Flatulence aka Farting

Seeing as we touched on the topic of flatulence/farting a bit last week, I thought it would be best to further explore what it is and why it is released.

What is flatulence?

Okay, so flatulence is the release of a mixture of  gases from your intestine via your rectum (where your feces exits). This mixture of gases is referred to as flatus. Flatus can be a mixture of nitrogen gas, oxygen gas, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and/or methane gas. These gases do not cause an odour though; there are tiny quantities of other gases. such as hydrogen sulfide, in your flatus that causes the smell of a fart.

Normally, adults release between 200 and 2000mL of flatus per day in 14 spurts (‘spurt’ really paints a picture, doesn’t it?)

What causes the production of flatus?

Well, these gases are introduced into your body in three major ways:

1.) When you eat food, you also swallow air. Air contains a bunch of gases including nitrogen gas, oxygen gas, and small traces of other gases like methane gas and ozone gas. This air goes into your stomach, but most of it is expelled (usually by burping).

These gases form large bubbles, which make a loud sound when released but are odourless. All the embarrassment for none of the smell.

2.) Gases can be generated as byproducts for digestion by colonic bacteria. Methane gas and hydrogen gas are only produced by the bacterial digestion of foods in our intestines. Fruits and vegetables contain complex sugars that can only be digested by bacteria.

The gases released by the bacteria after breaking down the complex sugars form small bubbles. When these bubbles are released, they don’t make a sound but it does cause a smell. They’re the stealthy farts that you can get away with. No embarrassment but all of the smell (okay, maybe some embarrassment but quick, play it off! No one knows it’s you!)

This second way of introducing gas into your body also means that vegetarians pass gas a lot more than other people and it’s, well, smelly. They have more fruits and vegetables in their diet which means there is a higher concentration of complex sugars. This provides more food for the bacteria, who will in turn produce more gases.

And, like I mentioned last week, people who have a deficiency in a digestive enzyme (like lactose intolerance) will also require the bacteria in their intestines to digest certain sugars, producing more gas.

3.) Hydrogen sulfide can also be produced by the bacterial digestion of polysaccharides, which is why the small gas bubbles produced by bacteria are so smelly. Our cells also excrete hydrogen sulfide sometimes.

So, that’s all there is to say about flatulence. You can have embarrassingly loud, but completely harmless toots or stealthily silent and foul-smelling toots. It’s an awful trade-off in my opinion.


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