Ever been in a situation where passing wind is going to be hugely embarrassing and you’ve had to hold in a fart? Let’s face it – we all have.
Trying to hold it in leads to a build up of pressure and major discomfort. A build up of intestinal gas can trigger abdominal distension, with some gas reabsorbed into the circulation and exhaled in your breath. Holding on too long means the build up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart.
The research is not clear on whether the rise in pressure in your rectum increases your chance of developing a condition called diverticulitis, where small pouches develop in the gut lining and become inflamed – or whether it doesn’t matter at all.
What is flatus?
Flatus, farts and breaking wind refer to intestinal gases that enter the rectum due to the body’s usual gastrointestinal processes of digestion and metabolism and then leave via the anus.
As your body digests food in the small intestine, components that can’t be broken down move further along the gastrointestinal track and eventually into the large intestine called the colon.
Intestinal bacteria break down some of the contents by fermentation. This process produces gases and by products called fatty acids that are reabsorbed and used in metabolic pathways related to immunity and preventing disease development.
Gases can either be reabsorbed through the gut wall into the circulation and eventually exhaled through the lungs or excreted via the rectum, as a fart.
How much flatus is normal?
It can be challenging for researchers to get people to sign up for experiments that measure farts. But thankfully, ten healthy adults volunteered to have the amount of gas they passed over a day quantified.
In a 24-hour period all the flatus they expelled was collected via a rectal catheter (ouch). They ate normally but to ensure a boost in gas production they also had to eat 200 grams (half a large can) of baked beans.