The truth about holding the wind in and how to train your body to stop farting… An expert guide from a top dietitian on how to beat excessive flatulence

It can be a source of entertainment for small children, but windbreaking is a completely normal process that each of us does about 15 to 20 times a day.

But there are times when it’s a sign that something else is going on.

For example, foul-smelling or excessive flatulence could be related to a problem with your diet or could be a sign of underlying health problems.

The same goes for burping, another normal part of daily life but which can become a problem for many people.

Despite the embarrassment that both cause, neither flatulence nor belching are bad things in themselves.

Breaking the wind is a completely normal process that each of us does about 15 to 20 times a day

Especially in the case of flatulence, this is often a sign of healthy intestines. It means your gut bacteria are busy breaking down foods like fiber that can’t be broken down elsewhere in the digestive tract, and are a byproduct of that. process is wind (largely formed from carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane).

On average we produce 500 to 2,000 ml of wind per day – and most of that is released without you even realizing it.

Although a lot of gas is released within an hour of eating, a significant amount of gas is released during sleep because the anal sphincter, which opens to release gas, relaxes.

Even the gas released during the day shouldn’t be a problem, since 99 percent of what you produce doesn’t smell.

That’s worth remembering if you’re the type of person who tries to keep the wind in when you’re with company.

I’m no etiquette expert, but as a scientist who has spent most of her career researching the workings of the intestines, I can say that while holding it in repeatedly won’t do any major damage, it will make you feel bloated. can cause abdominal pain if the gas presses on the intestinal wall.

Obviously, there are instances where breaking wind can make you feel terribly self-conscious, especially if it’s extremely smelly.

But why do some people have more malodorous wind?

It may simply have to do with the composition of your gut microbiome (the community of microbes that live in your intestines) — some people simply have more of the types of gut bacteria that produce stinky gas.

What you eat can also play a role. One of the most common culprits of sharp wind is eating too much meat: that’s due to a substance called sulfur – found in particularly high concentrations in red meat – which is broken down by your gut bacteria into a gas, hydrogen sulphide, which smells like rotten eggs.

Sulfur is also found in other meats and fish, eggs, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

But normally red meat is the culprit, because we often eat too much of it, instead of vegetables. So if your wind stinks, you may want to cut back on your red meat consumption.

The last thing I want anyone to do is skimp on vegetables like broccoli, but if you’re concerned about your wind and you have a special event coming up, you can avoid high-sulfur foods for 24 to 48 hours in advance. (in a study I was involved in, published in the journal Gut in 2021, we gave volunteers muffins with blue food coloring and found that on average it takes just under 29 hours for food to clear from the system).

If you're new to beans, I always recommend starting small, with a tablespoon of beans every other day

If you’re new to beans, I always recommend starting small, with a tablespoon of beans every other day

But what about, you may wonder, beans – the basis of many a fart joke?

Although eating more beans of any kind may initially increase flatulence, this usually improves in the longer term.

Beans are rich in fibre, the favorite food of gut bacteria – and with around 7 grams in half a can, beans provide more fiber per weight than fruit and vegetables. Most of us don’t eat nearly the 30 grams of fiber we need per day.

A lack of fiber can lead to an unhealthy gut microbiome – in other words, the gut bacteria are less diverse and with more ‘bad’ bacteria – and this can also cause more gas and bloating.

Ironically, a poor fiber diet can lead to more wind – not less.

Eating more fiber will also help with constipation, which causes foul-smelling flatulence because food ferments longer and holds gas. Make sure you also drink enough water, as fiber can make constipation worse if you are dehydrated.

When you start adding more fiber to your diet, be prepared for a few days of extra wind, because when you start eating more fiber, it’s like giving your gut bacteria a birthday party: they happily eat the fiber and produce a lot of gas.

If you’re new to beans, I always recommend starting small, like a tablespoon of beans every other day and slowly increasing over the weeks to half a can or more most days.

If you maintain that intake, the bacteria are not as excited by the presence of fiber and adapt. A 2004 study in the journal Gut found that when people increased the amount of fiber in their diets, they produced the same amount of wind, but less often in greater amounts.

Another consideration for those who experience excessive flatulence is whether this occurs after eating dairy products such as milk, yogurt or butter, as in this case it may be related to lactose intolerance.

This is because there is not enough of the enzyme lactase needed to break down lactose, the sugar in milk.

As a result, it travels undigested through the intestines, where it is met by the bacteria that ferment it, resulting in a lot of gas. It can also cause diarrhea, constipation and nausea.

If you suspect this is the case, you can try cutting back on dairy for a while to see if your symptoms improve.

You don’t necessarily have to cut out dairy completely; normally the amount in a glass of milk each day can be tolerated, but this may vary.

Or you can opt for lower lactose options, such as kefir or hard cheeses.

You can also get lactase drops from the pharmacy (which you add to milk, for example) to help break down the lactose.

Flatulence can also be a problem for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the name for a collection of intestinal symptoms including constipation or loose bowels.

This can cause intestinal cramps and can lead to a painful build-up of flatulence.

In this case, peppermint oil capsules can be useful because the menthol they contain helps relax the muscles of your intestines, thus releasing wind. You can obtain the capsules from a pharmacy (just check with the pharmacist as this is not recommended if you are pregnant, or if you have liver disease or gallstones).

Peppermint tea can also be soothing, but does not contain as much menthol.

When it comes to belching – and to some extent flatulence – and what you eat, it’s good to think about how you eat.

If you eat very quickly, you are likely to swallow large amounts of air with that food, and while that will often come back up as burps, some will be transported through the system and expelled as wind.

A major cause of belching is mainly carbonated drinks, including beer. This is because the bubbles (small balls of carbon dioxide) gradually build up in the stomach, causing them to be quickly expelled with a burp if the stomach becomes too overloaded. So sip it slowly and if you like a pint of beer, opt for the darker brews which tend to be less carbonated.

And maybe reconsider that chewing gum habit! Sugarless gum doubles the gas because you not only swallow air as you chew it, it contains sweeteners, including xylitol, which can contribute to flatulence in some people because it passes to the lower intestine undigested and is then fermented. by the intestinal bacteria.

Whether it’s flatulence or belching you’re experiencing, a simple way to relieve both is to take a walk in the 30 minutes after a meal, as this can help gently relieve the painful build-up of gas and bloating. to spread.

As they like to say in Scotland, where I grew up, ‘wherever you are, let the wind blow free’.