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8 Things Your Farts Can Reveal About Your Health

Feel free to deny or walk away fast, but passing gas up to 20 times a day is completely normal. When your fart count goes higher, however, it could mean something else.

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Broccoli in wooden bowlPhoto: Shutterstock

You always order the side of broccoli

Or you eat a lot of beans, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or bran—all good-for-you foods that contain fibre, which keeps your digestive system moving, helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels and keep your weight in check. The less-than-ideal, somewhat-embarrassing, but can’t-help-it side effect: farts. That’s because your stomach and small intestine can’t absorb some of the carbohydrates—sugars, starches and fibre—in foods we eat. Notorious gas producers, like broccoli and beans, are high in a kind of carb called raffinose. “When indigestible sugars like raffinose reach the colon, the bacteria that inhabit that part of our digestive tract feeds on them and produce gas as a byproduct,” explains Rebekah Gross, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. If it makes you feel better, call it flatus—the proper way to say fart.

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Eating fast can make you fartPhoto: Shutterstock

You eat too fast

It doesn’t matter if you’re inhaling broccoli or a bowl of blueberries—the inhaling part is the problem. You swallow air every time you eat or drink, so the faster you do it, the more air you swallow. Burping typically gets the air out of your belly, but any that remains finds its way into your lower digestive tract and, well, comes out the other side. You may also swallow extra air when you chew gum, suck on hard candy or drink through a straw.

Find out the surprising reasons your pee smells funny.

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Gut bacteria imbalance can make you fartPhoto: Shutterstock

Your gut bacteria is imbalanced

Think of your digestive tract as one long muscular tube—food goes in the top and the muscle contracts to push it along out the bottom. “Normally, the small intestines makes strong contractions to sweep food into the colon,” says Dr. Gross. But sometimes medications, infections, certain diseases and conditions (such as diabetes or neuromuscular conditions) or complications from surgeries can interfere with this “clearance wave,” says Dr. Gross, allowing bacteria to get a foothold in the small intestine and overgrow, producing extra gas.

Follow these diet tips for a better poop.

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Irritable bowel syndrome can make you fartPhoto: Shutterstock

You have IBS

That’s short for irritable bowel syndrome, a chronic condition that affects the large intestine. The coordinated muscle contractions that keep food moving from your stomach to rectum may be stronger, or last longer, with IBS—causing gas, bloating and diarrhea. Or they may be weaker than normal, slowing things down to the point of constipation. (Check out these home remedies for constipation.) The nerves in your gut may also become extra sensitive to the stretch and distention that gas causes in the intestines, adds Dr. Gross, so you’ll feel more pain or discomfort. In many cases, diet and lifestyle changes may provide relief: “Exercise, for example, is critical for people with IBS, as it helps expel gas,” says Dr. Gross. Following certain diets that limit gas production also helps.

Get to know some of the surprising IBS symptom triggers.

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Farts - Lactose intolerance can make you fartPhoto: Shutterstock

Drinking milk gives you farts

So does eating yogurt, cheese, and all else dairy. Blame a little enzyme called lactase: it’s made in the small intestine and responsible for breaking down lactose—a sugar found in milk—into simpler forms the body can absorb. Low levels of lactase mean lactose gets into the colon undigested, where bacteria breaks it down and your gas issues begin. Lactose intolerance is super common, according to Dr. Gross; and it usually starts in adulthood, when lactase production drops off sharply.

Our experts answer: Is milk good for you?

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Farts - Gluten sensitivity can make you fartPhoto: Shutterstock

You’re sensitive to gluten

No one can digest this protein found in wheat, barley and rye, says Dr. Gross—but if you have celiac disease, eating gluten actually triggers an immune response in your small intestine. The reaction can cause a breakdown in the lining of the intestine, affecting its ability to absorb nutrients; and the damage can cause excess farts, diarrhea, and even weight loss. “People without celiac don’t have these same changes to the small intestine, but still may get gas and bloating in reaction to the gluten they can’t break down,” says Dr. Gross. Researchers estimate that only 20 per cent of people with celiac disease may receive a diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you suspect a sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease, talk to your doctor.

Here are 50+ more health symptoms you should never ignore.

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Farts - Fake sugar can make you fartPhoto: Shutterstock

You should ease up on the fake sugar

Sure, you save on calories, but for some, our systems simply can’t tolerate artificial sweeteners—such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol; plus, they contain sugar alcohols, which can cause farts and bloating.

Here are more unhealthy foods you should never buy again.

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Farts - A tight sphincter can make you fartPhoto: Shutterstock

Your sphincter is tight

It seems wrong to put “butthole” in bold, but that’s what the sphincter is; and its tightness, plus the speed at which the gas passes through it, determines the volume and pitch of your toot. And if your farts smell like rotten eggs, it’s probably because you ate something with sulphur in it. Most of the gas we release is an odourless mix of carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and sometimes methane. However, when bacteria breaks down beans, cabbage, meat and other high-sulphurous foods, it creates a tiny amount of sulphur compounds that give off a Napoleon-complex smell.

Next, find out what your poops can teach you about your health.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest