Birds don’t do it and nor does an octopus, but pretty much every mammal does, including you. Passing gas is such a natural thing that if you didn’t do it (as in were somehow physically unable), you’d be in extreme pain. Luckily, that’s pretty much impossible since all of us have backends and other orifices and this is where gas will find its way out, no matter how hard you try to stop it.
Everyone has gas
The path of gas through your body is both a concern and, for others, a source of endless amusement. But for everyone the path remains the same. Air either goes in via your mouth or it’s produced inside your body.
Let’s look at the gas you accidentally swallow first. Assuming you’re someone who eats very carefully, chewing slowly and avoiding gulping large quantities of air with each bite of that hangover hamburger, you’ll still end up with some air going down your esophagus and into your stomach, rather than to your lungs where most air goes. You may, however, suffer with less flatulence than the next gal who wolfs her hamburgers. But regardless of how daintily you may eat, you probably give it your all during a workout… and that can, apparently, also add to the gas in your gut.
If you regularly suffer with bloat or gassiness after working out it could be because you’ve eaten too close to training – as your stomach and intestines try to digest your food, your workout causes your blood to rush to the muscles being used and that can leave your digestive system wanting… the result being a less efficient process and potentially more gas. But it’s also down to breathing. Without meaning to, you may well be gulping or swallowing more air than you usually would sitting in a chair, for example. And that excess air has to go somewhere… in your case triggering bloat and then later gas.
To prevent excess ‘eating’ of air during a workout, control is key. It’s almost always when you’re not fully focused that breathing gets out of rhythm – for example, while talking on your phone during a jog or talking to some other gym-goer as you work out. So quit the chatter. And, make a note of how you breathe during different workout moves or sessions, comparing how often you’re bloated after. It could be that certain moves make you more prone to ‘eating air’ than others. Typically air hungry moves include heavy lifting (grunt out, gulp in), but also stationary bikes and treadmills where you’re likely to sip water as you go, which adds to the likelihood of you ingesting air as you drink.
As you eat, your body digests that food. In the small intestine there are some food substances that can’t be broken down any further and those are pushed along the gastrointestinal tract and into the large intestine (colon). There are billions of bacteria there ready to break down the contents further via fermentation. As you may remember from your chemistry lab experiments at school, these processes naturally produce gas and it’s no different inside your body. Carbon dioxide is produced when stomach acid mixes with bicarbonate in your small intestine, and bacteria produce gases in the large intestine. Most gas is reabsorbed by your blood and released via your breath (don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’d have fart breath… necessarily!), but when your intestine can’t accommodate any more gas, it gets pushed out via your intestine via contractions coming out as a fart.
Hold on a minute
There are times where releasing gas, whether it be by your mouth or bottom, simply isn’t on. You’re in a full elevator, a silent yoga class or quietly spooning with your partner… that gas just can’t be released! So you hold it. You can hold a fart in by squeezing your sphincter muscles tight enough that the gas backs up again. But, here’s your warning, it will come out at some point and if you keep holding it in, it’ll come out with far more force later on. What’s more, holding it in hurts. A build up can cause abdominal distension and it has to come out at some point. Better to excuse yourself, if you can, head outside or to the bathroom and let it out quietly, than hold it and be unable to prevent an even bigger noise and smell later on.
But there’s more to it being icky – some research suggests that the action of holding it in, and allowing the pressure in your rectum to rise can lead to a condition called diverticulitis. Diverticula are little pouches that form in the lining of your intestines, especially the colon. Although they don’t usually cause problems they can become inflamed or infected, leading to severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and a change in bowel habits. Once diagnosed mild diverticulitis is treated with rest, antibiotics and diet change. If it recurs you may need surgery.
And then there’s the issue of all that gas hanging around in your intestines. Healthy intestinal walls are moist, with too much trapped air those walls may dry out. Nutrients can’t pass through the intestinal wall as easily if there’s lots of gas in there and the result is poor nutrition and uncomfortable bloating for you.
So what’s in it anyway?
Research published in medical journal >Gut, finds men and women produce the same volume of gas – around 8-20 individual ‘episodes’ over a 24 hour period. Bigger volumes of intestinal gas are released in the hour immediately after meals – something to keep in mind if you want to avoid farting with your partner, or at work and so on.
And that bad smell? There are various compounds that produce different ‘aromas’. That rotten egg one? Down to hydrogen sulfide. The old cabbage one? Methanethiol. The unnervingly ‘sweet’ one? That’s dimethyl sulfide. (Interesting fact you don’t need to know but is fun to share: the substance that creates the rotten egg fart smell is deadly if inhaled at levels of more than 700 parts per million. While some farts may seem deadly, luckily, they’ll only contain at most 0.001 to 1 part sulfide.)
You do it when you sleep and when you fly
It might not be as frequent or at such high quantities, but you also fart as you slumber. Research from Harvard University suggests you fart around half as much as during the day while dreaming.
And, when you’re up in the air on a plane, you’re more prone to gas too. Although air cabins are pressurized there are still changes in pressure (hence why your ears pop) and those changes in pressure also change the gas volume inside your body. Luckily the seats are usually quite absorbent and the meal portions are small.
Is fiber the anti-fart food?
Fiber is touted as being great for digestion so it seems logical that it might also help prevent excessive farting. But according to research published in journal >Gut, people on a high-fiber diet – one group had 30 grams of psyllium a day (soluble fiber) while the other group did not – didn’t have lower volume gas but they did fart less often. This means, in essence, that they did bigger farts but just not as frequently as those who’d had no fiber supplement. Both high-fiber diets and those that are deficient in fiber can cause bloating and gas, so it’s important you adjust your intake to see whether it helps reduce or increase gas for you. Do a fiber and fart diary so you can assess the situation.
What will produce more or less gas?
Fermentable carbohydrates are the main culprits – such as fruit (especially apples and pears), dairy products, anything in the onion family and beans. This is because these complex carbohydrates tend to sit in your large intestine and ferment, only then being removed via your bowels later on. That fermentation is a major contributor to your gas load. But before you decide to cut out these carbs consider that a low-fiber diet, ie one without many vegetables, fruits and so on, will also cause bloating ie excess gas and it’ll feel really uncomfortable too.
There is, however, a diet you can adopt that will produce less gas than others. Researchers at the University Hospital General Vall d’Hebron, Spain, tested two different diets to see how they affected the frequency of flatulence. One group were put on a low-fart diet containing foods known to be low in fermentable residues – so meat, fish, poultry, salad vegetables, rice and so on. The other group were assigned to a Mediterranean diet which contained more vegetables and legumes (two portions per day) and fruit (also two portions). The results revealed that the low-fart diet reduced the frequency of farting by 54%, but the Mediterranean diet also reduced frequency by 28%. While this research is interesting, it didn’t address the loudness or quantity of the farts. So it could be that eating vegetables and legumes, for example, meant more farts were emitted but they were smaller and potentially quieter. And if it’s smell you’re worried about, maybe consider cutting back on the red meat, too. Meat is the source of that methanethiol, the gas that smells a lot like rotting cabbage.
Your emotions can literally make you more gassy too. When you’re under stress your body doesn’t produce the same number or quantity of digestive enzymes which means it simply doesn’t function as efficiently as it should… which in turn means more gas is produced. It also triggers a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to your digestive system, which can mean food takes longer to digest giving those bacteria more time to create more gas.
How to release without red cheeks
So now you know it’s better out than in, here’s how to release the gas as conveniently as possible.
First, try exercise. If you’re bloated and feel like there’s gas in there that needs to come out a gentle walk or even slow stretches might be all that it takes to let it go. Also, certain yoga positions are excellent at releasing any pent-up gas. Try Pawanmuktasana which is where you lie on your back and hug your knees towards your chest, or Paschimottanasana where you sit up, legs out in front of you, and bend forward folding your body at the hip. Both of these basically work by squashing and massaging the intestinal area allowing the gas to move through. You can also try some self-massage to ease the gas out too.
Second, grab a cuppa. Fennel, peppermint and ginger have all found to have calming properties for your digestion, which doesn’t mean they’ll prevent you farting but they’ll allow the gas to escape in a more gentle (quieter) manner.
Finally, get yourself some meds. You can take bismuth subgallate, a substance that helps to reduce the odor of sulfur gases specifically (that rotten egg smell).
And to simply get that air out without pain and too much noise, simethicone is the right choice. It’s a common ingredient in anti-flatulence medications and it works by adjusting the surface tension of the tiny gas bubbles in your digestive system. When you have lots of tiny gas bubbles in your digestive system it’s not as easy for your intestines to ‘push’ it out as when it’s a larger gas bubble. So the simethicone works by creating larger bubbles which then allows them to be released.
There is no way to keep farts inside you forever. That gas has to come out one way or another. Holding it in not only makes you uncomfortable and put your health at risk, it’ll make everyone else uncomfortable too when it finally does come out louder and stinkier! So rather than fighting it, give in to the urge – and remember, better out than in!