Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au.
This week Dr Zac Turner looks at farts – why we do them and how to stop them.
Question: Hi Dr Zac, I’ve recently transitioned in my bachelor lifestyle from deadbeat to deadlift. I’m now health-curious, exercising nearly every day and changing my diet from fried chicken drumsticks to fake chicken veggie patties.
It all seems to be going quite well actually, in fact most things I can’t even tell the difference between meat and plant based alternatives, except for one thing: farts.
I’m not sure what it is but I’m now farting at an alarming rate throughout the day. It never used to be like this, is it because of my health kick?
Can you please explain to me what a fart even is? And what triggers them? Is it a guy thing or do women encounter farting episodes too? Godspeed doc, I’m finding my workmates are becoming suspicious of who the office farter is. – Josh, 28, Qld
Answer: Hi Josh, thanks for your honest question. Flatulence is very common in my patients who kickstart a healthy lifestyle, and there are a multitude of factors that come into play that causes it.
How much should I fart?
It’s perfectly normal to fart and the average person farts up to 10-18 times a day and could fill a party balloon with the gas. Exercise doesn’t cause gas so let’s rule that out of what’s causing your dilemma.
What causes farts?
Flatulence occurs in either two ways and they both derive from eating and drinking. Firstly, when we eat, we swallow small amounts of air that eventually needs to be released either by burping or farting.
I’ll assume you are dieting to lose weight, which is great, but usually tends to mean meals are being wolfed down due to insatiable hunger. This causes gas and so I recommend you eat slowly which will help limit swallowed air.
Also take small sips of water rather than big gulps for the same reason … this gulping of food and air is one of the reasons why babies need to be ‘burped’ after feeding.
The best way to describe the second cause of gas is to think of our digestive system as a fermentation jar. Inside our colon we have up to two kilograms of microorganisms which ferment on average forty grams of complex carbohydrates every day. Digested food in our digestive tract releases gas, mainly hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide. Food that decomposes in our stomach releases sulphur, which is the lethal ingredient in foul smelling gas.
Do complex carbs cause farts?
Complex carbohydrates are one of the most common factors in all healthy diets that causes flatulence. This includes you would’ve guessed it: beans! Any type of legumes, oatmeal and sweet potato too.
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Complex carbohydrates also have a long scientific name, oligosaccharides, and the oligosaccharides called raffinose, stachiose, and verbicose are found in legumes, such as beans. The microorganisms in our gut love these oligosaccharides and eat them right up causing large amounts of gas to be released. Yes, science does prove beans make you pass wind like a water buffalo!
Does eating fruit cause farts?
On your new health kick I’m assuming you’ve upped your fruit intake which also increases gas. Apples, grapes and watermelon are all high in fructose, which is a sugar that our small intestine isn’t too great at absorbing and causes gas. Fruits lower in fructose includes bananas, blueberries and strawberries.
You may find the ‘gym bros’ at the new gym you’ve joined tell you farting is caused by protein shakes. This is a myth with no scientific proof. The flatulence is most likely caused by the lactose in protein shakes and not the actual protein itself.
There isn’t a clear scientific study that shows which gender farts the most, but studies by the famous ‘fart academic’ Michael Levitt, have shown women’s farts to consistently contain higher amounts of hydrogen sulphide than their male counterparts. So according to this expert at least, women’s farts can potentially smell less desirable.
How to stop farting too much
Now, my secret ingredient to stop farts (which has been around for centuries and commonly used in the vegan community) is hing. It’s a spice found commonly in Indian cuisine that has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-flatulent properties.
You can find it in health food stores and online. Adding a teaspoon to your healthy meals high in complex carbohydrates should limit the unsavoury gas you’ve been expelling.
Farting is a common side-effect of starting a healthy lifestyle. Don’t let it sidetrack you from the great progress you’ve made. Figure out which foods cause gas for you and avoid them. And if you do not want to expose yourself as the office farter, you can always excuse yourself and go outside for a spell – be warned however, any gas kept inside can cause bloating pain. As they say, better out than in!
Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors, and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist. | @drzacturner