Sure letting out a fart in a crowded place is less than ideal, but passing wind is a natural bodily function. We're all human and we all fart.
Trouble is some of us pass wind a little more often, and others with a little more, ahem, aroma, and that can actually be quite revealing about our overall health, particularly when it comes to the gut.
What causes us to fart?
While it may be considered embarrassing, farting is actually a totally normal and natural occurrence. It’s the by-product of our digestive system at work. In fact, farting is actually good and healthy for the body.
According to Guts UK farting (or flatulence) is described as the normal way that air and digestive gases are let out from the bowel, via the anus.
The charity says it is normal for people to fart around 15 times a day, although what is normal does vary between people. It is important to know what is normal for you, so you can note any changes that might occur.
If you didn’t pass wind, you could experience uncomfortable, even painful, issues such as bloating.
"The root cause of flatulence is gas that has made its way through our gastrointestinal system and is released through the rectum," explains Dr Philip Mayhead, consultant gastroenterologist for healthcare provider, Benenden Health.
"The causes do vary, but it is often related to digestion, or swallowing air while eating or drinking."
What your farts could tell you about your gut health
To understand the connection between passing wind and gut health, we need to first discuss the gut microbiome. Your digestive system is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, collectively known as the gut microbiota, which have a role to play in breaking down food and absorbing nutrients.
The diversity within your gut microbiome is directly related to gut health. A diverse, balanced microbiome is associated with better digestion, while having an imbalance can lead to various digestive issues including bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.
A lack of variety in your diet can lead to low bacterial diversity in the gut and can cause excessive flatulence.
"Eating a balanced, varied diet is important – not just for your waistline, but also for your gut health in reducing the likelihood of excessive flatulence," Dr Mayhead explains.
"The same thing can happen as a result of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which can lead to nutrient absorption issues and possible digestive symptoms like excessive gas," Dr Mayhead adds.
"If you suspect these underlying factors, do consult a medical professional."
What your farts mean
Foul-smelling or rotten egg smelling farts
According to Dr Mayhead when your farts are really foul-smelling it is the result of intestinal bacterial colonies producing gases like carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, and sulphur-containing gases, which create that not so pleasant smell.
This kind of gas is usually a result of sulphur-containing compounds produced during digestion. "High in sulphur foods to watch out for are cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and everyone’s least favourite, brussels sprouts," he adds.
Gas that is odourless usually consists of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases. "Surprisingly, this is the most common type of fart and is often caused by swallowing air while eating or drinking," Dr Mayhead explains.
Excessive flatulence or bloating related farts that feels like you need to ‘go’
If you experience frequent, excessive flatulence, it can feel like you need to open your bowels more frequently or have the urgency to go to the toilet.
"This can be due to various factors including eating certain gas-producing foods, or having conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)," Dr Mayhead explains. "For individuals with lactose intolerance, indulging in sweet treats like chocolate can lead to uncomfortable symptoms."
Farts that feel hot on passing
This type of gas occurs as a result of eating foods that are high in capsaicin such as chillies or spices.
In small quantities, this type of gas is perfectly normal and is just a natural byproduct of digestion. "When you eat, you swallow air, and your gut bacteria produce gases as they break down food – simple as that," Dr Mayhead adds.
When to worry about your farts
Farting is as natural as breathing, but if you are experiencing additional bowel-related symptoms such as the following, it’s advisable to see a doctor:
Unexplained weight loss
Severe abdominal pain
Lump in the abdomen
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