Flatulence and flatus are medical terms for what is commonly known as farting. While people do not tend to discuss farting openly, it is something that everyone does.
In fact, according to some research, the average person passes gas about 12–25 times a day. In this article, learn about why people produce gas and discover some other fascinating facts.
The body produces intestinal gas as part of the process of digestion. Once this gas is inside the body, it needs to be released somehow. It is usually expelled through the anus as flatulence or out of the mouth as a burp.
Some intestinal gas comes from the air that people swallow when they are eating, chewing gum, drinking through a straw, or smoking.
Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide are the primary external gases found inside the body. They make up what is called exogenous air.
Intestinal gas is produced within the body when bacteria in the colon break down food. This is called endogenous gas.
Endogenous gas consists mainly of hydrogen and, for some people, methane. It can also contain small amounts of other gases, such as hydrogen sulfide, which make farts smell bad.
However, bad smells only apply to about 1 percent of the gas that people expel, most of which is almost odor-free.
Undigested carbohydrates are a common cause of gas, as the stomach and the small intestine cannot break these foods down. Instead, these carbohydrates move into the large intestine, where bacteria begin to break them down, releasing intestinal gas in the process.
Undigested carbohydrates include:
- Sugars: such as fructose, raffinose, and sorbitol, which some fruit and artificial sweeteners contain.
- Soluble fiber: found in dried beans, nuts, and fruit.
- Insoluble fiber: found in root vegetables and wheat bran, amongst other foods.
- Starches: such as corn, wheat, and potatoes.
According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), foods that make one person fart will not necessarily have the same effect on someone else.
However, some foods are known to create high levels of intestinal gas, including:
- Foods rich in raffinose: Humans lack the enzyme needed to digest raffinose, a complex sugar. When bacteria in the gut try to process it, they release lots of gas. Raffinose is plentiful in beans, whole grains, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
- High-sulfur foods and drinks: Although high-sulfur foods are an essential part of a healthful diet, eating a lot of them can lead to more frequent and pungent farts. These foods include garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower and broccoli. Some drinks, including wine and beer, are also high in sulfur.
- Foods made with sugar alcohols: Sugar alcohols provide sweetness without the calories of regular sugar, so they are often present in “sugar-free” processed foods. The body does not digest them completely, so they may cause gas.
Although everyone farts, people with certain conditions may have more problems with intestinal gas than others. These conditions include:
- Lactose intolerance: About 70 percent of adults globally do not have enough of the enzyme that helps them digest milk and milk products. For people with lactose intolerance, eating dairy can cause significant discomfort, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
- Celiac disease: There are more than 200 symptoms of celiac disease, including painful bloating and gas. People with celiac disease are unable to digest gluten.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: Also known as IBS, this is a chronic condition affecting 10–15 percent of Americans. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and gas.
Individuals who think they may have one of these conditions should see a doctor for a confirmed diagnosis.
Some diets can help people with gastrointestinal conditions reduce their symptoms. One of these is known as the low-FODMAP diet.
By following a low-FODMAP diet, a person will consume fewer foods that are fermentable, or that contain oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.
Studies have found that 50–86 percent of people with IBS who followed this diet had a reduction in symptoms.
Although farting is not typically a conversation starter, there is plenty to learn about it. Facts about flatulence include:
- The average person produces 0.6–1.8 liters of intestinal gas each day.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane production from livestock (essentially cow farts) makes up about 36 percent of the methane pollution that human activity generates.
- Research has found no significant difference between the amount that younger and older people fart. Likewise, there is no notable difference between the sexes.
- Healthy individuals pass gas between 12 and 25 times a day. However, it is not uncommon for people to fart more than this, depending on their choice of foods.
- Only 1 percent of the gases expelled in farts smell bad. These include foul-smelling gases such as hydrogen sulfide.
- More than 99 percent of the gas that people pass consists of just nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane.
- People pass more gas when they are asleep.
- The word “fart” comes from the Old English word “feortan,” which means “to break wind.”
- Soaking beans in water overnight can reduce their tendency to trigger farting.
- Sociologists who interviewed college students regarding their feelings about farting found that heterosexual women were more likely to worry that people hearing them fart would find it disgusting, while heterosexual men were the most likely to think it was funny.
Although farting is as natural as eating or breathing, it can still cause embarrassment. Even people whose level of intestinal gas is well within the normal range may try to limit how much gas they pass.
Fortunately, studies have found that adjusting a person’s diet can result in fewer farts.
Over-the-counter commercial enzyme products, such as Beano, can also reduce the body’s production of intestinal gas. However, these products are not usually suitable for long-term use.
For a more natural approach, a person can eat smaller meals more frequently and drink peppermint tea to relieve bloating and flatulence.