometimes small amounts of methane are more typical components.
Infrequent sulfur burps may be the result of something you ate (especially if you are consuming a diet high in foods that contain sulfur) and are typically harmless. However, frequent sulfur burps could be a sign of underlying illness or digestive problems.
It is normal for the digestive system to produce a certain amount of gas which is expelled by burping or through the rectum (flatulence). This gas is a result of swallowing excessive air or is a byproduct of digestion, which occurs when the bacteria inside of the digestive tract (mostly the large intestine) breaks down food.
It's interesting to note that most people perceive themselves as being excessively gassy when in fact they aren't. Most people pass gas from 14 to 23 times per day. This is perfectly normal and healthy. However, when your gas is abnormally foul-smelling, something else could be going on.
A likely culprit for sulfur burps is probably something you ate. Eating or drinking too quickly can predispose you to excessive burping.
Foods that trigger excessive gas or sulfur burps in some people may be eaten by some with virtually no effect at all. This is thought to be because everyone has different types and balances of intestinal bacteria. It is also true that people have different rates of moving food through the digestive tract. However, the following foods contain sulfur and eating them may increase your risk of getting sulfur burps:
- High protein foods
- Whole milk
Other foods may not be high in sulfur but are known to cause excessive amounts of gas in some individuals. These include foods that are high in sugars, starch, or soluble fiber. Certain veggies are also notorious culprits including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and beans. Some artificial sweeteners can also cause excessive gas and bloating. As previously mentioned, soda and carbonated beverages also play a role.
Preventing Sulfur Burps
The following tips may help you to prevent sulfur burps:
- Eat slowly to avoid inhaling too much air into the stomach.
- Avoid chewing gum or smoking as these activities can cause you to ingest excess air.
- Avoid foods high in sulfur (listed above).
- Avoid overeating. Instead of eating a few very large meals eat several smaller meals throughout the day.
- Reduce your alcohol intake (alcoholic beverages can be high in sulfur).
- Reduce or eliminate carbonated drinks.
- Avoid foods high in sugar. High carbohydrate foods generally cause excessive gas when the bacteria in your digestive tract feeds off of the sugar. (This is also true of the bacteria in your gut that creates hydrogen sulfide gas.)
Infrequent sulfur burps may not be harmful, but they can be embarrassing or bothersome. You can try the following home remedies to help relieve symptoms:
- Peppermint tea can aid digestion and decrease bad breath. Other herbal teas that may be helpful include green tea and Chamomile tea.
- Increasing activity (such as walking) can help gas to move through your system more quickly.
- Laying down on your left side while resting or sleeping may also be helpful in passing excess gas.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day and try drinking a full glass of water before each meal to aid digestion.
- Try an over-the-counter antacid or simethicone preparation. Simethicone does not eliminate excess gas but helps it to pass through your system more quickly. Follow directions carefully and do not use more than the recommended dose.
- Try a spoonful of apple cider vinegar a day.
- Try a small spoonful of baking soda in a glass of water. Do not take more than one spoonful of baking soda per day and do not combine with other antacid medications.
- Bismuth subsalicylate is an over-the-counter medication that is used to treat diarrhea, heartburn, and upset stomach in adults. This medication should not be taken with aspirin.
- Probiotics, which are foods and products that contain live bacteria that are thought to be beneficial to overall health and digestion, may be helpful if the bacteria in your digestive tract is unbalanced. It should be noted that research on the normal bacterial flora in your digestive system is limited and emerging.
- Some sources recommend eating Manuka honey to kill off harmful bacteria in the digestive tract.
When to See a Doctor
Certain medications can also cause sulfur burps as a side effect. If you have recently started a new medication, this could very well be the culprit and you may need to discuss this with your physician.
Eating or drinking certain types of foods such as carbonated beverages or foods naturally high in sulfur can cause excessive burping.
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