Health

10 Reasons You Can't Stop Farting (and What to Do About It)

Published On 06/06/2016 Published On 06/06/2016
illustration of farting
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Lighting a match, waiting until it's noisy, blaming it on the dog; there are only so many ways -- and so many ambulance sirens -- to cover up each time you fart. Considering the average person lets one go about 14 times day, that statistic can seem awfully low after you've had a Chipotle burrito for lunch and are just trying not to rip ass (again) in front of your poor co-workers.

If you fart so much that holding it in seems impossible, and waiting until you're on the toilet would mean spending your entire workday in the bathroom (which looks like you have either a bowel problem or a drug problem, both of which are fireable offenses), there's probably a reason why. Luckily, incessant gas may clear out the room, but it's pretty easy to treat. Check out these doctor-approved tips below to keep your ass in check. You may even be invited to happy hour again.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

You upped your healthy-eating game

Steamed broccoli should be a staple in a healthy diet, not the permanent smell coming out of your pants. Veggies are great for grown-up things like nutrients and vitamins, but they often wreak havoc on the digestive tract. The biggest culprits are cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. "They are actually [foods] that we can't digest, so the bacteria in our guts will digest them, and the byproduct is gas," Dr. Kathlynn Caguiat, gastroenterologist at Manhattan Gastroenterology, says. Same goes for beans and other legumes, due to their high fiber count.

Solution: This isn't an excuse to ditch veggies altogether; just don't go overboard on portions right away. Dr. Caguiat recommends starting with one or two servings at first, and slowly upping the intake over a couple weeks so your body gets used to it. If you absolutely must have that giant salad, she suggests taking a carminative beforehand, which is an herb that helps prevent the formation of gas in the GI tract. Some natural sources of carminatives are ginger, dill, and celery, or there's over-the-counter supplements such as Iberogast (a combination of nine different carminative herbs).

You're actually lactose intolerant

Cheese is probably the greatest topping of all time, but there's a reason farting is called "cutting the cheese." Its deliciousness creates unbearable farts because most people can't digest dairy. About 65% of adults are lactose intolerant, and that number could be even higher. "A lot of people don't realize they may be lactose intolerant," Dr. Caguiat says. As you get older, you lose the enzymes that help digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy. This explains why you could eat a whole pizza as a kid and feel nothing, but eating two pieces of pepper Jack at a party is enough to make you question your life choices.

Solution: First, make sure cheese is actually the cause of your rotten-egg farts. Eliminate all dairy completely for just a week (you'll survive!), and take note of how you feel once it's slowly reintroduced. If the hot, smelly farts come back, pair your favorite dairy-rich foods with a lactase supplement. Taking it with the first bite should ward off the gas, Dr. Caguiat says.

You have a secret food allergy

Remember when you made fun of people without celiac disease who claimed they were gluten intolerant? Turns out, that might actually be a thing. A study from the National Institutes of Health showed that non-celiac, gluten-sensitive people (NCGS) exhibited nasty symptoms after eating gluten, including bloating and constant farts, compared to the placebo group. Another gas catalyst could be fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit, especially if you have fructose malabsorption (similar to lactose intolerance). Like lactose, fructose is a sugar that can't be digested, and they both come out as room-clearing gas.

Solution: Try a low-FODMAP (short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that aren't easily absorbed) diet, which is an elimination diet that cuts out most cruciferous vegetables, legumes, high-fructose fruits, processed meats, wheat, and gluten. It sounds like Whole30 on crack, but it may help identify what’s causing those nonstop farts. Otherwise, visit your gastroenterologist for further testing, and raid the local pharmacy for over-the-counter supplements, such as Gas-X, Beano, or a carminative.

Flickr/Sonny Abesamis (edited)

You opt for Splenda instead of sugar

You may think you are doing the healthy thing by reaching for a packet of no-calorie sweetener for your morning coffee (news flash: you're not), and it could actually be contributing to those embarrassing office farts everyone smells but you'll never admit to. Bodies can't break down artificial sweeteners the same way as sugar, which means it gets digested by the bacteria in the colon instead, and produces a smell that's anything but sweet.

Solution: If you notice that awful fart cloud after consuming no-calorie sweeteners, switch to natural sugar instead. Be sure to read your food labels carefully, too: sucralose, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and acesulfame K are all popular artificial additives.

Your stress is out of control

Have you ever had to hold in big, painful farts before a presentation or important meeting? You're not being dramatic; there's a scientific reason for that. Stress and anxiety can lead to physical symptoms, including that familiar stomach gurgling you get when you're super nervous. "The gastrointestinal tract is very much interconnected with your hormones," Dr. Maxwell Chait, gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, says. And chronic stress can lead to a whole host of other GI issues. "When you are stressed, you get too much acid in the stomach, and some people get diarrhea, and some people vomit," Dr. Caguit adds. Yikes! If the No. 1 fear is public speaking, the No. 2 must be sharting your pants while publicly speaking.

Solution: Dr. Caguit recommends talking to your primary care physician or gastroenterologist first so he or she can rule out any organic cause. If you get an all-clear there, or just want more ways to manage stress, then see a psychologist.

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

You love popping bottles

Whether it's soda, seltzer, or Champagne, some drinks are just better carbonated. They can also create more farts, thanks to what makes them fizzy in the first place -- CO2. The carbon dioxide has to come out of your system somehow, and that usually means through your butt. An affinity for all things bubbly probably doesn't contribute to a ton of extra flatulence, but it could certainly be a component.

Solution: If you notice that you're gassy after drinking something carbonated, try to limit yourself to just one drink (it is possible!), and sip it slowly. Otherwise, stick to flat or slightly sparkling beverages. Champagne might be fancy, but the resulting farts are not.

You're taking antibiotics

Antibiotics are necessary to clear up some nasty bacterial infections, but they can also mess with gut bacteria. One of the biggest gut issues associated with antibiotics is Clostridium difficile (C. diff) overgrowth, which Dr. Chait says can lead to gas, diarrhea, and really smelly poop.

Solution: If you notice signs of a C. diff infection, talk to your doctor to see if you should be taken off antibiotics. If the symptoms are less severe, just be patient until you stop taking the prescription and your gut can heal. Try not to take too many antibiotics or for a prolonged period of time.

Denise Torres/Shutterstock

Your gut bacteria are off

Even if you’re not on antibiotics, the bacteria in your gut (also known as gut flora) could be thrown off for a variety of reasons. Dr. Chait lists traveling, a change in diet, visiting a foreign country, and getting an infection as possible reasons your gut bacteria are imbalanced. "You have more bacteria in your colon than you have cells in your body," he explains. "These bacteria sit there, and when anything is presented to them, they do break it down, and it forms into gas and can be very foul-smelling."

Solution: Probiotics are key. There are some yogurts that are touted as natural probiotics ("The yogurt that makes you poop!"), but Dr. Chait says the best way to get enough of the gut-healing stuff is through a probiotic supplement, which can contain billions of the good bacteria you need. They can help restore the gut flora, and get you back on your normal fart schedule. Pick some up at a pharmacy or health food store.

You're scarfing down food on the go

The only thing worse than a sad desk lunch is a sad desk lunch you only have five minutes to eat. Inhaling your food in a hurry could mean you're ingesting lots of air as you chow down. The same thing happens when you drink out of a straw. "When you swallow air, it goes in the whole GI tract," Chait says. "The GI tract basically is a long tube from the mouth to the anus, so anything you put in there, it's going to have to go through the whole length of the food pipe, the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine, and then out." Like with carbonated drinks, the gas in this case trumpets out the other end.

Solution: Slow down! Take a few extra minutes to chew your food more deliberately, preferably not hovered over your keyboard. You'll enjoy the meal more, and also reduce the amount of air that ends up in your digestive tract.

It's something more serious

Although this is rare, chronic gas could be a sign of something more severe, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, celiac disease, or another infection that results in malabsorption of food. If left untreated, symptoms could worsen, and your body may continue to not absorb the nutrients  you need.

Solution: If you experience an increase in gas accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, weight loss, or bloody bowel movements, go see a doctor.

Bottom line

Farting all the time isn't normal, but it's also usually harmless, except possibly to your senses and social life. For the most part, extra gasiness has more to do with that slice of pizza and Diet Coke you inhaled for lunch than anything else. "If it bothers you enough that it prevents you from doing your daily activities, I would say definitely do further testing," Dr. Caguiat says. If all else fails and you're not ready to give up your favorite foods, check out over-the-counter supplements, such as Beano, Gas-X, Lactaid, or Iberogast. Sometimes, the risk of being an intolerable fart monster is worth the reward (read: cheese).

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Christina Stiehl is a writer who learned a lot about flatulence in the course of working on this story.

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