Gas happens—and when it does, it can provide some pretty handy intel. Learn about six different types of gas and what they say about your health.
Some farts are quiet, some are foul, and some you don't see coming—but you can breathe easier (well, sort of) knowing that gas is a totally normal part of digestion. And, bonus, the type and duration can provide insights as to what's going on with your health.
If you've been farting up a storm lately, read on to find out what your gas might be trying to tell you (besides "lay off the cheese").
Most gas is odorless and is usually caused by swallowed air, says Samantha Nazareth, M.D., a double board-certified gastroenterologist in New York. Things like hoovering your lunch, sipping carbonated bevvies, and chewing wads of gum can all be contributing factors. What doesn't come out in the form of a burp will mosey its way through your digestive tract and come out the other end. While this is obviously totes normal and no biggie for your health, you can scale back in the gas department by eating slowly with controlled swallows and avoiding carbonated drinks, lozenges, and gum, suggests Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, SC.
Fewer things are more uncomfortable (and straight-up annoying) than gas trying to make a break for it when you're only two bites into a meal. But don't fret: Your insides aren't retaliating against your food choices—docs call it gastrocolic reflex, and it's your body's way of literally moving things along. "When food enters the stomach, it's common for the stomach to give the colon a heads-up so that it can make room for what's coming," says Dr. Bulsiewicz. Hence the sudden lurch you feel as that rogue fart heads for the exit. (Related: 8 Reasons You Have an Itchy Butt)
When silent-but-deadly gas strikes, odds are you can thank sulfur-rich foods for the dose of noxious fumes. (Think cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, kale, and bok choy, as well as eggs, meat, garlic, and onions.) "That's not to say you should avoid sulfur-rich foods—just be aware this process exists," says Dr. Nazareth.
FODMAP—which stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols (phew!)—is another class of food that can cause pungent gas. "Essentially, FODMAPs are short-chain carbs that are poorly absorbed and rapidly fermented," says Dr. Nazareth. They're found in a variety of foods, including wheat, apples, milk, and cashews. If being gassy is getting to you, talk to your doc about trying the low FODMAP diet, says Dr. Bulsiewicz, which can help you identify and moderate the foods that give your insides the most 'tude. (Related: What It's Really Like to Be On an Elimination Diet)
The likely culprit is your love for spicy food, which btw might be the secret to a longer life. "If it burns in your mouth, it can also burn your anus," says Dr. Nazareth. (Ouch.) This is thanks to certain receptors in our body that recognize capsaicin—the fiery compound found in chili peppers—as heat. Translation: You may want to simmer down your dishes. Diarrhea can also irritate the anus and cause a burning feeling, says Dr. Bulsiewicz. Avoid this by gradually upping your fiber intake to bulk things up, say, by adding a serving every few days or so to give your body time to adjust, he says.
If you go through spurts where you're gassy for hours on end, it means that your body really likes—or really doesn't like—the grub you recently ate. Non-smelly fart clusters, for example, can be caused by noshing on plant foods like beans, lentils, asparagus, and green bananas, among others. "Inulin, a soluble fiber found in these foods, is highly gas producing," says Dr. Bulsiewicz. But it's also a prebiotic, which feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, so you shouldn't stop eating these foods them just because your heinie is chattier than usual. (Related: Why Your Probiotic Needs a Prebiotic Partner)
Fart clusters that are on the smellier side, on the other hand, could be a sign that you have a food intolerance—common ones being lactose (dairy) and gluten (wheat)—where your body lacks the enzymes necessary to digest those foods properly. It could also be a sign of being backed up, says Dr. Bulsiewicz. If you seem to be falling behind on your poop quota and have noticed an uptick in gas, it might be time to bust out the laxatives to get things moving.
When your gut bacteria gets out of whack (medically known as dysbiosis), this can cause digestive drama and lead to some pretty smelly farts, says Dr. Bulsiewicz. Prebiotics and probiotics can help neutralize the bad bacteria, and in turn, the stench. If your gas persistently smells foul and you're experiencing additional symptoms like weight loss, bloating, nausea, fatigue, or bleeding, definitely see your doc, though. "This could signify malabsorption, which is found in diseases like celiac disease, Crohn's, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth," says Dr. Nazareth. (Related: 7 Ways to Bolster Good Gut Bacteria)