You are in an important meeting when you feel air starting to move around your insides. You clamp your butt cheeks together trying desperately to hold it in. In your head you are begging your body not to do this now!
Then it happens.
The word “fart” comes from the Old English “feortan” meaning “to break wind”. The medical term for a buildup of gas in the digestive system is flatulence.
But flatulence isn’t as much fun to say as fart.
Luckily for everyone else that was in that meeting, most farts are silent and odorless. It’s a good thing too because the average healthy person farts between 12-25 times a day!
Why Do We Fart?
When we eat, drink or chew gum we also swallow tiny amounts of air. This swallowed air accumulates in the gut.
Most of the gas we produce is a result of the body’s process of digestion. This intestinal gas is produced when bacteria breaks down the food that we eat.
Once intestinal gas is accumulated inside the body it is going to find a way to get out. That is why we have the ability to burp and fart. You may think of them as crude body functions, but they are necessary and effective.
On average, a fart is composed of about 59% nitrogen, 21% hydrogen, 9% carbon dioxide, 7% methane and 4% oxygen. Less than 1% of their makeup is what makes farts stink.
When a fart does stink the odor is caused by hydrogen sulfide. Sulfur is released when our food has not been properly digested and starts to decompose. Any food not digested completely by the stomach or small intestine passes to the large intestine where gas can accumulate. The more sulfur rich foods you consume in your diet, the more your farts will stink.
You Are What You Eat
Some foods have a direct effect on the smell of your farts. For me it’s onions. I can clear myself out of a room after I eat onions! Cabbage, beans and eggs can also create an offending odor.
Regardless of the smell, some foods just create more flatulence. Things like complex carbohydrates are difficult for humans to digest.
Here are some foods that can increase flatulence:
• Brussel sprouts
• Carbonated drinks
And no one is immune to the effects of gas producing foods. In this episode of The Big Bang Theory even Sheldon gets the farts from eating cruciferous vegetables.
Farting is Normal
When I was a kid my father would fart or burp and declare “there’s more room out than in”. As a young girl I was appalled, but as a wellness coach I see the wisdom of his words.
A buildup of intestinal gas inside the human body can cause bloating, cramping and in some cases severe pain. The body needs to get the gas outside and the sooner the better.
While farting is a normal and necessary body function, some underlying health conditions can cause an increase in flatulence.
• Chronic intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or diverticulitis.
• Lactose intolerance
• Celiac or gluten intolerance
• Constipation makes it harder to expel built up gas
• Gallbladder problems
• Antibiotics upset normal intestinal flora causing flatulence
• Laxative overuse
Flatulence is not usually a serious problem. In most cases, a change in diet and lifestyle can bring you back into normal range. Avoid foods that are known to increase your flatulence, eat smaller meals and eat slower, avoid chewing gum and carbonated drinks.
Exercise can help the digestive system work better and reduce gas. A natural remedy I have used myself and with my clients is charcoal capsules. It reduces heartburn and absorbs gas in your gut. Make sure you always use a quality charcoal product.
Rubbing your abdomen in a clockwise direction can help to release trapped gas and reduce bloating.
When to Talk About It
Farts are normal but persistent pain and discomfort needs attention. Overactive flatulence can cause social embarrassment, stress and even depression.
Talk to your wellness professional if flatulence becomes severe, is often released involuntarily or has a consistently foul smell. If you have sharp, jabbing pains or cramps that don’t resolve or you have a knotted sensation in your abdomen.