Everybody does it – around 10 to 20 times per day, and even more. And, at least medically-speaking, there’s no such thing as passing too much gas. But if a propensity toward breaking wind leads to discomfort, unpleasantness, or embarrassment, there are things you can do to reduce the frequency (and aroma) of these human emissions.
The Lifecycle of a Fart
Whether you consider it a source of comedy or chagrin, flatulence is an important biological function that allows the release of intestinal gas. It is produced by bacterial fermentation in the gastrointestinal tract, following the same route in your digestive system that fecal matter does. If you think you’re too gassy, bear in mind that passing gas can be an indication that gut microbes are alive and well and busy at work keeping us healthy.
Composed mostly of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrogen, flatulence will occasionally contain small amounts of sulfur which is what gives farts their notable smell. Once passed, it quickly dissipates into the air but there is some evidence that getting a whiff of the sulfur compounds in flatulence may prevent mitochondria damage and provide protection against illnesses like arthritis, stroke, and heart disease. Who would’ve thunk that smelling farts might actually be good for us?
The Root Causes of Gas
All the benefits of flatus aside, there are indeed times when it can strike at the most inopportune of moments. To help keep it under control, these are the most common triggers for an overabundance of gas:
They’re not dubbed the musical fruit for nothing! Beans contain the carbohydrate galacto-oligosaccharide and fructans – sugars that are cannot be digested by the stomach and are quickly fermented by gut bacteria. The resulting gas may be unpleasant, but legumes are an excellent source of fiber and are actually very good for overall gut health.
The Fix: While you may wish to avoid beans altogether, simply rinsing beans before you cook them can help lower their gas-causing sugars.
If you tend to get gassy after consuming milk, cheese, yogurt, or other dairy sources, you might have a mild case of lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance can develop at any age; it is broadly defined as the inability to fully digest lactose due to a deficiency of lactase enzymes in the belly. Flatulence is one symptom, as are abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea.
The Fix: In order to diagnose lactose intolerance, make an appointment with your doctor to perform a hydrogen breath test. If confirmed, there are plenty of lactose-free options available, such as rice, soy, almond, and camel milk.
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
High in fiber, carbohydrates, and sulfur, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower can cause gas because they are more difficult to digest. And because they contain the key ingredient (sulfur) for smell, eating these veggies often produces a foul stench.
The Fix: These veggies are among the healthiest foods so you shouldn’t avoid them entirely. Eating cruciferous vegetables cooked rather than raw can help lessen the generation of gas, as does drinking lots of water each day. It can also help to eat smaller portions of them and to make sure you chew them really well.
4. Processed Foods
Heavily processed foods, especially those high in fat and artificial sugars, can be more difficult for the digestive system to break down.
The Fix: There’s no way around this one – to avoid gas caused by processed foods, you’ll need to reduce your consumption of them.
5. You’re Swallowing Air
Every time we swallow food or drink, we are also swallowing about 10 milliliters of air. In a 24 hour period, 30 liters of swallowed air passes through the intestinal system. If not belched out, it becomes the stuff of flatulence.
The Fix: Using drinking straws, chewing gum, eating too quickly, and drinking carbonated beverages only adds to the amount of air swallowed each day.
6. You’re Constipated
Being backed up is uncomfortable to say the least, and the longer it takes to empty the bowels, the more fermented things become in the intestine.
The Fix: The causes of constipation can vary wildly, from dehydration to stress to hypothyroidism. Natural ways to get your bowels moving is eat more high fiber foods (prunes, figs, and leafy greens), get some exercise, and supplement your diet with cod liver oil, aloe vera juice, and flaxseed.
7. Changes to Microflora in the Gut
The kinds of bacteria that reside in the gut have far-reaching implications for overall health. The composition of these microbes can affect mood, cognition, body weight, immune function, and how easily and quickly you become fatigued. While each person’s gut flora is unique, a change in bacterial composition can lead to an increase in intestinal gas.
8. You Have Indigestion
If you often feel bloated, nauseous, or uncomfortably full after a meal, you might be suffering from indigestion. Eating spicy, fatty, and greasy foods is a common cause of indigestion – and your gut may be slower to break them down, resulting in an accumulation of sulfur, bacteria, or yeast in the digestive tract.
The Fix: To give your digestive system a boost, try taking a plant-based digestive enzyme supplement, such as this one, before each meal. It will help the body process difficult to digest foods (thereby reducing gassy emissions) and allow your system to absorb the vital nutrients in food.
9. You’re Stressed
The mind and body are linked in intricate and mysterious ways, and the brain and gut are no exception. Feelings of anxiety and stress can cause your body to process foods too fast or too slow, which can result in excess gas. Unfortunately this can kick off a vicious cycle, where excessive gas further exacerbates anxiety and stress.
10. Something More Serious
Sometimes excessive, stinky flatulence can be a sign that there’s something more serious going on. Bouts of gas that are accompanied by pain, bloating, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue, or sudden weight loss could be indicative of irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, gastroenteritis, leaky gut syndrome, giardiasis, or another medical condition.
The Fix: Many of these underlying conditions are entirely treatable so talk to your doctor about your symptoms to start the process of a diagnosis.