Passing gas holds important clues about your health


Our body systems continually give signals about our health status. You wouldn’t immediately think that passing gas, also called breaking wind (or farting if you wish), can give signals about your gastrointestinal (GI) health.

Just as everybody pees and poops, everybody passes gas as well. But some people are more farty than others, and some emit really foul smells that can be pretty disgusting.

But where does the gas come from? Part of what comes out your rear end is actually swallowed air. We all swallow some air, mostly without actually noticing it. The air eventually comes out as odourless gas.

But most of the gas that we emit is a result of fermentation of the foods we eat within the large intestines. There are billions of bacteria within our GI system that help digest and ferment foods, producing gases as a byproduct.

According to GI specialists, passing gas somewhere between 5 to 15 times per day is entirely normal. Your actual rate of passing gas, and the amount, depends on what you eat and the overall function of your GI system.

Some foods will make you more gassy than others. Think of the good old beans, dairy and wheat products. What about the smell? The amount of fermentation and transit time within the GI tract contributes to the smell that you emit.

But there doesn’t appear to be any specific poor health conditions associated with the smelliness of farts. When should you be concerned about passing gas? If you notice that you are passing too much gas, and getting bloated and uncomfortable, you may need to seek some help. This is especially so if you also notice a change of your bowel habits, like constipation, diarrhoea or blood-stained poo.

But your gassy episodes may simply be related to your eating and drinking habits, which are easy to address. Simply limiting your carbs, processed foods and sugars may be all that you need to do.

It’s best to see a GI specialist when faced with gassy matters. For most, all they might end up with is reassurance that nothing really is the matter. Others might need simple remedies that are meant to optimise GI function.

But a small proportion of gassy individuals might end up with additional diagnostic tests that might pinpoint some GI conditions. Specific interventions would then be advised as appropriate by GI specialists.

Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist.


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