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Beacon Senior News

Passing gas is a necessity of life. So, let ’er rip!

Mar 22, 2021 03:20PM ● By Wendell Fowler
Cartoon man passing gas or farting, with the image of a gas mask next to him

Cue the snickers. We’ve all been blushing victims of an unavoidable toot or belch at a socially inappropriate time, surprising or offending everyone in the immediate vicinity. Nonetheless, expelling gas is an inevitable, and in fact necessary, part of digestion.


Thanks for the farts

The word “fart” comes from the Old English word “feortan,” which means “to break wind.” Nowadays, it has many other euphemisms: “pass gas,” “let one rip,” “toot,” “a Bronx cheer,” and the proverbial “cut the cheese.”

As giggling kids, we didn’t care where this great source of laughter originated. It was simply hilarious. My grandchildren once posed the question, “If we don’t belch or fart, Grandpa, would we explode?” 

Then, shortly after our marriage, my wife questioned what I did with all the toots and burps while we dated.

In some countries, burping and passing gas are compliments. Letting one rip after a meal is an expression of thanks to the Canadian Inuits. An Indian tribe in South America called the Yanomami fart as a greeting. In China, belching is a compliment to the host on the food. One can even find employment as a professional fart-smeller (supposedly, your farts can say a lot about your health).

Everyone passes gas and belches (some more prolifically than others), as it’s nature’s method for getting rid of byproducts of digestion. However, some farts are more unpleasant than others. At work, my wife observed that the shared bathroom was especially eye-watering after her carnivorous peers had a BM. Meat and cheese, combined with a lack of plant-based fiber, take copious amounts of energy and time to digest. As a result, they loiter in our digestive system longer, where they ferment, decay and create gas. 

The pungency of gas is affected by how long it takes for the body to digest food. The less time food spends inside the dark recess of our colon, the less it has time to produce nostril-burning gas. That’s just one of the many reasons to take probiotics and eat fibrous foods that keep the bowls a-movin’.

Helpful “good” probiotic bacteria living in our gut break down food. This metabolic process creates hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane, the source of the odor. Some foods, including beans, tend to cause gas because our bodies are not well equipped to digest them...especially undercooked beans.

Most people break wind about 14 to 22 times a day. Between billions of humans and millions of factory-farmed pigs and cows, imagine how much methane is released each day contributing to global warming. Oh, humanity!


What causes gas?

When it comes to foods, fart fodder includes beans and lentils, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and onions, as well as whole-grain foods such as cereals, bread and crackers. Sugar found in fruit and juices is also a contributor, as well as processed foods containing high-fructose corn syrup. Sorbitol is another super gassy sugar found in both diet drinks and foods.

Gas can also be caused by the imbalance of good and bad microorganisms in the large intestine. The body can’t completely break down some sugars, starches and fiber in beans, grains and certain vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. We also get bubbly when our bodies can’t tolerate certain things such as lactose. Lactose—and other dairy products—pose problems for people who don’t produce enough lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose.

When a toot’s wet, it’s because mucus or some watery stool passes out alongside gas. Wetness may occur due to something we’ve consumed or may be a symptom of an underlying health condition.

Burping can be the result of people simply tending to swallow air when eating soup or any liquid with a spoon. Swallowing air also happens when chewing gum, smoking, drinking carbonated drinks or eating and drinking large amounts too quickly. According to Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates, stinky, sulfur burps can be caused by many conditions including stress, reflux, IBS and bacterial infections like H. pylori. Certain foods can also cause sulfur burps—such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and garlic.

If someone tells you they don’t fart or burp much, either they’re lying, something’s seriously wrong or they’re wishing to imitate the Hindenburg. So the next time you feel a bodily gas coming on, rather than try to hold it in, let it rip! Just be polite, cover your mouth, excuse yourself...or light a match.