Gas, flatulence, farting, tooting, breaking wind... all words that stand for the same thing- intestinal gas that escapes from “the southern route”.
We all do it- on average 10-20 times a day (although some pass gas up to 50 times a day). Women tend to pass gas less frequently than men but, according to one study*, their emissions are a bit more...aromatic.
Farts are made up of 6 gases: nitrogen and oxygen that come from swallowed air, hydrogen and methane that are produced in the intestine from friendly bacteria that lives there, and sulphur. Sulphur makes up a very small fraction of the total gas but it’s the one that causes the stink. So, because women pass less gas a day, their farts seem to contain a higher concentration of sulphur gas.
Intestinal gas comes from 2 sources:
1. Increased intake of gas (ie. swallowed air).
Swallowed air is also called aerophagia and occurs unconsciously out of habit and/or while drinking and eating. Drinking quickly, chewing gum, using tobacco, sucking candy, drinking carbonated drinks and loose dentures are all things that can increase the amount of air you swallow.
2. The breakdown of undigested foods broken down by bacteria in the intestine. Our intestines contain hundreds of different harmless bacteria in it that feed off the undigested foods we eat.
Gas-forming bacteria feed mostly off of carbohydrates and sugars:
Beans contain a high percentage of sugars- oligosaccharides- that we can’t digest and are a favourite of our friendly bacteria. Soaking beans before cooking them and then getting rid of the water will help cut down on their gas-producing power. Sadly, you lose some water-soluble vitamins when you do this.
Smaller amounts of the same sugar are also found in vegetables like cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower and cucumbers.
Other gas-producing foods include:
Other vegetables like onions, radishes and artichokes.
Fruit, especially apples, apricots, peaches and pears.
Dried fruit, especially prunes and raisins.
Foods high in soluble fibres like oat bran, nuts and seeds.
Sugar alcohols (sugars ending in –ol, like sorbitol and mannitol) found in many diet products.
Whole grains, coffee, dark beer, red wine and fatty foods are also possible culprits.
If there are no medical conditions that’s causing excess gas, try limiting the amount of air you swallow by eating slower, avoiding or limiting foods that contain air- carbonated drinks, whipping cream- and try avoiding drinking from a straw, chewing gum, smoking and get dentures that fit well.
You can also try eliminating gas-producing foods. This requires some trial-and-error. Any of the gas-producing foods can be removed from the diet one group at a time, for a minimum of a week at a time, until you feel relief.
There’s a product called Beano on the market that contains an enzyme called alpha-galatosidase (extracted from mold!) that helps break down the complex sugars in many gassy foods.
However, most experts will tell you that you shouldn’t "give a hoot that you toot”- it’s perfectly normal.
The gas produced by bacterial fermentation can smell, depending on the food eaten. Suggestions include limiting common culprits such as garlic, onions, spicy foods and beer.
This is caused by the muscles of the bowel forcing air through the tight ring of muscle at the anus. Suggestions include passing the air with less power and reducing the amount of intestinal gas by making dietary adjustments.
*Farting study- thought it was worth including the procedure! Volunteer producers -- primed by a diet of pinto beans -- farted into aluminum bags via a rectal tube. The contents of the bags were measured for volume and for sulphur concentration. (Sulphur gases give farts their foul odour.) Syringes full of gas were withdrawn from the bags and wafted by the nostrils of the unfortunate judges. Fun job!
Leyner M, Goldber B. Why do men have nipples? Three River Press. 2005.