Why Do We Fart? And Why Can’t We Stop?

May 15, 2019

Do you ever wonder why humans and animals alike pass gas?

The stinky truth is that whenever you gulp down food or drink, air enters with it. This air leaves the body either through belching or farting in order to expel the pent up gas.

Why, you ask, is a belch more benign than a fart, void of those foul odors that have the power to empty out the whole room.

Flatulence carries a more repulsive stench due to the colonies of bacteria located in the lower intestinal tract. This also explains why we can belch right after a meal, but flatulence doesn’t usually strike until some time later.  It takes a while for food to travel to the recesses of our intestines.  Once there, our body converts it into useful nutrients, and the food-munching bacteria in the tract begin releasing hydrogen sulfide gas—the one that smells like rotten eggs.

Other than hydrogen sulfide gas, farts may contain hydrogen, methane, nitrogen and oxygen.

Foods that Trigger the Worst Gas

The gaseous response of microbes to food is different with each person. In other words, everyone has their unique collection of food-eating bacteria, and they emit gas in different forms. But regardless, most of us release these gasses in some form or quantity, and some are a strong assault to the nose.

Not all foods trigger gas, but others cause veritable explosions.  Here’s a list of the biggest culprits when it comes to gas-inducing foods:

  • Fructose- A natural element found in plants, fructose is everywhere—in wheat, corn, pears, and even onions. Also, it is used to produce the highly controversial high fructose corn syrup that pervades many carbonated drinks and other cloyingly sweet snacks.
  • Lactose- This sweet, natural ingredient is usually found in milk but also gets added to products like cereals and bread. In our bodies, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose is lactase. (We know—it’s confusing.) Having low levels of lactase makes you more susceptible to gas build-up.
  • Raffinose- Eating your veggies is good, right?  Well, you may not think so after eating a big serving of cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, or broccoli—then driving everyone away due to the resulting gas.  The problematic element here is raffinose, which is a complex sugar found in all of these vegetables and in notoriously toot-inducing beans.
  • Sorbitol- This is the indigestible sugar present in all fruits. Additionally, sorbitol is an artificial sweetener used in sugar-free and diet foods. Thus, fruits may cause you to release gas as may items like sugar-free sweets.

Other examples of flatulence-forming ingredients include starches and fiber found in foods like wheat, corn, and potatoes. And while proteins and fats don’t cause gas, they take longer to digest, giving bacteria ample time to develop gas from the remnants of other ingredients in your meal.   There is only one type of food known not to cause fragrant flatulence—rice.

Who Farts More? Men, Women or Children?

Everybody farts from time to time—even your stuffy great aunt or the prim and proper librarian. The average person releases 0.6-1.8 liters of intestinal gas every day.

Still, research hasn’t found any significant difference between the amount of gas passed by older and younger people. The research is divided on gender differences when it comes to gas, however.  Some studies show that men pass slightly more gas than women, but others say the rates are equal between men and women, with women underreporting their flatulence.  If you have a teenage boy around, you may favor the former conclusion.

The smell of farts differs from person to person because they largely depend on an individual’s diet and state of health. Surprisingly enough, studies show that women have significantly worse smelling flatulence than men.  Regardless, most of us can agree that other people’s farts smell far worse than our own.

In terms of when we fart, research shows that we’re much more prone to let the flatulence fly when we’re sleeping.

Different Types of Farts and What they Mean

There are many kinds of farts: low odor, unbearably stinky, let-‘em-rip loud, silent but deadly, etc. What do they mean?

As for stinky farts, the smell is due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide. This gas makes up 1% of all the gas you pass. It’s created in the body thanks to foods like cauliflower, broccoli, and beans that have sulfur in them.

Nonetheless, extremely smelly farts might be a sign of some underlying problem. For instance, your body may be intolerant to lactose. In other cases, you might be suffering from:

  • Digestive tract infections– Some viruses and bacteria can bring about infections in the gastrointestinal tract that trigger smelly gas. Usually, these infections have other symptoms like abdominal pain, fever, or diarrhea.
  • Carbohydrate malabsorption– This disease can be mild or severe. In its mild form, you’ll experience foul-smelling gas as well as other symptoms like bloating or abdominal pain. In escalated forms, you may also suffer from vitamin deficiencies as well as acute abdominal pain.
  • Other chronic problems– Sometimes, extremely stinky flatulence points to irritable bowel syndrome and gastroenteritis.

On the other hand, no-smell farts indicate that you’re normal and healthy. If they don’t carry much of an odor, they probably don’t contain much sulfurous gas.

Your fart will be loud or silent depending on the amount of air coming in while you drink or eat. More air results in louder farts while less air brings about silent farts. Mind you: silent farts tend to be smellier than high-volume ones.  This is probably because they move slower through the intestinal tract than their fast and loud counterparts and have more time to build up noxious gasses.

Is it Possible to Stop Farting?

Flatulence is an invariable and natural consequence of digestion. Therefore, it’s impossible not to fart. You can, however, reduce the amount of gas you pass, especially if it has become a social problem due to the odor and sound.

If you find yourself farting more, it may or may not be a problem.  Here are some of the causes of frequent flatulence.

1. You’re Eating Healthier

If you’re incorporating more fruits and veggies into your diet, that’s great, but understand that they can cause you to be gassier. The solution? Use moderation. Keep eating that fresh produce, but don’t go overboard on frequency or portion size.

2. You’re lactose intolerant

It’s estimated that 65% of the human population is lactose intolerant, so you’re in good company here. For lactose intolerance, reduce your intake of dairy products or try lactose-free alternatives.

3. You have an allergy

People who have gluten allergy exhibit symptoms like constant farts and bloating after consuming anything with these proteins, which are commonly found in wheat and other cereal grains. Talk to your doctor if you suspect that you have a gluten allergy or intolerance, and find ways to eliminate the gluten from your diet. And while gluten allergy is one of the more common allergy-induced causes of flatulence, many types of food allergies can cause gas. Talk to your doctor about food allergy testing to help you understand what you’re up against.

4. You’re stressed-out

According to Dr. Maxwell Chait, a Columbia University Medical Center associate professor and gastroenterologist, your hormones and digestive tract are quite interconnected. Thus, anxiety and stress can lead to stomach gurgling and, ultimately, farts. By reducing your stress levels, you’ll consequently decrease the amount of gas in your gut.

5. You’re a carbonation lover

Fizzy, carbonated drinks like Champagne, seltzer, and soda create more farts, thanks to the extra carbon dioxide they introduce into your system. All that gas has to come out one way or the other. To reduce your farts, stay away from the bubbly stuff.

Is it Healthy not to Fart at All?

The only way not to pass gas at all is to hold your farts in, but this can be uncomfortable and hard on your health. By holding air inside, you’re pressuring your GI tract, which can even result in pain.

The Takeaway

Like it or not, everbody farts.  In some instances, it indicates that you are quite healthy and so it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Still, it’s imperative to visit your doctor if you notice a dramatic increase in your flatulence, or the toxicity of their smell, unrelated to diet changes and if you are also experiencing a high degree of abdominal pain or bloating.

 

An upset stomach can be secretly discharged somewhere but an unintended fart can be very embarrassing. If you are in a place with many people around, keeping your food choice can be the safest strategy. Some people really have bad digestion; hence, avoiding foods that are mentioned in this infographic is a safety measure.

4 Foods That Cause Farting [infographic]

 

 

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