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.
Some people pass gas more than others. If you’re worried you may be farting too much, gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD, says there are routes to figuring out what’s going on with your gut.
“If the amount of gas makes you uncomfortable, consult your local GI [gastrointestinal] physician for evaluation and recommendations,” says Dr. Lee. “If it is impacting your life in a negative way, you should have it checked out.”
If you’re so gassy that it is causing you pain or embarrassment, you should seek medical attention, she says.
What causes flatulence?
Swallowing air (aerophagia) can cause abdominal bloating and gas. This can occur while sleeping, eating, talking, drinking or in times of stress. You can even swallow air while laughing.
If your intestines are moving food through your gut too slowly (slow motility), excess gas can accumulate. The longer food and waste sit in your GI 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.
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.
What can cause more-than-normal flatulence?
- Hard-to-digest foods. Many a playground has been graced with the children’s anthem “Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart/the more you eat the more you fart.” Whoever the gifted songwriter was, they had a point: certain foods are a guaranteed ticket to Funkytown. In addition to beans, you may want to moderate your consumption of the following:
- Dairy products like cow’s milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and coffee creamers.
- Starchy foods like wheat, corn and potatoes.
- Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage.
- High-sulfur foods like onions, garlic and leeks.
- Foods containing sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol.
- Food intolerances. Food sensitivities, which occur when your digestive system cannot break down a particular type of food, can cause a wide range of unpleasant GI symptoms. Specific conditions like lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance and celiac disease are known to cause excessive gas.
- Digestive disorders. While packed very tightly, the gastrointestinal tract takes up a lot of real estate in your body: laid end to end, the average adult’s is about 30 feet long. Problems anywhere on that winding road — from your esophagus to your colon — could result in excess gas. Dr. Lee says that certain medical conditions like diabetes, scleroderma, hypothyroidism, small bowel bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis are known to cause excess gas.
- Dietary changes. Did you just go vegan? Are you suddenly eating a lot of sugar-free foods? Are you cleansing, juicing or detoxing? Changing the way you eat changes your body’s processing speed and quality. If you’re on a doctor-prescribed diet, let your healthcare provider know that you’re experiencing troublesome side effects.
- Medications. Certain medications count bloating and excess gas as common side effects, If you suspect a medication is messing with your gut, speak to the prescribing doctor. Among the medicines known to cause tummy trouble are:
- Opioid pain medications
- Anti-depressants and ADHD medications
- Blood pressure lowering medications
- Childbirth. Giving birth does a number on your body. From bleeding and incontinence to poop problems, you can expect your body to take a while to bounce back. If you find you’re gassier than usual postpartum, it’s nothing to worry about, and should resolve over the next several months. If it’s causing concern, though, speak to your OB/GYN about it.
- Sleep apnea. In some cases, the way you sleep can contribute to excessive gas buildup in your system. “People with sleep apnea are often times mouth-breathers, and they swallow air when they’re snoring,” Dr. Lee notes. “So, they wake up with gas pain because they’ve been swallowing air all night long.” You should talk to your doctor if you suspect you have sleep apnea.
- Colon cancer. While rare, excessive flatulence — paired with other symptoms like unexplained weight loss, anemia and rectal bleeding — can indicate the presence of a tumor in the colon.
How to stop farting
Dr. Lee suggests these tips to help lessen the impact of excess gas in your system:
- Exercise. 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 and avoid prolonged sitting.
- 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!)
- Avoid dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant. If you do eat milk, cheese or yogurt, Dr. Lee advises taking Lactaid® beforehand to help ease your digestion — or cutting out dairy from your diet altogether.
- Avoid constipation. Having a bowel movement anywhere from three times daily to once every other day is normal. This helps limit a buildup of gas-producing bacteria. Hydration and exercise can help keep things moving in this department, too.
- Review your medications. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to make a change.
- Limit carbonated beverages and fermented foods. These products add more gas and 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.
When to see a doctor
It’s 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,” Dr. Lee says.
If you are experiencing other gastrointestinal symptoms in addition to excessive gas, you need to share that information with your doctor as well. Some symptoms to note include:
- Persistent abdominal pain
- Frequent bouts of diarrhea or constipation
- A constant feeling of pressure in the abdomen
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Rectal bleeding
- Feeling like you still need to poop after going
In summary, a one-cheek squeak is good for a laugh, bad for a job interview, and — usually — completely normal. That said, if you find yourself breaking wind more than 23 times a day, or you’re experiencing other gastrointestinal symptoms, there may be something amiss. When in doubt, talk to your doctor.