Fighting flatulence

Flatulence, commonly referred to as ‘farting’, is caused by gas in the bowel passing out of the anus at regular intervals.

Does everyone fart?
The short answer is yes, everyone lets one rip occasionally – you fart, your neighbour farts, the queen farts, we all fart. Some people simply cut the cheese more often than others. The frequency can range from a handful of times a day up to about 40 times per day, but the average is somewhere around 15.

What causes farting?
Intestinal gas is a normal part of being human. There are various causes, some of which are normal and healthy, and others which may indicate a problem. Typical causes include:

  • Swallowed air – small quantities of air are usually swallowed along with food and drink. Some of this air gets absorbed into the bloodstream and the rest is allowed to pass out the other end.
  • Normal digestion – your stomach acid is neutralised by secretions from your pancreas which causes carbon dioxide, or gas, as a by-product.
  • Intestinal bacteria – your bowel is home to a plethora of bacteria which help digestion by fermenting the food you eat. Fermentation produces gas as a by-product.
  • High fibre foods – fibre is an essential part of our diet, but it can cause excessive gas. This usually happens if a high fibre diet has been introduced suddenly.
  • Lactose intolerance – some people are unable to digest the sugars found in cow’s milk (lactose), which causes the bacteria in the gut to go into overdrive. The excessive fermentation produces large amounts of intestinal gas.
  • Intolerance of short-chain carbohydrates (FODMAPS) – much like lactose intolerance, some people find that they are susceptible to gas production from fermentation when they eat short chain carbohydrates, such as fructose, which are present in many common foods including honey, corn syrup and apples.

When is farting a problem?
Farting only becomes a problem when it becomes embarrassing or physically uncomfortable for you. If it is a one-off you can probably chalk it up to eating something which wasn’t quite right, however if the symptoms persist it may indicate a larger problem. Some of the more unpleasant problems with flatulence are:

  • Loud and not-so proud – a loud fart is caused by muscles in the bowel forcing air out at high speed. To deal with this issue you could try passing the air with less force, reducing the amount of gas in your system by making dietary adjustments or simply excusing yourself and hightailing it out of earshot.
  • Silent but deadly – a ‘silent but deadly’ is a very quiet, very smelly fart. Smelly flatulence is caused by the gas produced during bacterial fermentation. It may be an indication of a food intolerance, but to begin with you could reduce common culprits such as garlic, onions, eggs, spicy foods and beer.
  • Excessive flatulence – if not caused by a food intolerance or other medical issue, which you should speak to your doctor about, you can help to control excessive farting by starting a high-fibre diet slowly or trying to relax when eating, as anxiety can increase the amount of air you swallow.

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What foods cause farting?
Most foods which increase your chances of passing wind are also high in nutrients, so rather than cutting them out of your diet you should simply cut down on the amount you eat. Food which commonly cause flatulence include:

  • Dairy products – anything made from cow’s milk
  • Dried fruit – raisins and prunes
  • Fruit – apples, apricots, peaches and pears
  • Foods high in insoluble fibre – seeds and husks
  • Legumes – beans, peas, chickpeas, soybeans and nuts
  • Vegetables – carrot, eggplant, onion, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

My farting is getting out of hand. When should I see a doctor?
Excessive or smelly flatulence could indicate a bigger problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance. You should visit your doctor if you experience unusual or excessive farting, abdominal pain, changes in your toilet habits or any other uncomfortable symptoms associated with digestion. 

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