Flatulence is defined as the state of having excessive stomach or intestinal gas that is usually released from the anus with a sound and odor.
Commonly known as passing wind or farting, people often laugh about flatulence, but excessive flatulence can make you quite uncomfortable around others.
There can be many different causes of excessive flatulence like swallowed air, the breakdown of undigested food, malabsorption of some foods, lactose intolerance.
Excessive gas is usually not a medical emergency unless it is accompanied by severe cramps, diarrhea, constipation, bloody stools or fever.
Medical treatments for flatulence include antibiotics and including probiotics in the diet. Specific dietary and lifestyle changes can also help reduce excessive flatulence.
Let us learn more about the causes, symptoms, and cures for flatulence.
What is a fart?
Flatulence or farts care caused by trapped air, which can come from different sources. Some of it is air that we may have swallowed while eating and drinking.
Some gas is produced by chemical reactions in our intestines during the digestive process or by bacteria living in our guts.
A fart is made up of 20 to 90 percent nitrogen, 0 to 50 percent hydrogen, 10 to 30 percent carbon dioxide, 0 to 10 percent methane, and 0 to 10 percent oxygen.
Several different chemicals contribute to the smell of farts. They include –
- Skatole (a by-product of meat digestion)
- Indole (a by-product of meat digestion)
- Methanethiol (a sulfur compound)
- Dimethyl sulfide (a sulfur compound)
- Hydrogen sulfide
The chemical composition and the odor of your fart can differ depending on your diet. So the farts of a person on a vegetarian diet can be different from those of a person who eats meats.
Farts that are high in sulfur-containing compounds will smell more than farts that consist mainly of nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen. These include –
Hydrogen sulfide – A fart that contains hydrogen sulfide usually smells like rotten eggs. It is a flammable and toxic gas.
Methanethiol – It has a strong smell similar to cruciferous veggies. It is naturally found in the blood and brain of the human body.
Dimethyl sulfide – This chemical compound is responsible for the smell of the veggies.
Farts can make a sound when they escape due to the vibrations in the rectum. Muscles within the colon and the rectum help control how quickly the gas is released.
The loudness varies depending on the pressure of the gas and the tightness of the sphincter muscles.
What causes flatulence?
People pass gas around 14 to 18 times per day. An average person produces about half a liter of farts every single day. Women may be more discreet, but they too produce the same amount of gas.
However, if you pass more gas than this, you could have excessive flatulence. Specific foods or health problems like digestive issues, and hormonal fluctuations can lead to excessive flatulence.
Particular food in the diet can irritate the digestive organs, causing side effects like bacterial growth and fermentation. When people retain some gas in the gut, they can develop abdominal distension.
Some of the reason why gas gets trapped in the body include –
1. Swallowed air
We swallow small amounts of air along with food and liquids. Eating too fast, not chewing food properly and even anxiety can lead to air-swallowing. The bloodstream absorbs the nitrogen and oxygen that we swallow from the air, and the excess continues its journey through the bowels for expulsion.
2. Intestinal bacteria
Fiber is essential for a healthy digestive system, but it can also create excessive gas. The small intestines can not break down certain compounds.
Gas produced by the colonic bacteria during the fermentation of unabsorbed food in the colon can cause smelly farts.
Constipation can prolong the fermentation process of foods in the digestive system, and this leads to increased production of gas
4. The composition of colonic flora
Every individual is different when it comes to their microbiome composition. The amount of gas produced depends on the bacteria living in the digestive system. So, there can be variation in the amount of gas produced by different individuals.
While most of the time excessive gas is caused by eating certain foods or eating habits that cause you to swallow more gas. In some cases, it can also be a symptom of certain health conditions. Some of these conditions include –
1. Lactose intolerance
When the body is unable to digest the sugars found in the cow’s milk, the body produces excessive amounts of intestinal gas. The bacteria in the gut digest these sugars by the fermentation process which creates gas.
2. Intolerance of short-chain carbohydrates
Some people are susceptible to gas production due to fermentation of carbohydrates such as fructose which is present in fruits, honey, and corn syrup. These short-chain carbohydrates are known as FODMAPs.
3. Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Malabsorption occurs when there are excessive bacteria in the small intestine. When nutrients like soluble vitamins and iron are not absorbed into the bloodstream, it leads to abnormal bacterial growth and gas.
When to see a doctor
If your gas or gas pain is so severe that it interferes with your daily life, it is time to check with your doctor. Sometimes there are underlying conditions like food poisoning and intestinal blockage that can lead to gas. You must see a doctor if you notice any of these additional symptoms –
- Blood in stools
- Change in consistency or frequency of stools
- Weight loss
- Recurrent nausea or vomiting
- Prolonged abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Skin rash, acne or hives
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Constipation or diarrhea
Foods that cause gas
The tendency for specific food to cause gas varies from person to person. Foods that tend to create gas are high in polysaccharides, particularly oligosaccharides such as inulin. Here are some of the foods that can cause gas –
Beans contain polysaccharides, which ferment when they enter the gut. The bacteria that thrive on these polysaccharides produce an increase in gas. Soaking beans overnight can make them more digestible.
Milk and milk products contain disaccharides called lactose which can be tough to break down. Lactose intolerance, which is a common digestive problem, can cause indigestion and flatulence.
3. Sulfur-containing veggies
Vegetables from the cruciferous family like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale tend to cause more gas. These veggies are high in fiber, a particular type of carbohydrates and sulfur.
4. Processed foods
Some people lack the enzymes to process hydrogenated fats that are commonly used in fast foods. Artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and colors are also tough to digest.
5. High-fiber foods
High-fiber and starchy foods like potatoes, grains, seeds, corns, and beans can cause gas. Though fiber is essential for the digestive process, it takes some time to get digested, and this leads to fermentation and gas.
Foods that contain FODMAP carbohydrates can be hard to break down.
FODMAP(fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) are short-chained carbohydrates that are fermentable and difficult to absorb.
In most of the cases, flatulence is not a severe problem. Some simple diet and lifestyle changes can help manage flatulence.
1. Avoid foods that cause gas
Certain fruits like apples and pears and vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are known to cause gas. Beans and dairy products can also cause flatulence.
Scrutinize your diet and eliminate the food you feel cause flatulence. The ability to digest different foods can differ from person to person.
2. Don’t drink with meals
When you drink any liquid with your meal, you lose stomach acids, and you are unable to digest foods well. Drink around 30 minutes before meals to help your body digest better.
3. Eat slowly
Eat your meals slowly and chew the food properly as this helps in the digestive process.
4. Use probiotics
Probiotics help restore the healthy bacteria in the gut. Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut are some of the probiotics that you can add to your diet.
5. Use herbs and spices
Many herbs and spices have been used for centuries for treating digestive issues. Turmeric, fennel, cumin, caraway, licorice, and ginger can help reduce gas and bloating.
6. Avoid artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol can lead to gas. These sweeteners are sound in sugar-free chewing gums and candies.
7. Try activated charcoal
Activated charcoal (pills and liquid) help reduce gas, by getting attached to the fluid in your gut.
8. Avoid chewing gum
Certain habits like chewing gum, drinking with straw and smoking may cause your stomach to fill up with air.
9. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise can enhance the activity of the digestive system, which helps reduce gas and bloating.
Gas is a natural by-product of the body’s natural digestive system. An average person passes gas around 14 to 18 times a day.
Some of the common reasons for flatulence include swallowed air, intestinal bacteria, constipation, and composition of colonic flora.
It is easy to deal with flatulence by making some lifestyle and diet changes. However, if flatulence becomes excessive and is accompanied by pain and bloody stools, you should consult a doctor.