Why Do People Fart?

Have you ever been at a loss to answer when a kid asked you, Why do people fart?” Farting (or flatulence, as it is called by those who would rather not sound vulgar) means expelling intestinal gas, which is also known as flatus, from the anus.

The word fart may have come from certain old German, Norse, Greek, and Sanskrit words associated with “breaking wind.” Farts can be startling, embarrassing, stinky, strident, or indeed all of the above, but the question “Why do people fart?” does have scientific answers so that you need not resort to giving a facetious response along the lines of “Because they are juvenile and they think farting is very funny” to whoever asked you that particular question.

The substance that is called flatus may consist of gas from the breakdown of food in the digestive system or from swallowed air. A person can swallow air while breathing, eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, or even hyperventilating when undergoing stress.

Basically, what you need to know to answer anyone who asks, “Why do people fart?” is that flatus flows down through the digestive tract and, in due course, exits the body as a fart. Expelling the gas can bring relief from a buildup of gas in the lower visceral regions.

Sometimes, the more relevant question may instead be “Why do people fart with such terrible smells?” A fart’s gases are mostly composed of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia. The unpleasant odor in a fart comes from breakdown of compounds that contain sulfur. If you eat food that is high in sulfur, like cabbage, eggs, meat, and onions, then you can expect to have smellier flatulence.

Intestinal gas is quite normal; thus, breaking wind is not an abnormal bodily function, but some people may have a problem with unwanted farting, which can be embarrassing for them. Farting in social settings is hardly considered polite behavior. People with this problem may have to cut back on food that causes gas.

Food that may cause an excess of gas includes the following: (1) milk and dairy products; (2) beans; (3) carbonated drinks; (4) fruits like apples, peaches, or pears; (5) whole grains; (6) vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, or onions; and (7) sugar-free candy. Health authorities who are often asked “Why do people fart?” would advise those trying to deal with an excessive gas problem to start by eliminating the most likely food first and, one food at a time, identifying which of them will make a difference.

Posted at June 27th, 2011.

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