It's Funny and It's Frightening—It's Farting
When we hear a fart, or a joke about farts, we're suddenly transported back to second grade.
Take something that makes a funny noise, smells bad and involves your butt, and you get classic comedy gold for the 9-year-old in all of us.
While flatulence can be funny, awkward and embarrassing, it can also be a sign of a medical issue that requires attention.
Here are a few things about farting, both serious and silly, you should probably know.
What is a fart?
As the children's book says about your butt's other primary export, everybody farts. You, your mom and the Queen of England are all perpetrators, even if some of them blame it on the corgi.
"The important thing to remember about flatulence is that it's normal," said Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant professor at Touro College of Medicine and an internist and gastroenterologist in New York City. "Everybody has flatulence, everybody has farted. It's a daily thing—the average person does it multiple times a day."
Indeed, according to the Cleveland Clinic, we fart on average 21 times per day.
(The British, according to their National Health Service, apparently only fart 5 to 15 times per day. Maybe their reputation for being repressed is well-deserved.)
Some other Fun Fart Facts:
- The medical term for fart is "flatus."
- Farts are primarily made up of odorless gasses: carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen and sometimes methane.
- In fact, 99 percent of your farts don't stink—only the 1 percent sulfur content does.
- Vegetarians probably fart more than carnivores due to eating more legumes...
- ...but carnivores' farts may smell worse due to the increased sulfur content in meat.
Why does my fart frequency change?
Remember the classic elementary school tune, "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart…"? Ah, you know the rest. It's a silly rhyme, but it's also true.
We've all noticed certain foods cause us to be gassier than others, and that's because flatus is created in your gut when bacteria break down what you eat. It's the various types of sugars in different types of food that produce more or less gas.
"There are certain types of food that tend to cause more gas and bloating and flatus," said Shahrad Hakimian, M.D., a gastroenterologist with UCLA Health. "That can be things like dairy and milk. That's probably the most common one. Besides that, things like beans and legumes, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, any kind of artificial sugars, sodas, carbonated beverages and various fruits. A lot of these are not unhealthy things—a lot of them can actually be quite healthy. But healthy does not mean they're not going to lead to gas production."
Can farting indicate a serious condition?
While it's crucial for people to remember that a certain amount of farting is perfectly normal, there are some situations involving farts that are more serious.
"When the gas is accompanied by pain, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, anything outside of your normal, 'I had a burrito and I got gas,' it's concerning," Sonpal said. "Then we have to start being concerned with food intolerance, irritable bowel, 'Is this something more serious?' If you're ever not sure, even if it is simple gas, if you're not sure, you should come to see one of us."
There are a number of ways gastroenterologists can treat people to relieve painful gas symptoms, but only if they can examine you to determine the underlying cause.
"Part of that could be eliminating the source of food that contains more of these sugars that the body can't process, and dealing with the sensation of pain and the sensitivity of the nerves that tend to cause more symptoms in some people than in others," Hakimian said. "The people who have more symptoms don't necessarily have more gas—they usually tend to have more sensitive nerves in their GI tract that give them more symptoms."
When the farts don't come alone
There are still more accompanying symptoms with farting that can be worrisome.
"We sometimes worry about it if there are other things," Hakimian said. "If people are having significant, unintentional weight loss, if they have fevers with it, blood in their stool, really bad diarrhea or vomiting—that can tell us about certain conditions we'd be worried about."
Another concern for gastroenterologists, when it comes to gas, is counseling patients about the mind-body connection with regard to their gut.
Far from being a funny consequence of eating too much Chipotle, having excess gas can, in turn, feed their anxiety and stress.
"Anxiety can cause [gastrointestinal] symptoms for people," Hakimian said. "It's not necessarily the cause of the gas production, but it can make those nerves more sensitive and cause more pain and discomfort. So, in general, anything that can help reduce stress and anxiety can help reduce those symptoms."
What's more, the mind-body link can be a two-way street. Far from being a funny consequence of eating too much Chipotle, having excess gas can, in turn, feed their anxiety and stress. It can even lead to a reduced quality of life for some people.
"It can sort of wreak havoc on people's lives," Sonpal said. "There are some people who become very conscious of it. They feel like they can't even go outside of the house."
The bottom line
Yeah, you're going to fart today, tomorrow and every day for the rest of your life. You can try to hold it in on a first date, in that important meeting with the boss or while performing a downward dog, but it's gonna come out at some point. Perhaps it's time to channel that second-grade sense of humor and laugh it off.
Keep in mind that there's one way you can reduce the amount of gas in your system immediately: Slow down when you eat.
"The most common [cause of gas] in the U.S. is just eating too fast," Sonpal said. "Because when people eat too quickly, they can swallow a lot of air, which can lead to belching. And if the air doesn't come up, it's only got one way to go and that's down."