Flatulence is the stuff of comedy for people young and old, and it’s not something often discussed in polite company.
However, it is something that we all do once in a while. In fact, your farts can speak volumes about your health and wellness. So, even if it makes your nose wrinkle, go ahead—have a whiff! See (or rather, smell) for yourself what your farts say about your body.
What Are Farts?
Farts are a mix of swallowed air that enters the digestive system “accidentally” while breathing (that would be all the air that passes through your mouth — whether it is via chewing gum, drinking carbonated beverages and eating very quickly) and gas produced by the bacteria in your lower intestine.
The bacteria in your intestines create gases as they breakdown sugars and starches that your body can’t easily digest.
The bacteria breakdown process produces roughly between 2 and 6 cups of gas a day, and after it builds up, it needs to come out somewhere.
Regular farting is a sign that you’re consuming enough fiber, and have a healthy collection of bacteria in your intestines.
Cracking the Code of Breaking Wind
If you’re wondering how on earth the smell (or frequency) of farts could possibly give you clues to your health, you’re not alone. We’ve cracked the code of “cutting the cheese” so that these inevitable puffs of air and gases can help you learn more about your body and its health.
About one percent of the gas produced by our intestines is not scent-free. That scent is generally hydrogen sulfide, a gas that is created when your body breaks down foods with sulfur in them
Many very healthy foods produce sulfur-containing gas when digested. This gas exits the body after digestion in the form of a smelly fart. So, if you’ve been eating red meat, broccoli, cauliflower, beans or dairy products, don’t be surprised if you find yourself with some slightly stinky farts later on down the line.
Extremely Stinky Farts
Let’s face it: most of the farts we notice aren’t exactly flowery-smelling. But if you find yourself passing gas that is truly awful in odor, it may be a sign of an underlying health problem.
If you need to pass gas immediately after consuming dairy, that can be a sign that your body is having a hard time breaking down the lactose and you might be interested to learn that most people have lactose intolerance to some degree.
Less commonly, frequent and extremely stinky farts can be a sign of a chronic problem, like irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease, or an infection like gastroenteritis. But there are also other reasons your digestive system doesn’t function properly.
Scentless farts are, not surprisingly, completely healthy and normal.
Not all flatulence has an acrid scent. Sometimes the farts you let loose are simply an accumulation of air swallowed while talking or from drinking fizzy water earlier in the day. These scentless farts are similar to “burps,” they’re just exiting the body in a different location.
Frequent farting is generally nothing to lose sleep over in terms of health indications and in fact the average person passes gas about 20 times a day. But there a few tips that can help you to reduce excessive gas and bloating.
People who eat a healthy vegan diet may be more prone to frequent flatulence than their omnivorous counterparts. This is partly due to the carbohydrate-rich diets strict vegetarians consume, and the fact that many (very healthy) veggies are sulfuric in nature (some of these veggies are garlic and onions which have many health benefits), leading to gassiness after being consumed.
However, frequent farting that is accompanied by discomfort, bloating, or a very foul odor may indicate a food allergy. If you find your fart frequency on the uptick after eating dairy products like cheese or drinking milk, or if the frequency goes up after eating wheat-containing foods, you may wish to rule out allergy by visiting your doctor for an allergen panel.
Myths About Flatulence Debunked
Holding it in vs. letting it go: can it harm your health to hold it?
While holding in the occasional fart that happens to come on while in an elevator won’t kill you, it may make you really uncomfortable.
Holding in farts won’t make the gases disappear by magic. In fact, it will likely lead to bloating and abdominal pain. If you feel the need to fart, you’ll be better off if you can let it go rather than holding it in.
Quiet vs. loud: does it matter?
Some farts are nigh on deafening, while others slip out surreptitiously.
Are loud farts different than quiet ones? The answer is: no. The volume of a fart has little to do with your health and a whole lot to do with your body’s position at the time the fart happens. Some farts will be loud, some will be quiet. Some will go on for a few seconds, while others are a mere puff of air. None of these factors have any bearing on your body’s health.
Male vs. female: is there really a difference?
Males often find themselves getting the short end of the stick when it comes to stereotypes surrounding flatulence, while women are practically venerated for being fartless angels.
The truth is, men and women fart at the same frequency and both men and women produce smelly gas.
While old-fashioned social conventions of the Victorian era and beyond dictated that polite ladies avoid passing gas in the company of others, this doesn’t mean they felt the need to fart any less often than their gentleman counterparts.
How Smelling a Fart could Actually be Helpful to You
Amazingly, a compound contained within farts called hydrogen sulfide—responsible for the rotten-egg scent of a stinky fart—can actually be good for your health. So, not only is the act of farting a normal, natural and relieving thing to do, getting a whiff of that yucky odor can actually pay off in the form of health benefits.
In a study performed at the University of Exeter, researchers found that inhaling small amounts of this gaseous compound had protective properties against damage of cell mitochondria and even against cancer.
The mitochondria is the “powerhouse” of cells. Preventing or reversing mitochondrial damage is a key strategy for treatments of a variety of conditions such as stroke, heart failure, diabetes and arthritis, dementia and aging. Mitochondria determine whether cells live or die and they regulate inflammation. Dysfunctional mitochondria are strongly linked to disease severity.
The study was published in the journal Medicinal Chemistry Communications, and a follow-up study, published in The Nitric Oxide journal with collaborators from the University of Texas Medical Branch also found that the compound selectively prevented damage to the mitochondria.