Should you hold it in?

Now for a topic that is breadth of fresh air. Well, maybe not. Everybody’s been there at some point. You’re in a situation when propriety is paramount — a job interview, a fancy dinner, in the middle of reading your wedding vows — when you start to feel a bit of pressure in your lower intestine. It’s building … and building … and it’s gradually becoming an emergency situation. But you gather all of your fortitude and hold it in until, finally, mercifully, the pressure subsides. But did you ever wonder where that gas went?

Let’s get something clear. We’re not going to go on record as saying that you should let ‘er rip every time you feel the need. But the gas that comprises your farts is as subject to the same laws of thermodynamics as anything else — like all matter and energy, it can’t be created or destroyed. It’s got to go somewhere.

Hold it in too long, and you could end up with some uncomfortable abdominal distension, which might contribute to a painful condition known as diverticulitis. The condition occurs when small bubbles or pouches form along the intestinal wall and become inflamed. It’s certainly not something you want to experience firsthand. However, the true causes of diverticulitis are hazy, so take that with a grain of salt. But besides that gas (possibly) secreting itself away in intestinal pockets, it also can be reabsorbed into your bloodstream, where it remains until its next chance to break free.

As for what’s next, well, you’re probably not going to like it. It has to do with methane. Despite the bad rap that methane gets for its role in our plumbing, it’s actually not the most prominent gas your personal exhaust vent lets loose. In fact, many people don’t produce methane at all. But among the 30 to 60 percent of people that do, it provides a powerful tool for tracking the path of errant farts. Since methane production is more of a side effect of digestion than anything else, it can really only come from one place in the body. And as it turns out, if you produce methane and you hold in your farts, you’ll just end up breathing it out your mouth and nose instead. That’s right — slam the door in a fart’s face, and it just takes the elevator up.

We’ll be honest: That’s probably more than we needed to know. But finding out that methane isn’t the source of fart smells has got us questioning everything else we assumed about the back-door symphony. Instead, it’s sulfur-containing gases like hydrogen sulfide that shoulder the blame for the smelliest poots. Your microbiome is largely responsible for the content of your farts, as it turns out, but their quantity is determined largely by your diet.

In one study, researchers found that both men and women produced a median of about 700 milliliters (about 3 cups) of gas per day. On the lower end of the scale were 476-milliliter farters (roughly 2 cups), while overachievers produced nearly 1500 milliliters of gas (6 cups) every day. When people went on a high-fiber diet, these numbers changed in some interesting ways. They would fart less, as a matter of fact, but produce more gas per fart, leaving the daily levels roughly the same.

At the end of the day, it might not be appropriate for polite company, but it’s probably better to give yourself some relief than walk around with extra baggage. Just do us all a favor and find a secluded place first.

Check out my related post: Do you need a travel break?

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