8 Things Your Farts Can Reveal About Your Health
Passing gas up to 20 times a day is completely normal. When your fart count goes higher, however, it could mean something else.
You always order the side of broccoli
Or you eat a lot of beans, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or bran—all good-for-you foods that contain fiber, which keeps your digestive system moving, helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and keeps your weight in check. The less-than-ideal, somewhat-embarrassing, but can’t-help-it side effect? You fart after eating, which is a perfectly normal and healthy thing to do. (If it makes you feel better, call it flatus—the medical term for fart.) That’s because the stomach and small intestine can’t absorb some of the carbohydrates—sugars, starches, and fiber—in foods we eat. Notorious gas producers, like broccoli and beans, are high in a kind of carb called raffinose. “When indigestible sugars like raffinose reach the colon, the bacteria that inhabit that part of our digestive tract feeds on them and produce gas as a byproduct,” explains Rebekah Gross, MD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone’s Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health in New York. (Make sure you know why you should avoid holding in your farts.)
You eat too fast
It doesn’t matter if you’re inhaling broccoli or a bowl of blueberries—the inhaling part is the problem. You swallow air every time you eat or drink, so the faster you do it, the more air you swallow. Burping typically gets the air out of your belly, but any that remains finds its way into your lower digestive tract and, well, comes out the other side. You may also swallow extra air when you chew gum, suck on hard candy, or drink through a straw.
Your gut bacteria are imbalanced
Think of your digestive tract as one long muscular tube—food goes in the top and the muscle contracts to push it along out the bottom. “Normally, the small intestines make strong contractions to sweep food into the colon,” says Dr. Gross. But sometimes medications, infections, certain diseases (such as diabetes or neuromuscular conditions) or complications from surgeries can interfere with this “clearance wave,” says Dr. Gross, allowing bacteria to get a foot-hold in the small intestine and overgrow, producing extra gas. Here are more unexpected reasons you’re gassy.
You have IBS
That’s short for irritable bowel syndrome, a chronic condition that affects the large intestine. The coordinated muscle contractions that keep food moving from your stomach to rectum may be stronger, or last longer, with IBS—causing gas, bloating and diarrhea. Or they make be weaker than normal, slowing things down to the point of constipation. The nerves in your gut may also become extra sensitive to the stretch and distention that gas causes in the intestines, adds Dr. Gross, so you’ll feel more pain or discomfort. In many cases, diet and lifestyle changes may provide relief. “Exercise, for example, is critical for people with IBS, as it helps expel gas,” says Dr. Gross. Following certain diets that limit gas production also helps.
Drinking milk gives you “issues”
So does eating other types of dairy like yogurt and cheese. Blame a little enzyme called lactase: it’s made in the small intestine and responsible for breaking down lactose—a sugar found in milk—into simpler forms the body can absorb. Low levels of lactase means lactose gets into the colon undigested, where bacteria breaks it down and your gas issues begin. Lactose intolerance is super common, according to Dr. Gross; and it usually starts in adulthood, when lactase production drops off sharply. These are other surprising foods that cause gas.
You’re sensitive to gluten
No one can digest this protein found in wheat, barley and rye, says Dr. Gross—but if you have celiac disease, eating gluten actually triggers an immune response in your small intestine. The reaction can cause a breakdown in the lining of the intestine, affecting its ability to absorb nutrients; and the damage can cause excess gas, diarrhea, and even weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and other health problems. “People without celiac don’t have these same changes to the small intestine, but still may get gas and bloating in reaction to the gluten they can’t break down,” says Dr. Gross. A study published in 2012 in The American Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that one in 141 Americans has celiac disease, but most are undiagnosed. If you suspect a sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease, talk to your doctor.
You should ease up on the fake sugar
Sure, you save on calories, but if you’re like some people, your system simply can’t tolerate certain sweeteners—such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol. These are sugar alcohols, which can have a laxative effect, causing gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Try these daily habits that can reduce belly bloat.
Your sphincter is tight
The tightness and speed at which gas passes through through your anal sphincters—the anus has an internal and external sphincter—determines the volume and pitch of your toot. And if your last fart smelled like a rotten egg, it’s probably because you ate something with sulfur in it. Most of the gas we release is an odorless mix of carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sometimes methane. But when bacteria break down beans, cabbage, meat, and other highly sulfurous foods, it creates a tiny amount of sulfur compounds that give off a smell. Next, find out how to get rid of gas and flatulence naturally.
- Rebekah Gross, MD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone's Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health in New York, NY.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)"
- The American Journal of Gastroenterology, "The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, "Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Exploring Mechanisms to Understand the Effects of Artificial Sweeteners"