Can't stop farting like a trooper? If you're battling with trapped wind and bloating it can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and smelly too! Fortunately, aside from being socially awkward, flatulence is usually nothing to worry about.
The average person breaks wind more than 10 times a day and farting is a perfectly normal bodily function that everyone does. However, if you suffer from excessive or particularly smelly wind and you're uncomfortable or in pain, it is worth investigating further, as excessive farting could indicate a bowel problem, or an intolerance to dairy or gluten.
We speak to Gut Health Specialist Dietitian Dr Sammie Gill, about why we fart, what causes flatulence and how to minimise excessive wind:
What is flatulence?
Flatulence, also known as farting, breaking wind, parping, trumping and tooting, is a perfectly normal part of digestion that reflects the activity of the bacteria in your gut.
'Trapped wind happens when gas in the gut can’t escape,' explains Dr Gill. 'Trapped wind can feel uncomfortable and cause abdominal pain and bloating.'
'Flatulence or wind is when it passes through the gut and is expelled out of the back end,' she adds.
Why do you keep farting?
You might have noticed that you fart more when you eat certain foods that are more difficult to digest, such as beans, meats or certain vegetables.
'We all naturally produce gas - some more than others, most of which is generated in the large intestine,' explains Dr Gill. 'How? Undigested food that the body cannot break down, mainly dietary fibre makes its way through the gut into the large intestine where our trillions of microbes live - around 38 trillion in fact.'
'Certain types of dietary fibre are essentially "food" for our microbes and here, they ferment and break it down releasing a whole bunch of metabolites such as short chain fatty acids which are thought to be really beneficial for gut health,' she adds.
'At the same time, a natural by-product of fermentation is gas. The amount of gas we produce is related to the amount of dietary fibre we have in our daily diets. More fibre = more fermentation = more gas. Many of the well-known gas-producing foods such as beans and pulses are actually really good for the gut so if you are finding them problematic, try smaller amounts in a sitting and spread throughout the day.'
Is it just foods that make you fart?
While certain foods can be the main offenders, there are other culprits that can increase flatulence. 'Other reasons for trapped wind include the air we swallow,' explains Dr Gill. 'If we eat too quickly or we don’t chew our food properly and swallow lots of air as a result, it needs to escape somehow.'
'Things like chewing gum and fizzy drinks can also increase gas in the gut,' she adds. 'Try eating at a slower pace, not hurrying through meals if you can help it and try to minimise distractions, such as playing on your phone while eating.'
Constipation and flatulence
Constipation can also lead to trapped wind, as it can build up and lead to abdominal pain and bloating because the gas has difficulty escaping. 'Some research has also shown that constipation is linked with more microbes known as methanogens or methane producers, which is associated with slower gut movements and transit time,' says Dr Gill. 'If you do have constipation, try gradually increasing your fibre intake.'
To ease constipation, Dr Gill recommends the following foods:
✔️ Linseeds have been shown to be particularly effective, but make sure you increase gradually, eg 1 teaspoon of linseeds for weeks 1-2 and build up to 2 tablespoons per day.
✔️ Trial for a three month period and remember to consume with plenty of fluids - around 1 cup per tablespoon.
✔️ Prunes and kiwis have also been shown to help with constipation.
What causes particularly smelly farts?
Humans are naturally gassy creatures and the whiffy smell your Dad always blames on the dog is actually only a small percentage of the gas we emit on a daily basis.
'99 per cent of the gas we produce is actually odourless and made up of several types of gas,' explains Dr Gill. 'The other one per cent includes hydrogen sulphide which tends to have the typical rotten egg smell and a notorious reputation for being malodorous.'
But what makes some farts smell more than others? 'This is due to a number of foods being rich in sulphur compounds which remain contained within the food until they are fermented by our gut microbes releasing hydrogen sulphide.'
Which foods make you fart?
According to Dr Gill, farty foods that are all sulphur-containing compounds include the following:
• Animal-based protein-rich foods
Protein-rich foods such as dairy, including milks and cheeses can make you parp.
• Eggs and red meats
Beef, lamb, sausage and pork can all lead to extra trumps.
Fish such as salmon, herring and shellfish are all whiffy culprits.
Booze can bring on the farts, for example beer, white white and red wine.
There are a number of farty culprits from the cruciferous family including Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.
However, don't avoid these essential food groups just because you're worried about farting! 'These foods are also well-known nutrition powerhouses which contain lots of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals,' says Dr Gill.
To minimise the impact of loud smelly farts, aim to eat the main offenders on days when you don't have a hot date or an important meeting at work.
What constitutes excessive flatulence?
Are you the main fart culprit in the house, or perhaps your other half is a right stinker? A variety of factors impact how much we pass wind, but it is important to remember that for the most part, farting is perfectly normal.
'Passing wind varies hugely from person-to-person,' explains Dr Gill. 'The average is suggested to be around 15 times per day but can range from 3 to 40! What is normal for you won’t necessarily be normal for someone else. But, if it’s troublesome or excessive for you, discuss it with your GP.'
If your flatulence is problematic, opt for fart-happy clothes to ensure you're comfortable. 'Try and avoid tight pants syndrome', advises Dr Gill. 'Looser clothing will help you to feel more comfortable should trapped wind and bloating occur. It’ll help it escape too.'
Is farting the sign of a health condition?
For the most part farting is perfectly normal, but if your trumps are out of control then it might indicate something is amiss and it is worth getting checked out.
'Excessive wind can sometimes be caused by underlying conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Coeliac Disease or lactose intolerance,' says Dr Gill. 'If you’ve had a sudden change in bowel habit or are experiencing abdominal pain, see your GP. It’s important that other possible causes are eliminated.'
When to visit your doctor about smelly farts
Flatulence varies from person-to-person and is usually nothing to worry about, but a sudden and uncomfortable change to your fart odour or frequency in combination with other symptoms may warrant a trip to the doctor. Make an appointment with your GP if you also experience the following symptoms:
- Blood in your stools
- Gastrointestinal upset such as bloating
- Unexplained weight loss
- Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- Abdominal pain
Flatulence treatment tips
According to Dr Gill, if your flatulence is causing you distress then the solution will depend on the triggers and what is causing it, but the following tips might help:
✔️ Some people may find peppermint oil helps with symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain.
✔️ Try to eat mindfully and more slowly as well as spreading gas-producing foods throughout the day.
✔️ It may require eating less of or avoiding certain foods for some people but try and replace with suitable alternatives to a tolerance level that doesn’t cause gut symptoms.
✔️ If all else fails, try Shreddies flatulence filtering underwear!
Last updated: 18-11-19
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