Whether you call it farting, passing wind, having gas or flatulence (the official medical term), the release of excess air through the intestinal tract is both normal and natural.
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Why, then, are farts the butt of so many jokes? Perhaps, because of those awkward moments when the body’s internal horn section suddenly plays a little too loudly — becoming noticeable to all in the vicinity.
But, some pass gas more than others. If you’re worried you may be stinking up the place, gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD, says there are routes to figuring out what’s going on with your gut.
“If you have an amount of gas that makes you uncomfortable, you should consult your local GI [gastrointestinal] physician for evaluation and recommendations,” says Dr. Lee. “If you aren’t able to take care of it in a socially acceptable manner, and it’s bothering your lifestyle, you should have it checked out.”
If you’re so gassy it’s affecting your daily activities or causing you pain or embarrassment, you can take steps to minimize the problem, she says.
What causes flatulence?
Gas can accumulate in your digestive tract simply because you swallow air while drinking, eating or even laughing. But some foods, like certain prebiotics and high-fiber foods, produce excess gas as well. This can make the need to control its passing more challenging.
If your intestines are sluggish, moving food through your gut too slowly (slow motility), excess gas can collect. The longer food sits in your system, the more gas-producing bacteria build up, causing abdominal discomfort.
You also produce more gas as you age because your metabolism slows down along with the movement of food through your colon. Yes, even your intestinal tract naturally slows down over time.
Excess gas buildup is also likely more of a problem if you have medical conditions like diabetes, scleroderma, thyroid dysfunction, small bowel bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis or if you have a sedentary lifestyle, Dr. Lee says.
How to stop farting
Dr. Lee suggests these tips to help lessen the impact of excess gas in your system:
The more active you are, the more frequently and discreetly you’ll eliminate gas from your intestinal tract. Focus on abdominal-strengthening exercises to help keep your digestive tract moving. Aim to work out for at least 30 minutes three or four days each week.
2. Limit cruciferous vegetables
Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and asparagus produce more gas than other vegetables. (But they’re also nutritious, so don’t avoid them altogether!)
3. Avoid dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant
If you do eat milk, cheese or yogurt, consider taking Lactaid® beforehand to help ease your digestion, Dr. Lee advises.
4. Avoid constipation
Having a bowel movement anywhere from three times daily to once every other day is normal. This helps limit a buildup from gas-producing bacteria. Hydration and exercise can help keep things moving in this department, too.
5. Review your medications
Narcotics, decongestants, allergy medications and some blood pressure drugs can slow your intestinal processes. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to make a change.
6. Limit carbonated beverages and fermented foods
These products just add more gas or feed the bacteria in your digestive tract. Drinks containing high fructose corn syrup can do the same thing, so cut back when you can.
Ultimately, Dr. Lee’s tips should help relieve your gas problem — and perhaps make you less anxious in social situations.
It’s also important to talk to your doctor about any changes in your health. “Consult your physician if you’ve had a change in bowel movements (especially if they’re sudden) or if you feel that something isn’t right,” she says.
Can sleep apnea make flatulence worse?
In some cases, the way you sleep can contribute to excessive gas buildup in your system.
“People with sleep apnea are mostly mouth-breathers, and they swallow a lot of air when they’re snoring during their sleep,” Dr. Lee notes. “So, they wake up with gas pain because they’ve been swallowing air all night.”
You should talk to your doctor if you suspect you have sleep apnea.
How much gas is too much?
Truth be told, passing gas happens a lot more than you think. On average, it’s normal to fart between 14 and 23 times throughout your day, often without attracting much notice. For most people, it’s not a major problem. But if you find yourself consistently farting in an excessive manner or if it comes with any sensation of pain, you should consult a doctor.