You denied it, blamed it on the guy next to you, you even blamed it on grandma when she was out of earshot. Most of the time flatulence smells bad and sounds funny, but why go through so much restiveness over something as natural as farting? OK, what we've mentioned so far are reasons enough, but let us at least dissipate the notion that farting, or flatus, is bad.

Everybody passes gas; people are simply made that way, so there is no need to worry about you or a loved one cutting too much cheese. Few health risks are associated with excessive flatulence; it is all a matter of accepting and controlling certain details.

The truth behind flatulence

To understand why flatulence occurs, one must look at the human body like it's a small factory. The gastrointestinal tract works as a unit. Once food reaches the stomach, all nutrients are broken down into smaller components (amino acids, fatty acids and glucose) before being absorbed in the small intestine.

When food does not get absorbed into the intestinal wall, it cannot enter the bloodstream. Indigestible food and liquids are sent down the track where they reach the large colon (bowel) as waste for liquid reabsorption. It is there, in the large intestine, that gases are formed.

Different bacteria in the bowel have a symbiotic relationship with the body — in some cases, actually doing more good than harm. The large colon contains a variety of digestive enzymes that feed off unabsorbed nutrients. In the case of flatulence, foreign enzymes known as "gas enzymes" consume undigested nutrients by breaking their chemical bonds.

This process produces gases and the "end" result is the dog getting blamed for something he probably did not do. Enzymes burn food on a molecular level so farts are like exhaust fumes, and like all efficient factories, once an agent has been broken down, it produces gas.

Why flatulence smells

So why do farts smell? Fermented food produces different types of fumes, some of which smell. Flatulence contains odorless gases, such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and methane, but it also contains the "oh-so-nasty" hydrogen sulfide, which causes the smell. If you have not noticed by now, some of the aforementioned fumes are flammable, like methane and oxygen, so you can, in fact, burn farts. Yes, you can set them aflame; it is not a myth, and it's a great way to impress the girls too (you do know we're joking?).

How much odor is produced also depends on the food you eat. Vegetarians might fart as often as meat-eaters, but their "serenades" do not smell as much because vegetables produce less hydrogen sulfide. The more sulfur-rich the foods you eat, the more your farts will stink because bacteria will generate sulfides and mercaptans as they break down the nutrients. Beware: even though cauliflower is a vegetable, it also makes you stinky, so watch out.

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The causes of flatulence

Some people pass gas more than others. Grandpa's finger is not special; his condition could be a result of a few factors. Here is a small list of different causes of flatulence:

1. Consuming too many carbs

Of the three main nutrients, carbohydrates produce the most gas because sugar and starch easily ferment. Half of us are endowed with bacteria that particularly prefer munching on unprocessed carbs. As you might have guessed, beans contain more indigestible carbohydrates than most foods.

2. Consuming indigestible foods

Many daily foods are considered "indigestible" — milk being one of them. Cow milk is unnatural to the human body, which is why a lot of people are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance means the body does not know how to digest milk, so it sets it aside as waste. If you happen to have a lot of "gas enzymes" in your system and you are lactose intolerant, even milk can make you fart.

3. Excessive enzymes

Each person's intestinal fauna is composed differently so people do not react similarly to the same foods. Two individuals can eat a meal rich in indigestible carbs and only one of them can develop gas, simply because his intestinal tract contains more enzymes. You might have heard people say that onions or apples give them gas, while others claim not to be affected. It all depends on the amount and type of bacteria in the large intestine.

4. Chewing food and swallowing air

Chewing your food properly helps prevent gas because you alleviate your tract's workload, while chewing gum gives people flatulence because it makes them swallow more air than usual and because it animates the digestive system. Sometimes you burp, but other times air goes too deep into the digestive tract, leaving only one alternative: farting.

5. Intestinal infections

Finally, certain forms of intestinal infections cause flatulence. Eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water will cause loose stools, bloating, cramps, and gas. When a person has an intestinal infection, the lining of the intestinal track thins and nutrients, again, get sent to the large intestine without being absorbed.

Treatments

Over-the-counter Bean-O and other pills on the market are very effective. Maintaining a healthy diet, not chewing gum and noticing what affects your system are all nice steps at beating the problem, but if you are a compulsive "farter," there are alternative means of dealing with the problem. Chamomile, peppermint, sage, marjoram, and other herbs can alleviate flatulence.

Life after gas

So, fear not, smelly friends, there is life after gas. Cutting carbohydrates from your diet and avoiding foods you know are heavy on your system are just about all a person needs to do to reduce flatulence. Also, remember to munch on your food properly and chew less gum. If you are one of the unlucky ones endowed with more enzymes in your system, there are pills and herbs on the market that can regulate your problem.