Why do we pass gas?

“Flatulence” is the medical term for releasing gas from the digestive system through the anus (farting). Each day, the intestines produce between 500ml and 2 liters of gas, which needs to be passed out at regular intervals to avoid discomfort.

What’s in the wind?
Gas produced in the intestines is made up of several different components:

  • The primary components of gas are 5 odourless gases: nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and oxygen.
  • The unpleasant smell comes from gases such as skatole, indole, and sulfur-containing compounds.
  • Your gas is flammable! This component is caused by hydrogen and methane gases.

Everyone has unique wind! The make-up of the wind that you pass will depend on the foods you eat and your specific digestive enzymes.

How is gas produced?

Gas production within the digestive system accumulates via:

  • Swallowed air – the mouth isn’t vacuum-sealed, so small quantities of air are swallowed along with food and liquid. Oxygen that is needed is absorbed into the bloodstream, any excess is left floating around!
  • Normal digestion – when foods hits the stomach, stomach acid mixes with digestive enzymes and produce gas (carbon dioxide) as a by-product.
  • Intestinal bacteria – helpful bacteria help digestion by fermenting certain foods. This fermentation creates gas as a by-product. Some of this gas is absorbed by the bloodstream and breathed out, the rest is pushed along the bowel.
  • High fibre foods – while fibre is essential to the health of the digestive system, it can create excessive gas. The small intestine can’t break down certain compounds, which means extra work for the gas-producing intestinal bacteria… and therefore, more gas!
  • Lactose intolerance – in those with lactose intolerance, the inability to digest certain sugars in cow’s milk produces excessive amounts of intestinal gas.
  • Intolerance of short-chain carbohydrates other than lactose – certain people may be susceptible to gas production from fermentation of other foods, including fructose, found in certain fruits.
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What’s normal, what’s not?
The average person will pass gas around 14 times a day. “Increased flatulence” refers to passing gas more than 14 times a day. “Excessive flatulence” refers to passing gas more than 20 times per day.

Keeping your gas under control
Flatulence itself is not harmful and won’t cause you any long-term damage. The social impact of it, however, just might. Here are some tips of how to keep a lid on your gas:

  • Track your triggers. Keeping a food journal can help – logging down specific foods you eat and how your belly responds goes a long way in learning what to avoid
  • Chew slowly. Your mom was right! Eating and chewing slowly reduces the amount of air you swallow
  • Lay off the chewing gum. Every time you chew, you swallow little pockets of air
  • Stay away from fizzy drinks and drinking with a straw. Fizzy drinks are full of gas that will simply add to your internal stores! Drinking with a straw increases the amount of gas we swallow. Stick to plain water instead.
  • Eat your fruit, don’t drink them. Certain fruits contain products that your body has difficulty in breaking down. Fruit juices are highly concentrated, making gas production inevitable!

When to see your doctor
Occassional excess flatulence and bloating is normal. However, see your doctor if irregular flatulence is accompanied by

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Vomiting/diarrhoea/ chronic constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Blood in stool

References
http://www.healthline.com/symptom/flatulence
http://www.emedicinehealth.com/flatulence_gas/article_em.htm
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/flatulence