There are some topics that just aren’t considered proper for polite company. There are also some things you’re just not supposed to do when you’re around other people. Something that falls into both categories? Passing gas, of course. While a lot of people might like to pretend they don’t even have a digestive system, more and more we’re learning that silence around uncomfortable, embarrassing, or even scatological topics just doesn’t help anybody. How can we be healthy if we don’t understand our bodies, and how can we understand our bodies if we don’t share with each other? So today, we’re setting so-called politeness aside just for a moment, and we’re going to talk about something we might not want to admit we all do: pass gas. Here’s the truth about it all, and how it affects, and even benefits, your health.
- It means you have a healthy gut.
Our stomachs are full of microbes and bacteria— the good kind. In fact, there’s actually a whole microbiome hanging out in there, making sure we’re healthy and digesting properly. Everything that makes up the healthy little ecosystem in there eats, and thrives on, the kind of foods that tend to make us gassy: beans, lentils, cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc. According to the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Purna Kashyap:
Eating foods that cause gas is the only way for the microbes in the gut to get nutrients. If we didn’t feed them carbohydrates, it would be harder for them to live in our gut [. . .] A healthy individual can have up to 18 flatulences per day and be perfectly normal.
In short? Passing gas is a sign that everything’s working the way it should.
- It can be a clue you need to change your diet.
Gas happens not only when you’re eating the fiber-rich foods your body needs, but also when your body’s having difficulties breaking down other things, from complex carbohydrates to lactose, gluten, and the non-absorbable sugars found in fat-free foods and ones full of sugar-free sweeteners. So if you notice a sudden increase in your flatulence levels, pay attention! It could be a sign you’re eating some things that your body might not be able to handle.
- It can be a warning sign for more serious health issues.
Let’s be clear: no, you do not need to panic if you start passing gas more frequently. As we’ve said above, it’s a natural process, and if it does indicate anything, it’s probably just the need for a small diet change. However, if you notice “persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain” and a change to your diet does not help, check with your doctor to see if it’s a warning sign for more serious health issues like colon cancer.
- It’s keeping your colon healthy.
Again, gas does not mean you have a disease; in fact, it’s part of the process that keeps your colon healthy. While the old wives’ tale that “holding one in” is bad for you isn’t really true, if you do have colon-related issues, your colon can swell thanks to the additionally blockage. Better for it and all aspects of your health in general? Unless it’s really socially unacceptable, just let it rip.
- It can be a hormonal head’s up.
A change in gassiness can be about more systems than just your digestive one; everything’s interconnected, after all. Women may experience increased gas when they hit menopause or experience other hormonal changes. Though experts aren’t clear on whether it’s caused by estrogen or progesterone, they do know that usually, exercise, probiotics, and regular bowel movements can help— all things we should be doing anyway! So take any frequent flatulence as a reminder to treat yourself well while you handle your hormonal shifts.
- It’s telling you to slow down.
Sometimes, gas is just air. You can get excess air in your digestive track by chewing gum, sucking on hard candies or, most likely, eating quickly while on the run. And the more air you take in, the more has to come out. While most of the time its escape route will come via a burp, if it comes the other way, take it as a sign to slow down when you can and give your digestive system time to catch up before you speed another meal into it.
- It’s a sign you’re particularly sensitive.
Just like sometimes gas is just air, sometimes people are just more prone to gas and more sensitive to, well, everything. Sometimes that just means you notice your gas passing more often than other people; other times, it means you could be on the irritable bowel syndrome spectrum, and should consult your doctor. Rebekah Gross, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, explains:
“Some people are very sensitive to normal amounts of gas they produce,” says Gross. While you might not necessarily make more gas than someone else, you could experience more irritation as a result of symptoms like bloating, sharp gas pains, and flatulence.
When it doubt, talk to your primary care physician, and/or seek care from a specialized gastroenterologist.
- Its smell could be helpful.
Look, we were skeptical about this one too, and we’re not suggesting we all start greeting each other like dogs. However, there’s some evidence that hydrogen sulfide, a compound present in flatulence and the cause of the “rotten egg” smell in other pungent stenches, can be beneficial in small amounts thanks to its ability to repair and/or mitigate damage to mitochondria, the powerhouse of our cells. In turn, that helps overall cell health, combating and preventing cell-damage-based diseases like arthritis and heart disease. Research is still preliminary, and we’re not saying we should start eagerly smelling gas, but if you do get a whiff, rest easy that instead of hurting, you might be helping.
- It’ll make your more comfortable.
Honestly, the best benefit of passing gas is the one you probably already know: you just plain feel better after. Sure, depending on where it happens and how prepared you were for it, you might be a little embarrassed, but how important is that really when you no longer feel full of gas? Bloating comes not only from your cells hanging on to excess water, but from gas, too. So if you want to feel like your normal size, want your pants to fit like they should, or simply want to feel more comfortable? Let yourself pass gas.
Do you find yourself weirdly fascinated by this topic now? We were, too. Grab more information from Little Things and Women’s Health, and of course, always consult your doctor with any health-related questions, problems, or issues. So let’s make this space safe and be honest: how many of these things surprised you? Do you know of any other benefits to passing gas you can share with the group?