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Flatulence-Farting, Digestive gas Causes, Preventions & Diets

Excess farting is termed flatulence. It can become a socially distressing issue if you fart more than twenty times a day. Excessive wind passing can make you self-conscious. Fortunately, dietary modifications and lifestyle changes help keep a check on your digestive gas production.

Gas production is a normal physiological phenomenon of the digestion process. Passing wind or gas or farting; all terms are used for the passing of the digestive gases.

When the gas collects inside the digestive system, usually the intestines, it passes through the anal canal, called passing wind or fart. The other route of expelling this gas from the digestive tract is through the mouth, called belching.

Flatulence - Farting, Digestive Gas

There are two routes by which the gas collects in the digestive tract;

  • Air swallowed while eating and drinking
  • Digestion of food and action of the bacterial flora on the intestinal content

Swallowing causes an influx of oxygen and nitrogen while the intestinal bacterial action releases digestive gases, including hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide.

Farts may or may not be loud. They primarily contain odorless vapors of gases like carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen. Sometimes methane also contributes to the gaseous content of a fart.

Is farting healthy?

Farting is healthy and good for your body. If you did not fart, you would experience unwanted bloating, and the condition may even become painful enough to warrant a hospital visit. Breaking wind is a sign that your digestive system is working optimally.

Learn how passing winds benefit you;

  • It indicates consumption of a healthy balanced diet containing all the macronutrients; carbs, fats, and proteins.
  • Farting alleviates abdominal pressure and prevents any cause for abdominal pain.
  • A regular wind passing process maintains colon health and prevents irritation of the colonic mucosa. That is why holding gas is not advisable.
  • Farting is a way the body gets rid of any bloating. It eases away feelings of fullness and uncomfortable swelling.
  • Farting helps identify any food allergies and food intolerances. The body reacts by producing more gastric gas in such cases and alerts you that something has upset the digestive system.
  • Passing wind is a sign of a healthy gut, no matter how uncomfortable the associated feeling be. Passing gas is a loud advocate that your bacterial flora is thriving and healthy in the intestine.
  • Farting less or more can be a heads-up signifying an underlying medical condition. In mild cases, it may indicate a simple food intolerance. In severe yet rare occasions, excessive farts are indicative of serious condition as colon cancer.

Causes of flatulence

Flatulence is common to all. Accumulation and release of gas is a normal process that accompanies digestion. The gas can be odorless or stinky. Certain medical conditions and foods make the fart go smelly.

On average, a person farts about ten to fifteen times a day. Passing wind more or less than this has several causes; some of them might need treatment.

Here are some causes of flatulence;

  1. An increase in the air swallowed

While we eat or drink, a little air follows the ingested food into the digestive tract. This happens even when we talk or swallow our saliva. This is a small amount which may be increased on some occasions as;

  • Chewing gum or eating hard candies
  • Habitual sucking on hard objects as pencil tops etc.
  • Smoking
  • Consuming carbonated and fizzy drinks
  • Eating too quickly with large mouthfuls
  • Dietary factors

Some foods also cause an increased amount of gas produced during digestion. These include;

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Raisins
  • Prunes
  • Raw fruits and vegetables
  • Other fructose-rich foods as fruits or artificial sweeteners found in sodas
  • Bok choy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bran
  • Lactose-containing dairy products (milk or cheese)
  • Sorbitol (another sugar substitute found in many foods)
  • Carbonated beverages (soda and beer)
  • Wheat

Our digestive system takes a long time to digest these food portions. The longer the food stays in the gut, the more the intestinal flora works on them, and the more gas is produced.

The digestion of these foods is associated with the release of wind that has a foul smell. Some of the dietary ingredients contain insoluble fiber that reaches the large intestine without being digested. The stay of such food items in the large intestine adds a foul smell to the farts.

  • Stress

Stress-induced bowel movements are also tagged with flatulence. A condition called irritable bowel syndrome is associated with excessive farting. One of the triggering factors for IBS is stress.

The fact is that people adopt unhealthy eating habits and patterns when stressed. Some of these habits are linked with excessive farting. For example, smoking, chewing gum, eating hard candies, or drinking alcohol.

  • Frequency of bowel movements

If you are constipated, the more chances are of excessive flatulence. The food spends more time in the large intestine, which absorbs the water from the stools and allows for more bacterial action.  The result is frequent farts that are stinky to smell.

  • Changes in the bacterial flora

Antibiotics are notorious for disturbing the bacterial colon in the gut, both in quality and quantity. Similarly, certain foods can also change the number and type of bacteria residing in your gut. This change in the bacterial colony can also give rise to excessive farting.

  • Medical conditions

Except for the reasons aforementioned, excessive flatulence may indicate an underlying disease or medical condition. Some of these include;

  • Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Celiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Certain eating disorders
  • Dumping syndrome
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Autoimmune pancreatitis
  • Peptic ulcers

Some foods and conditions cause the farts to stink. These include;

  • high-fiber foods 
  • food intolerance
  • medications such as antibiotics
  • constipation
  • abnormal bacterial growth in the digestive tract
  • very rarely, colon cancer

Treatment for flatulence

While it is nearly impossible to hold a fart for long, the frequency of passing wind can surely be decreased. The underlying cause, if any, is addressed foremost. Some home remedies to keep a check on flatulence include;

  • Replacing the dietary ingredients

Check your diet and if it contains a lot of fibrous food items, replace them. Carbohydrates that are difficult to digest should be taken once in a while. Replacing them with easy-to-digest carbs like potatoes, rice, and bananas is a fair option.

  • Recording the dietary ingredients

Keep a food diary for a while and record your dietary preferences for some time. This will help indicate your frequently consumed foods that trigger gas formation. Learn to avoid these specific foods or use them occasionally if convenient.

  • Consume small meals frequently

Health experts suggest consuming five to six small meals throughout the day. This is in contrast to the three meal a day routine. It helps to lessen the burden on the digestive tract and ensures adequate digestion.

  • Chew properly

Health experts suggest adopting proper eating etiquette while having a meal. Taking small bites and chewing a morsel properly is one of them. Not talking is another way to reduce the excess air intake. Mindful eating habits are suggested to avoid contributing to gas production.

  • Exercise moderately

Adopt moderate exercise every day. Walking few minutes every day suffice most people. Exercise improves blood circulation and bowel movements, which aids proper digestion. The food remains in the gut for an appropriate time, enough for absorption processes. This helps prevent flatulence.

  • Take over-the-counter medications

If nothing else helps, try taking OTC medications to prevent flatulence. These include charcoal tablets and antacids.

Charcoal tablets are one of the touted remedies for reducing flatulence. The charcoal absorbs extra waste and digestive gases produced in the gut.

Signs and symptoms indicating a health risk

Flatulence, if accompanied by the following symptoms, should be consulted with a doctor;

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Persistent symptoms despite OTC and home remedies
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • The appearance of blood in stool

Diagnosis of flatulence or digestive gas

Flatulence is a relieving process in itself. It rarely becomes a medical emergency.

The exception is when gas is accompanied by severe abdominal pain, swelling, and tenderness. The gas release is completely blocked in such cases, indicating intestinal obstruction or some other serious underlying condition.

If your symptoms are severe enough to merit a hospital visit, then your physician will also do a complete physical examination.

The doctor will also take a complete history of the presenting complaints, including dietary history and the last meal you consumed.

If you have been keeping a food diary, you must share the details to help identify any triggering foods.

Your doctor may call for blood tests to rule out any bacterial or viral infection. They may call for stool examination as well.

The diagnostic measures will aim to investigate any underlying medical condition causing flatulence.

How to prevent excess flatulence

Flatulence is a natural phenomenon. Blocking it entirely creates havoc for your gastric health. However, excessive wind braking and passing gas can also be embarrassing. Following are some ways to bolster your gut health and keep a check on flatulence.

  • Eat mindfully

Most of The gas produced in the gut is attributed to the swallowing of air while eating. Mindful eating can help reduce this amount. Easting fast or consuming food on the go can add to the amount of air swallowed.

Mindful eating enables you to eat slowly while paying attention to your food. It also ensures proper chewing, an important factor in reducing the air swallowed.

  • Quit needless eating

Some people have a habit of eating something all the time. If nothing else, they will chew on gum. Try to eliminate these mindless and uncalled-for eating episodes.

If you are chewing gum to keep your mouth fresh, try rinsing your mouth with water after every meal and use mouthwash instead of chewing on gum.

Similarly, consult with your doctor if you cannot resist the urge to chew on hard candy or crushed ice. This seemingly harmless habit may indicate an underlying condition as iron deficiency anemia.

  • Cut back on gas-producing foods.

It is proven that some hard-to-digest foods cause more gas to be formed. These include foods high in lactose, fructose, starch, and insoluble fiber. While some of these dietary items are good for your gut as fiber, others may not do you any good.

Try to limit the intake of such foods in your diet instead of eliminating them from your diet. Some examples of these gas-producing foods include;

Complex sugars as beans, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, whole grains, and other vegetables.

Fructose-containing foods like onions, artichokes, pears, soft drinks, fruit juices, and other whole fruits.

Lactose containing foods, including almost all dairy products

The insoluble fiber in a majority of fruits, oat bran, peas, and beans.

Foods rich in starch as potatoes, pasta, wheat, and corn.

  • Go for an elimination diet.

If you think your flatulence has to do something with a specific food, go for an elimination diet. Food intolerances differ from a food allergy as it does not cause serious signs and symptoms.

Rather, food intolerance would result in excessive flatulence along with bloating, diarrhea and gas.  For example, lactose or gluten intolerance in some people results in excessive gas formation.

In an elimination diet, you check off ingredients one by one according to their effects on your body. This helps to narrow down the list of foods causing excess flatulence and gas production. Keeping a record of these foods helps you to limit the intake of such ingredients. 

This helps you to avoid the unnecessary removal of beneficial foods altogether.

  • Avoid carbonated beverages

Carbonated beverages have gas added under pressure. Drinking such sodas and drinks introduces excessive gas into the gut. Replacing such drinks is healthy for your body as it reduces the chances of extra gas production and contributes to healthy dietary habits.

  • Try taking enzyme supplements.

Enzyme supplements aid the digestion of hard-to-digest nutrients that may cause flatulence.

For example, one such supplement is Beano, available as an OTC product. It helps digest and break down complex carbohydrates effectively in the small intestine. Less residue is left to move on to the large intestine to be available for bacterial action. As a result, less gas is produced.

Another enzyme is lactase, which helps properly digest dairy products that may cause gas production in some people. 

  • Go for probiotics

While the gut contains many beneficial bacterial strains that help aid digestion, certain other strains help break down the gas produced due to digestive processes. Consult your doctor for taking a probiotic supplement containing such specific bacterial strains. If you have already identified any food intolerances, selecting an efficient probiotic becomes much easier.

  • Quit smoking

Extra air enters your lungs as well as your digestive tract with every drag as you smoke. Quitting smoking benefits overall health and is specifically beneficial for preventing flatulence.

  • Treat constipation

The longer the food stays in the intestine, the more is the bacterial action that ferments it. So if you are constipated, get relief with natural remedies or an OTC medication. Keep hydrated at all times.

  • Maintain moderate physical activity

Exercise helps to rev up the bowel movements and relieve constipation or aid wind passing.

Take home message

Flatulence is nothing to worry about if it is not frequent enough to become socially embarrassing. Some other symptoms accompanying flatulence may require a visit to your physician. These include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, blood in stools, and unintentional weight loss.

Abdur Rashid
Medically Reviewed By Abdur Rashid
MSC Public Health, MCSP, MHCPC
BSC (Hon) Physiotherapy
Consultant Neuro-spinal & Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist

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