Why do we fart? Why do farts smell? Passing gas may be embarrassing for most of us, but it might make you feel better to know that it’s one of the most common bodily functions of all time. Everyone does it, from Halle Berry to the Queen of England. In fact, the word “fart” is one of the oldest words in the English language.
Farts are caused by trapped air, which can come from many sources. Some of it is air that we have swallowed while chewing or drinking. Some air is caused by gas seeping into our intestines from our blood, and some gas is produced by chemical reactions in our intestines or bacteria living in our guts.
A typical fart is composed of about 59 percent nitrogen, 21 percent hydrogen, 9 percent carbon dioxide, 7 percent methane and 4 percent oxygen. Only about one percent of a fart contains hydrogen sulfide gas and mercaptans, which contain sulfur, and the sulfur is what makes farts stink.
Farts make a sound when they escape due to the vibrations of the rectum. The loudness may vary depending on how much pressure is behind the gas, as well as the tightness of the sphincter muscles.
You may not know it, but you’re constantly swallowing air. The simple act of swallowing or slurping drinks through a straw makes gas enter your body. More air is particularly taken in when you eat too fast or when you chew gum. Having gas inside you isn’t abnormal; everyone has it. While it can sometimes lead to embarrassing situations, there normally is no concern for frequently passing gas every day. After all, the average person passes gas roughly 14 times a day.
Causes of Fart Gas
There are two main causes of gas. The first, as has already been mentioned, is swallowing air (also known as aerophagia), which can happen every time you eat or drink. The reason why most people burp or belch after a full, hearty meal is due to the excess gas accumulated while eating. Belching or burping is the most common way some of the swallowed air (which contains oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide) leaves the stomach. The rest goes into your small intestine (where it is partially absorbed) and the large intestine, where it gets released via the rectum in the form of flatulence (or more colloquially termed as a fart).
The second main cause of gas is the breakdown of some of the foods you eat. Unfortunately, most of these foods are branded as healthy – fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. The reason why these usually upstanding foods are such offenders is because they contain a high amount of fiber. Fiber is an important health component for your body, giving it benefits like ensuring your digestive system is working properly as well as regulating cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber, however, does not get broken down until it reaches the large intestine, where its digestion causes the formation of gas.
Lactose intolerance can also cause a higher than normal production of gases. If you find yourself having gas issues after eating dairy products, it could be because your body is unable to break down the lactose found in dairy. Lactose intolerance is particularly common in people who are of Native American, Asian, or African descent as these ethnicities have, by nature, low levels of lactase, an enzyme the body needs to process lactose. Also, as people age, the enzyme level decreases, resulting in an increase in gas production after lactose intake.
Other lesser causes of gas include the presence of other health conditions like Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease, the consumption of antibiotics (which cause the disruption of helpful bacteria in your bowel system), overuse of laxatives, constipation, and consumption of artificial additives like sorbitol and mannitol.
Aside from obvious embarrassing situations, an excess of gas might cause abdominal pains for some people. The build-up of air and gases from within causes pressure which, in turn, causes pain (keep in mind, however, that not all abdominal pains are caused by gas. Appendicitis, for example, is a pain manifesting on your right side only). While abdominal gas pains are mostly short, they can be intense. There are several ways for you to get rid of excess gas.
Although flatus possesses physiological smell, this may be abnormally increased in some patients and cause social distress to the patient. Increased smell of flatus presents a distinct clinical issue from other complaints related to intestinal gas. Some patients may exhibit over-sensitivity to bad flatus smell, and in extreme forms, olfactory reference syndrome may be diagnosed.
Eliminating Excess Gas
Treat underlying health conditions. If your gas condition is due to some other health disease, treating that disease should get rid of your gas problem. If you’re not sure whether your gas problem is indeed caused by another condition, have yourself checked by your physician. Sometimes, the gas problem is only a symptom of another health issue, and not the issue itself.
Lessen your intake of gas-causing foods. The worst offenders of gas for most people are beans, cauliflower, onions, apples, sugar-free candies, and chewing gum.
Foods high in fiber are also contributors to gas. However, since fiber is a healthy component in a diet, just temporarily cut back on foods that contain them, such as wheat, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Gradually incorporate them into your diet over the weeks that follow. Do not eliminate fiber foods in your diet. The trick is to limit them in such a way that you can still get their benefits. If you’re having trouble doing so, consult a dietitian or a nutritionist.
Reduce dairy product consumption. If you’re lactose intolerant, reducing your intake of dairy products will go a long way to lessening your gas problems. If you absolutely must consume them, use low-lactose dairy foods instead. For example, substitute yogurt for milk. You can also try using products that help in the digestion of lactose, such as Lactaid. You can also try to consume dairy products in small, manageable amounts or eat them together with other foods so digestion will not be as difficult.
While on the topic of manageable amounts of food, eating several small meals scattered throughout the day instead of three huge meals can also be a good way to reduce your gas problems.
Chew your food properly. You know how your parents were always telling you to chew your food slowly and properly? Well, aside from it being proper table etiquette, eating your food slowly and thoroughly instead of gulping it down like a huge trash compactor on steroids will lessen your probability of taking in more air while eating. Also, don’t use straws when drinking. Sipping through straws increases the chances that you’ll take in more air than usual. If you can’t seem to control your eating and drinking speed, put your fork down between each bite.
Stop smoking. When you smoke, you take in air that is supposed to directly go to your lungs. However, since you’re essentially inhaling air via your mouth, it is inevitable that some will find its way to your stomach, adding in more air than usual.
Take medications. There are several over the counter drugs that can help you control or get rid of your excess gas. For the lactose intolerant, the enzyme lactase is available in caplet form and chewable tablet form. You don’t need a prescription to get it. Lactrase and Lactaid are the two most common brands that contain lactase. Take these supplements before you consume any dairy products.
Beano, a digestive aid, has a sugar-digesting enzyme the body lacks to digest the sugar that is found in beans and vegetables. The enzyme comes in tablet or liquid form. For liquid, five drops are added to a serving of the food. For tablets, one tablet before eating is enough to break down the sugar that produces gas. However, Beano does not help prevent gases caused by lactose intolerance or fiber.
Semithione and charcoal tablets are also good medications you can take to break up the gas bubbles, limiting excessive belching.
Review diet intake. Other method of reducing the volume of flatus produced is dietary modification, reducing the amount of fermentable carbohydrates. This is the theory behind diets such as the low FODMAP diet (low fermentable oligosaccharide, dissacharide, monosaccharide and polyols). Certain spices have been reported to counteract the production of intestinal gas, most notably the closely related cumin, coriander, caraway, fennel and others such as ajwain, haldi, asafoetida (hing), epazote, and kombu kelp (a Japanese seaweed). Most starches, including potatoes, corn, noodles, and wheat, produce gas as they are broken down in the large intestine.
Intestinal gas can be reduced by fermenting the beans, and making them less gas-inducing, and/or by cooking them in the liquor from a previous batch. Some legumes also stand up to prolonged cooking, which can help break down the oligosaccharides into simple sugars. On the other hand, fermented bean products such as miso are less likely to produce as much intestinal gas. Fermentative lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus plantarum reduce flatulence in human intestinal tract
All in all, a change in lifestyle and diet are the only things you need to do in order to get rid of your gas problem. There shouldn’t be anything more than that, unless the gas problem is a symptom of something that is more serious. In such screenings and diagnosis, the physician may take a look at your medical history as well as perform several physical examinations to rule out other more serious conditions. The tests usually include checking your abdomen to see if it is distended and tapping it to check for hollow sounds. A hollow sound is usually an indication of excess gas. Along with conducting several other tests and reviewing your medical history, the physician may recommend other tests just to be sure. If it’s nothing, then all you need to worry about is making sure you don’t get yourself embarrassed in public – something that can be avoided with proper etiquette.