Have you ever had this happen? You’re sitting there in a yoga class, a meeting, on the train or maybe at dinner with your in-laws, and you suddenly realize you have to let one rip. There could not be a worse moment. Farting in public is generally considered embarrassing. But honestly, why should it be? After all, everyone farts. And isn’t it actually unhealthy to hold them in?

Who farts? and how often?

As a rule, people tend to fart eight to ten times a day ― and for whatever it’s worth, men and women produce the same amount of gas. But if it exceeds twenty times a day and even smells bad, you might want to consult with a doctor. We’ll get to that in a moment, though: first we want to talk about why it is that people fart.

A fart is born

Farting is the process of the body getting rid of excess gases it does not need. But where do these gases come from? Most of them are produced by an especially hard-working squad of bacteria in your intestines (the technical term is “intestinal flora”.). These bacteria help us digest our food: they provide the necessary tools and allow us to absorb calcium, B vitamins and other beneficial substances. So it’s totally normal and extremely practical to have all of this bacteria in your gut.

One of the products these intestinal bacteria create is gas. Some make more, some less. The body has no use for this gas and would like nothing better than to blast it away. But why do some kinds of foods make us more flatulent than others?

The foods that the body cannot break down with its own tools (i.e. its digestive enzymes) are the ones that make us fart. The more work the bacteria have to do, the more you flatulent you will be. The stomach and small intestine contain multiple digestive enzymes which can efficiently break down sugars, proteins and fats, but usually indigestible plant fibers are more than they can handle. The main component of these kinds of plant products is cellulose, a polysaccharide, and our bodies do not have enzymes that can process cellulose. Foods with cellulose are considered fiber and pass through the body pretty much undigested. They expand in the stomach because they can absorb up to 100 times of their own weight in water. As a result, we feel fuller for longer after we eat fiber-rich foods, but we also fart more.

Other gases in your body are transported away via the blood or exhaled, and if it weren’t for these mechanisms, we really might explode at some point. In the course of a day, about a liter’s worth of gas builds up inside of us. Whether our farts are noisy or quiet, odorless or overwhelming all depends on what we ate that day.

If you find yourself dealing with intestinal gas, it might be because…

…you changed your diet suddenly and your body has not yet adjusted to the new amounts of fiber.

…you don’t chew your food properly. If this is the case, the food you have swallowed is not being broken down until it encounters the armies of bacteria in your large intestine.

…you have a food sensitivity or allergy.

.…you talk a lot while you’re eating, which allows plenty of air to make its way into your system. And this air wants to get back out again.

Obviously, your diet might be the problem, but some diseases can cause excessive flatulence too. If you have these kinds of problems for a longer period, there’s nothing to be worried about, but a doctor’s appointment would be a wise idea anyway so you can rule out any more serious problems. One cause might be stress or medication, but there could also be underlying conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease or diabetes. A doctor can tell you more, however.

Whether a fart smells or is fragrance-free depends entirely on the gases created by the bacteria in your body. A fart generally consists of carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. These gases are all odorless and make up 99% of our, um, output, so only 1% of a fart is responsible for the scent that can be so unpleasant, and mere trace amounts are enough to stink things up.

There are two factors which determine the gases a fart is made of: what you ate on a given day and the personal configuration of your intestinal flora. Different bacteria create different-smelling gases.

Is holding in your farts unhealthy?

There’s not an overall risk here, since people can’t exactly explode from built-up pressure. But there’s only so much you can hold in, according to Dagmar Mainz, a spokesperson for the German association of gastroenterologists in private practice. And obviously you may develop certain complaints like a stomach ache or digestive problems. Generally it is wise to release the gas immediately – whenever the situation permits, that is.

Ways to prevent gas

1. Do not change your diet too suddenly

If you want to start eating more vegetables, take it slowly so your system can adjust gently.

2. Eat slowly and enjoy your food

The faster you gobble down what’s on your plate, the less actual chewing you do, which leaves that much more work for the intestinal bacteria that produce gas. Eating quickly also means you swallow more air. Instead, try to chew your food properly and let the saliva in your mouth do its work; this slower approach also fills you up and keep you from getting hungry as fast. Talking a lot while you eat can contribute to gas as well.

3. Avoid gum and hard candy

Chewing gum can increase gas production, especially on an empty stomach. It also moves more air into your gut.

4. Keep moving

Sitting and not having much fresh air are both factors that can make your digestion sluggish, which in turn yields more gas. As a result, food remains in your intestines longer, and the bacteria cheerfully think up things to do to keep themselves occupied. But if you get a half-hour of daily exercise on a regular basis, you can counteract this problem, and one way or another you’ll simply feel better too. One tried-and-true strategy is to take a walk after a meal. If you can’t motivate yourself to do that, however, FiTS can help you find other ways. J

5. Caraway, anise and fennel

Especially when served as a tea, these spices can calm your gastrointestinal tract. It’s best to drink them unsweetened.

Superfluous knowledge

So now, if nothing else, you have learned how farts form and how you can have an impact on the gas you pass. To wrap things up, we would like to share some superfluous knowledge which will no doubt wow people at the next party.

 1. The musical art of the fart

You read that right ― there are in fact people who can alter the pitch of their farts by tightening and relaxing their glutes, and this lets them “play” proper melodies. Around 1900, there were even flatulence artists who could make a living off of their talents.

2. Even fish fart

Herrings press air out of their swim bladder so they can communicate with each other in their school. The sound they make is awfully similar to a fart, though.

3. There are people who call Fart their home

There is a Fart in Turkey, a Fart in the Russian Federation, and a town called Middelfart in Denmark.