A party, a meeting, a date - and suddenly there you are, sphincter on full alert, trying to forestall a silent and deadly. The dreaded fart. The horror! But really, why should this inadvertent emission cause such consternation? The fact is, no one will ever be fart-free.
Gas is a normal bodily product. It's even a sign of vitality. The bacteria in your intestines break down (ferment) undigested carbs and in the process produce not only fizzlers but health-promoting short-chain fatty acids.
Ironically, while many associate letting one go with beer belching and bad eats, changing to a diet higher in fibre (whole grains, veggies, beans, nuts) can leave you smelly, too.
The experts say, "Better a fart than an infarct!" They advise you build up fibrous foods slowly over several weeks to lower the hot-air quotient. The digestive aid Beano might help.
Other common culprits in gas creation are sugar, greasy foods, dairy products, cabbage-family foods, onions, garlic and, when eaten raw, celery, apples, cucumbers and green peppers. Fake sugars found in diabetic and low-carb products are also bottom belch producers: sucralose, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, maltitol and isomalt.
But while some gas is normal, perpetual whiffy emanations can signal weak digestion or a gastrointestinal infection. A visit to a professional is also important if you experience diarrhea or chronic constipation (less than one bowel movement daily or hard painful stools) along with your flatulence, if the gas produces pain or if your stools include mucus, undigested bits of food or blood (which may look dark and tarry rather than bright red).
What the experts say
"Your stomach is very sensitive to your state of mind. If you're happy, the stomach is happy. If you're anxious, the stomach is anxious and slows down. Then food sits in the stomach for a longer time, and that foul food creates foul gas. Undigested food goes into your intestine. This often causes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A person shouldn't eat in front of the TV or on the run, but take time for just eating . If gas is associated with diarrhea or constipation, seek professional help so it doesn't lead to serious problems."
ISMAT NATHANI , Ayurvedic neurotherapist, Toronto
"Digestive problems are symptoms of blockages in the solar plexus chakra. That chakra is related to our self-esteem and personal power. Our bodies have wisdom and they're constantly communicating with us. [You might] say, 'I just can't stomach it,' or 'It's a pain in the gut.' Then you've got to ask, 'What's going on that I can't stomach?' Journal writing can be helpful for seeing attitudes that aren't serving you."
SUSAN STEVENSON , holistic healer and counsellor, Toronto
"Bacterial fermentation is normal and means we're salvaging undigested food. It can possibly increase mineral absorption and produce vitamins like folate and vitamin K. If you're on a higher-fibre diet, you could get 5 to 10 per cent of your energy from fermentation, because besides gases, the bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids. These are absorbed avidly and may prevent colitis and cancer."
THOMAS WOLEVER , MD, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences and medicine, U of T
"Most gas comes from swallowing air. Foods that make us swallow more air are chewing gum, carbonated beverages, whipped egg whites (meringue), whipped cream and whipped milk. For people with chronic gas, try avoiding all dairy for two weeks. That means anything that has milk or milk by-products, casein, caseinates, lactose or whey. If the problem goes away, slowly reintroduce soft cheeses or yogurt. If you have continuous smelly gas, see a holistic doctor - it's probably a bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection."
ELIZABETH LIPSKI , PhD, clinical nutritionist, author, Digestive Wellness, Asheville, North Carolina
"Finish your meal with camomile tea . If there's pain, fennel seed tea helps lower inflammation. Lemon balm is a great choice as are rosemary or anise or dill seed . Ginger and peppermint are common choices but they can exacerbate gastric reflux (heartburn)."
DANETTE STEELE , registered herbalist, Toronto and Halifax
"If the gas tends to be smelly, bacterial balance needs addressing with a good probiotic supplement that contains FOS. It's possible food is not being digested well. To test that, take digestive enzymes . Get professional help to see why you're enzyme-deficient."
KAREN HACK , naturopath, Toronto