Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
29 Nov

Flatulence: Foes and Fixes

whoopeeFarting is universally hilarious. Across every culture, every religion, every language, the issuance of gas from a person’s posterior will – once the wrinkled noses have smoothed out – evoke laughter from just about everyone in earshot. I won’t try to explain why it’s so dang funny, especially when we can turn to Louis C.K. for his masterful thesis on the matter. C.K arrives at three factors: it comes out of your butt, it smells like poop, and it makes a trumpet noise. Taken separately, these things range from gross to inconsequential. After all, plenty of things sound like trumpets. Trumpets, for one. But together, they form a symphony of comedy that’s greater than the constituent parts.

But when they’re issuing out of your body uncontrollably on a regular basis, farts can be a touchy subject. I won’t name any names, but more than a few readers have written in over the past few months with questions about farting spouses, children, and even pets. These readers often admit that flatulence has comedic merit, but just as incessant quoting of Borat after the movie came out quickly got old, farting all the time is annoying. And it might even be the sign of something wrong with your diet.

So, while the pet angle may be beyond the scope of today’s post, I’m going to offer some insight into human flatulence. I’ll deal with both the causes and the potential solutions, mostly at once (because the problems and solutions are intertwined).

First, what is it?

Flatulence is the expunging of intestinal gas, which is either endogenous or exogenous. Exogenous intestinal gas comes from the outside; it is literally swallowed, usually when a person eats too fast, drinks too fast (or drinks bubbly drinks like sodas or sparkling water), or chews gum too vociferously. Exogenous flatulence isn’t too much of a problem, because it usually doesn’t smell and it isn’t caused by eating the wrong foods. It’s actually normal to have exogenous flatulence. If it’s excessive and causing you problems, simple behavior modification can fix this one pretty quickly. Chew and drink more slowly and carefully, avoid smoking, and try to avoid excessive gasping. Stressful situations can exacerbate this, too – think breathing in deeply and rubbing your temples because something just went wrong, and then do it fifty times a day and you get a picture of how you might be swallowing more air than you intend. You want to breathe your air, not ingest it.

Endogenous intestinal gas is a different beast, and it’s the one we’re going to focus on today. It comes from bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates. More specifically, it comes from fermentation of carbohydrates that we improperly or incompletely digest in the small intestine. These leftover bits make it to the colon/large intestine, and that’s where the magic happens.

To address this, first things first, pay attention to FODMAPs, or fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that some people can’t totally digest in the small intestine. If that’s the case, when they hit the colon, the flora there break it down and ferment it, thus producing large amounts of endogenous intestinal gases like methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide, bloating, and other complications. FODMAPs can include healthy, totally Primal foods, but they also include decidedly unPrimal stuff, too. If you’re farting a lot, your first step should be to understand FODMAPs, because they are likely suspects. Let’s go through the various categories, highlighted in Jamie’s excellent piece from last year:

  • Oligosaccharides include things like fructans (fructose with a single glucose molecule attached) and galactans (fructose with a molecule of galactose attached). Sources of fructans are wheat, onions, artichokes, jicama, jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, onions, garlic, and leeks. Inulin, a prebiotic fiber I’ve written about before and which can have numerous health benefits, is a fructan. Galactans are found in legumes (beans, lentils, etc), Brussels sprouts, and broccoli (hence the lovely term “broccoli fart” and the product called “Beano,” which I always found to be a disgusting name).
  • The most common disaccharide is lactose, or milk sugar. Anyone who’s tried GOMAD (Gallon of Milk a Day) while being lactose intolerant (or been within a mile of someone who fits that description) understands what foul gases improperly digested lactose can produce. If there’s one thing I’m thankful for, it’s that Mark Rippetoe endogenously produces lactase. Better choices include hard, long-fermented cheeses and raw dairy, proponents of which claim it contains lactase for easier digestion. I’m not sure about that one myself, as a lactose-intolerant buddy of mine once sampled some raw milk at a Santa Monica’s farmers’ market at the vendor’s urging and suffered (we both did, albeit I did so indirectly) familiar side effects. Your mileage may vary, though. Sucrose is another disaccharide, so avoid it (which you probably already were).
  • Monosaccharides refer primarily to fructose. That means avoiding HFCS, obviously, but even “healthier” choices like honey, and dried fruit like dates and raisins. Eat low fructose fruits like berries.
  • Polyols are sugar alcohols. Xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, pretty much any -ol. Naturally occuring polyols can also be found in certain fruits, like blackberries, stone fruits, pears, and watermelon.

For a complete and handy table of FODMAPs friendly and unfriendly foods, check out the bottom of this post.

So, yeah, right off the bat, avoid FODMAPs. Do this for a week or two and see if your farting subsides. If it does, try reintroducing small amounts of select FODMAPs. Pick a category and start there. Eat a few slices of jicama, some Brussels sprouts, or some onion. Be systematic about it and limit yourself to a single food from a single FODMAP category at a time.

Keep a detailed food journal for a month and keep tabs on your digestive symptoms. If you fart, mark when, where, and what you just ate. You can even note the severity of the flatulence, including odor, volume, and number of laughs received (partly kidding here). Over time, you should be able to note correlations between certain foods and the severity and incidence of your flatulence.

Eat simple meals. Instead of having crazy curries and stews all the time with dozens of ingredients, stick to meat and vegetable. Note the singular “vegetable” and don’t eat broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbage in the same meal. Give your gut a chance to get its bearings and you’ll have a clearer picture of what’s causing the gas.

Add some digestive enzymes. Robb Wolf is a big proponent of NOW Foods brand digestive enzymes, and I’d definitely trust his judgment. Remember, a lot of flatulence is caused by bacterial fermentation of undigested food. If you lack the right digestive enzymes, more food bits will make it to the colon for fermentation. According to Robb, you want to take the enzymes shortly before the meal. Start with five or six capsules and stop when you start feeling warmth in your belly – that means it’s working.

Chew your food thoroughly. The more you chew, the greater the surface area of the food and the better you digest it. The better you digest your food, the less food will make it through to your colon. This will also help with exogenous gas flatulence.

Add some probiotics or fermented foods. Note, though, that you’ll want to limit FODMAPs before adding probiotics, as otherwise you’ll just be providing more fuel for the fire.

Limit prebiotic supplements for now. Until you get a handle on things, you don’t want to introduce more FODMAPs. I know that when I was doing daily extensive testing of Primal Fuel, including changing the ratios of prebiotic inulin to achieve the perfect texture, I had some mild flatulence at first (TMI?). A bit of flatulence from prebiotics is completely normal, especially early on, but if it gets worse or doesn’t improve, it’s probably worth watching.

All in all, some mild flatulence is nothing to worry about. It may hurt your social health, but it’s not a medical condition. Severe, continuous flatulence, however, accompanied by painful bloating? Yeah, you need to fix that. Try these fixes, pay attention to potentially offensive foods listed, and keep that food journal. It’s all fun and games and cups o’ cheese (NSFW) until you get bacterial overgrowth (from feeding the colonic flora) and, possibly, Crohn’s disease. So get a handle on it.

Of course, if you can’t, you might consider pursuing a career as a flatulist. Saint Augustine himself had nothing but high praise for the men who possessed such “command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing.” Whatever your spiritual inclination (or non-inclination), I think we can all appreciate a religious man who admires professional fart artists.

Take care, folks, and happy digesting. If you’ve had success or failure with defeating flatulence, let us know in the comment section. I’m always all ears for more input from you guys, and I know we have plenty of readers who could use assistance from someone who’s been there.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. For what it’s worth…My cure for a lot of flatulence (and it did start around my 40s) was cutting out wheat and most sugar. I do have half a piece of sourdough toast in the am with lots of butter, but really try to avoid the rest. I don’t think I am gluten intolerant, but I do seem to have a gluten sensitivity of some kind. I eat fruit, cheese, cream, etc with no problems.

    lisa wrote on November 29th, 2011
  2. Primal has certainly reduced/virtually eliminated gas. It’s also been pretty easy to identify the triggers.

    Thanks for the article!

    TJ wrote on November 29th, 2011
  3. Amazing the things we learn here:

    Saint Augustine himself had nothing but high praise for the men who possessed such “command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing.”

    WildGrok wrote on November 29th, 2011
  4. Interesting artical but where does garlic, blueberries rasberries and califlower fit in.I have noticed that I have problems in 3 out of the 4 catogories.

    mary bosch wrote on November 29th, 2011
  5. If Louis C.K. is the king of making farts funny, then Mark Sisson is the king of making farts interesting. Not an easy thing to do.

    Andy Seher wrote on November 29th, 2011
  6. Get your gall bladder checked for gall stones. Regular gas problems can be a symptom of gall stones. You’ll know if you have gall stones you’re having intense stomach cramps (worse than labor pains) that wrap from the middle right of your back around to the front. Gall stones are sometimes the result of a fatty diet — but sometimes they’re just genetic. Failure to seek treatment can result in pancreatitis, so see your doctor if this sounds like you.

    Mary wrote on November 29th, 2011
  7. Just to lighten things up a little bit, go to YouTube.com.

    The same folks who brought you the Engineer’s Guide to Cats has a special video on flatulence, feline and otherwise. Cracks me up every time! Enjoy!

    Pam Maltzman wrote on November 29th, 2011
  8. Processed foods, caused one of my kids to sound like a trumpet all day. He only has fresh/home cooked food at home now and the issue is much better.

    With me I find that sweeteners and sugar not to mention any type of gluten cause bloating and trumpeting not to mention IBS.

    Good old real food.

    loligoss wrote on November 30th, 2011
  9. Fantastic article!

    It’s definitely fructans for me. Jerusalem artichokes with asparagus and roast onions followed by apple pie? Parp parp!

    x x x

    naomi wrote on November 30th, 2011
  10. Great post Mark thanks. If I recall from Robb’s podcast I thought he recommended starting at ONE and moving up to 2, 3…until you feel the warmth in your belly then coming off one moving forward. I dont remember him recommending starting at 5 or 6.

    AAvKK wrote on November 30th, 2011
  11. This is one of the great benefits of going Primal – no gas! I was on Weight Watchers for a couple of years and always, ALWAYS, had gas. Like others, I thought that was just a way of life. So glad to have found it ain’t so.

    Janet wrote on November 30th, 2011
  12. Something that I noticed quite soon after starting to change how I eat was that I hardly ever fart any more – yahoo! I think that my husband is glad too :)

    Paleo Irish wrote on November 30th, 2011
  13. So here’s a stinker…(heehee). I just started primal a week ago, and maybe its just my body cleansing itself but after almost every primal meal…especially meatballs, I get the most god awful gas. Like knock you over gas..usually when it happens, i’ll just sit really still to cover it up with my butt but sometimes it doesn’t work and I get exclaimations and looks of horror. Is this just my colon freeing itself like Free Willy, or am i eating too many onions?

    Maureen wrote on November 30th, 2011
  14. It was bad. REEEALLY bad. Because I have Crohns I have digestive issues anyway… I have to limit my intake of raw veggies and cook most things. Fortunately since I eliminated my morning bowl of porridge and grains from my diet it is MUCH better. And beans? Forget about it! The outcome is like hell on earth for myself and the people around me.

    Mary wrote on November 30th, 2011
  15. A few weeks after going Primal, the constant farting was gone. That was one of the first changes I noticed.

    Susan M. wrote on November 30th, 2011
  16. There has been very little ‘male bonding’ in our house since my husband and I gave up the grains.

    Susan wrote on November 30th, 2011
  17. 2 years ago eating Kashi lean, I would fart so bad, the dog would leave the room. After I gave up grains, the whole gas thing has improved ten fold. The only time I have gas is when I go off my primal diet, or take a prebiotic.
    Everyone thinks I’m nuts, but at least they don’t have to smell my gas anymore :)

    Christine wrote on November 30th, 2011
  18. Onions for me! Even in homemade stock! It only took me 40 years to figure it out but I am ever so grateful I know now. Though I do miss them…

    diane wrote on November 30th, 2011
  19. I’ve definitely experienced less gas and smelliness (even in my poo – tmi?) since giving up grains and other processed foods. Gas used to be a normal occurance, but now I’m very aware when I’ve eaten something inappropriate because I’m gassy, or my poop smells badly. It’s amazing, really… Our bodies work SO well wen we treat them right, that even our sh#t don’t stank!

    Emily C wrote on November 30th, 2011
  20. I used to fart after eating candy, sometimes after eating a lot of fruit too. And lets not talk about what happened when I tried probiotic vanilla tasting “candy” sweetened with inulin… I did notice that I rarely ever fart now (3 weeks primal soon), but I wasn’t used to it being a problem so I didn’t think much about it.

    Now I’m just trying to figure out how to get rid of the constipation I’ve had since starting primal…

    Silly wrote on December 1st, 2011
  21. Hiya,

    The way I avoid it is not mixing fresh fruit with my meals, giving at least 2 hours after a meal before having any fruit.
    If I feel like some fresh fruit then I make sure I don’t mix it with other foods for an hour or so.

    Some fresh fruit/other food combos work without much of a problem, you’d need to experiment. Grapes and apples with cheese appear to be ok, as well as strawberries with cream.

    Cooked or otherwise processed/preserved fruits don’t seem to have the same effect.

    Cheers,

    Luis.

    Luis wrote on December 1st, 2011
  22. So true. Before primal/low carb I had huge problems with gas. I think I farted for like 10 years straight! Cut out refined carbs, no more gas at all.

    Kevin wrote on December 1st, 2011
  23. I found the FODMAP diet really difficult to follow as someone who cannot tolerate starchy foods like most grains and tubers.

    After coming off it however my bloating is much more troublesome. Perhaps I can survive on it with a massively increased fruit intake…

    Moop wrote on December 2nd, 2011
  24. My gas never smells like anything, and I don’t have bad gas just a lot of little interruptions, like all the time. I wanted to add enzymes to my diet anyways because I have an auto-immune disease. I ended up buying the NOW super enzymes and they burned the hell out of my stomach. What does that mean?

    jessica wrote on December 2nd, 2011
  25. Well since going primal there’s a lot LESS wind for me, all very happy in the gut department unless I have too much fructose. Then it gets achey and gripey.

    JuliaMcAra wrote on December 3rd, 2011
  26. I was setting the world on fire but then I switched from soy milk to almond milk and that knocked it right out. Who knew?

    Matt wrote on December 5th, 2011
  27. Less bloat and gas is certainly one of the best reasons for going primal. I lost weight and have more energy and my skin is better, too, but not having the ‘aftermath’ of meals on a daily basis is so liberating. As many have said, when you do get a rare occurrence of indigestion, you wonder how anyone would think that is normal functioning. I think my biggest culprits are dried fruits, which I enjoy–but they are just deadly for my tummy. Some other things certainly cause it to, but I haven’t pinned them down yet. Will have to try Mark’s idea of keeping a journal… Is there an iFart app? :-)

    obligatecarnivore wrote on December 7th, 2011
  28. I just wanted to mention that it’s actually not funny at all in other parts of the world. Some Americans’ sense of humor revolves around bodily functions, which simply seems unsophisticated. I would say that it is definitely not the norm, especially in other countries. If there is any laughter, whether in USA or otherwise, it is mainly nervous laughter or people trying to make light of an embarrassing and humiliating moment. If it were funny, then people would be doing it all the time just to have a good laugh. Maybe even just saying that it’s funny in the article is a way of lightening the topic. But most people do not feel this way. I think just discussing it from a medical viewpoint and/or natural occurrence is more appropriate and comfortable for most people.

    Anna wrote on December 7th, 2011
  29. I just wanted to clarify that it’s actually not funny at all in other parts of the world. Some Americans’ sense of humor revolves around bodily functions, which simply seems unsophisticated. I would say that it is definitely not the norm, especially in other countries. If there is any laughter, whether in USA or otherwise, it is mainly nervous laughter or people trying to make light of an embarrassing and humiliating moment. If it were funny, then people would be doing it all the time to just have a good laugh. Maybe even just saying that it’s funny in the article is a way of lightening the topic. But most people do not feel this way. I think just discussing it from a medical viewpoint and/or natural occurrence is more appropriate and comfortable for most people.

    Anna wrote on December 7th, 2011
  30. Poms (That’s the English to you Yanks) find farting incredibly funny. So do Australians. Maybe its an English cultural thing that has been passed on to their old colonies ? There are fart jokes in Chaucer and Shakespear..

    I’m Australian of UK heritage, so I do like a good fart joke – I’m curious Anna – where do you hail from ? Not in a nasty way – just curious about your cultural background. If I ever save up to travel I shall have to behave myself if I visit…

    And yes, I’ll put my hand up for being unsophisticated :)

    Molly wrote on December 7th, 2011
  31. Hi Mark,
    This post was very interesting, and I’ve come back to it many times. My issue is, before I went primal, I was typically constipated but rarely gassy. Now, I have the broccoli gas all the time. I thought it may just be the dietary change (pescatarian to primal, haha) so I gave it a few months. Then, when the gas didn’t go away, I tried getting rid of kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc. That didn’t help a lot, either. I just suffer extreme flatulence. I do partner acrobatics and aerial, so being gassy is far more than a bit of a problem. Any ideas for what I can do to fix my sad digestive system? Thanks.

    elf wrote on January 9th, 2012
  32. Can anybody tell me how long after eating a meal that particular food might begin to cause flatulence

    harry wrote on August 4th, 2012
  33. If my broccoli or cauliflower is anything less than thoroughly cooked I cannot eat it without getting BAD gas!! Even if it’s slightly crunchy I will be farting for hours. Cooking it until mushy seems to do the trick, but I wonder how much nutrition is left by then… :(

    Anders Emil wrote on September 7th, 2012
  34. If I am sensitive to FODMAPS (for example cabbage) and I decided to make a kimchi and fermented the cabbage, will it still contain the galactans and give me symptoms or does the fermentation process Allow for the vegetables to be better digested without producing gas?

    Chrissy wrote on February 8th, 2013
  35. I don’t really like this post as it trivialises the issue. I was diagnosed with fructose malabsorption and since changing my diet my health has improved markedly.

    Previous diets which were low in wheat, dairy, sugar and food colours and additives did nothing to improve my condition.

    After eliminating FODMAPS from my diet – particularly honey and onion many of my health completes have completely disappeared.

    The problem with continuing to ingest these foods when you have an intolerance is not the farting – that’s the least of my problems! Constant diarrhea and constipation means that you are not absorbing the nutrients from your food instead you’re just spitting them out as your digestion system isn’t working properly. So you end up getting very malnourished despite how healthy you eat. For me this meant severe allergies, constant sinus infections, monthly candida infections, rashes, contant headaches, extreme fatigue, allergies to just about everything and severe anxiety.

    After reading your blog I’m eager to increase my fat intake (and change the fats that I eat) and decrease my grain intake even further. Despite this, my avoidance of onion and honey has made far more of a difference that anything else I’ve ever changed in regards to diet. So a highly recommend that if people suspect that they may have an intolerance to fructose then to get themselves tested right away. It is a very simple cheap and obvasive test which is worth having if your experiencing any kind of gastrointestinals symptoms. My diagnosis has changed my life.

    Joey Thomas wrote on March 3rd, 2013
  36. Two words: raw onions.

    Skowler wrote on April 8th, 2013
  37. So what happens if after eating clean and primal for a long time and then finally not even starchy veggies or any legumes for a month, having been fart free— you suddenly have terrible gas and burbling in your intestines?

    Smaartin wrote on April 15th, 2013
    • Smaartin – I was just looking for an answer to that question myself. I have been eating Primal/Paleo for about a year and a half. Initially, I lost 15 lbs and almost all of my digestive issues went away. I recently decided to do a full month of strict Paleo (no dairy/alcohol/dark chocolate) and I am one week in. Yesterday I woke up bloated and by the end of the day I looked like I was 5 months pregnant – Ack! In reviewing everything I have eaten over the last 3 days, and comparing to the FODMAP list in this article, I believe the offender is jicama… Not something I eat regularly, so I wouldn’t have picked it out of a line-up if I hadn’t been paying close attention. I suggest you try eliminating all FODMAP foods and the introducing them very gradually to see what does it to you. Good luck!

      EmpressE wrote on July 12th, 2013
  38. This is an excellent article. Very well written

    lynn wrote on June 16th, 2013
  39. I also must react on bananas. I’ve been having thought if it’s an interaction with serotinergic drug but it may as well be fiber or maybe that “serotonin” in itself. I don’t think orange causes this. I’ve had a gall-bladder removal as my father and he just blames it for his flatulence. My issues went away when either removing milk or avoiding grain. I tend to do both. Overall avoiding carbs form everything except vegetables has been helpful for reducing weight. I thought it was possibly taken all drugs into account. There’s some advice on the internet regarding bananas and fiber. One could supposely tame the stomach by gradually increasing fiber however I rather just stay away from them. I had to pass my laundry-time again due to this foul smell.

    nitram wrote on September 5th, 2013
  40. Bananas…maybe THAT’s what it is for me. Since going primal I have been farting all day, every day. It is RIDICULOUS. I eat at least 2 bananas per day and have been doing a lot of pumpkin banana creations for my carbs after a workout. Excited to cut them out and see if it helps!

    Jen wrote on November 19th, 2013
    • Yea, bananas will totally do that to you. They can have a lot of resistant starch (if they’re still slightly green) in them that go straight to your colon for fermentation. It’s a good thing though, and the farting does subside over time.

      Alexander Hardy wrote on November 21st, 2013

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