How much farting is normal?

by Jennifer Bowden / 13 January, 2018

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Flatulence, or farting, isn’t much talked about in polite company, but none of us is immune from it.

QUESTIONI was both intrigued and embarrassed by my grandmother’s frequent loud farts when I was a child. Now that I’m approaching her age, I have the same propensity. I eat a healthy diet, have regular bowel movements and avoid artificial sweeteners. What can I do about it?

ANSWER: We all do it – from 3-40 times a day, in fact. Yet the release of flatus, to use a technical description of farting, is not often talked about, even if it’s frequently a trigger for laughter or grumbles. So, how much flatus is too much?

Every day we pass 400-2000ml of flatus, according to the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG). About 90% of it is made up of five gases – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane.

On average, we pass wind 15 times a day, but the “normal” range is wide. Clearly, the more flatus you produce, the more often and loudly you will release it.

If you think your flatus may be excessive, try counting every time you break wind, including the smallest farts, for a day or two, bearing in mind that up to 40 times isn’t unusual.

Diet, needless to say, plays a part as most flatus is generated by bacteria fermenting food residues in the colon. A high-fibre diet, for example, is healthy, but also produces a lot of flatus.

Fibre-filled foods such as beans, onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables – cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, for instance – will give your gut microflora a big boost and you’ll be rewarded with generous gas production. Beans are notorious in this regard: “Beans are good for the heart; the more you eat, the more you …” You know what comes next.

The good news is you can maintain a healthy high-fibre diet and avoid the worst dietary-gas offenders. Start by eating less of the foods mentioned above, and also include turnips, leeks and fennel, sunflower and poppy seeds on the avoidance list.

For further guidance, the low-Fodmap diet used in the management of irritable bowel syndrome and, more recently, endometriosis is a good place to start.

Artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol can also be a problem, as they’re fermented by gut bacteria and not digested in the small intestine. The same is true of lactose in lactose-intolerant people, who will also typically experience bloating, cramping and diarrhoea when they eat lactose.

If you have symptoms besides excessive gas, visit your GP or a gastroenterologist.

This article was first published in the November 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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