Being gassy is never fun, especially when you’re surrounded by other people. Most people think that they fart more than the average person, but in truth, healthy individual can have up to 18 flatulence per day and be perfectly normal (1). In fact, frequent flatulence may be a sign of good health.
What Causes Farts?
Gas gets into the digestive tract primarily through two routes: by swallowing air (which we all do when we eat and chew gum) and by being produced by your microbiome.
“The human we see in the mirror is made up of more microbes than human,” says Lita Proctor of the National Institutes of Health, who’s leading the Human Microbiome Project (2).
“The definition of a human microbiome is all the microbial microbes that live in and on our bodies but also all the genes — all the metabolic capabilities they bring to supporting human health,” she says.
But how do bacteria produce gas? Rebekah Gross, M.D., a gastroenterologist, explains :”Bacteria ferment food that we’ve eaten” (3). They eat up unused food in your large intestine, like fiber and other carbohydrates we don’t digest, and churn out a bunch of gases as waste.
We need to keep these colon-dwelling critters fed and full. When they clean the digestive tract and create gas, they also make molecules that boost the immune system, protect the lining of the intestine and prevent infections. via NPR
How Does Diet Influence Gas ?
“Eating foods that cause gas is the only way for the microbes in the gut to get nutrients,” says Purna Kashyap, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic. “If we didn’t feed them carbohydrates, it would be harder for them to live in our gut.”
“Bacteria that make sulfide gas are really important,” he continues.
Sulfur may give gas its unpleasant smell, but many sulfur compounds in vegetables have healthy properties. Brassica vegetables (like broccoli, mustard greens and cabbage) are packed with a sulfur compound, called sulforaphane, that is strongly associated with a reduced risk of cancer (4).
Because diet is so important for your bacteria, it’s important to feed them the right things. For example, eating a diet rich in dairy and meat can negatively impact your microbiome.
A recent study put this to the test: “Within two days, the types of microbes thriving in the gut shuffled around. There were signs that some of these shifts might not be so good for your gut: One type of bacterium that had flourished under the meat-rich diet is linked to inflammation and intestinal diseases in mice.”(5).
What Can Gas Say About Health?
Intestinal gas species can be used as biomarkers for specific gut microbiota (6). This means that they can communicate the health of a patient’s gut, which is directly linked to their health overall.
Researchers hope to explore how the concentrations of various gases in the digestive tract can shed light on possible medical conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or food allergies like lactose intolerance (7).
Analyzing gas through fecal matter would be a more cost-effective and less invasive way to diagnose these conditions.
Additionally , collecting more accurate samples of intestinal gases could give doctors a better insight into the microbiome, enabling them to prescribe better treatments for gastrointestinal conditions.
For all these reasons, and more, a little gas is nothing to be embarrassed about!