We hate to break it to you, but gas is just a fact of life—sure, it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it happens to the best of us. But if you’re dealing with more frequent gas than usual, your body might be trying to send you some hints about how it’s functioning. Read on to see if one of these culprits is behind your sudden stinkiness.
Your bacteria is out of whack
“Bacteria ferments food that we’ve eaten,” explains Rebekah Gross, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. “That can happen down in the colon, but some colon bacteria can make its way into the small intestine.” This is called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. That bacteria then encounters food before it’s done digesting, and it all ferments together, leading to gas. If gas is being produced in the small intestine and colon, it tends to move down through the system and come out as flatulence,” says Gross. You could also have a bacterial imbalance in your gut, especially if you’ve recently had some sort of illness. “A lot of people who have the stomach flu or an infection clear it out, but then have a change in composition of flora in the gut and may have more gas than usual for a while,” says Gross.
If you have a bacterial imbalance, Gross says certain antibiotics, as well as diet low in fermentable carbohydrates, may help. This is known as a low-FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet. FODMAPs are found in stone fruits like avocados, cherries, and plums; legumes like beans, lentils, and soybeans; and wheat, onions, and garlic, among others. Since they can cause bloating and gas, avoiding these foods can help keep your G.I. tract in better shape.
You’re eating on the run
If you’re eating really quickly, eating while chatting in an attempt to multitask, or even chewing gum, you’re probably swallowing a lot of air. “Air is made up of gas,” says Gross. “When you’re taking in a lot of gas, you’re going to produce more gas.” Think of it as blowing up a balloon: the more air you pump into your system, the more inflated your stomach will get. The gas has to come out somehow, and it’ll probably be as a burp. “Burping is often more related to swallowing air because the stomach is higher up in the system,” says Gross.
You’re all about dairy
Even if you’ve always been able to handle milk and milk products, that can change as you get older. “Your system can diminish the amount of the lactate enzyme available to digest milk over the course of time,” says Gross. “It might become less comfortable for you to process.” If you notice an upset stomach every time you polish off a wedge of cheese, there’s an easy way to test whether dairy is really your issue. “Sometimes the best thing to do is just strictly eliminate all dairy from your diet for even just a few days and see if it makes you feel more comfortable,” says Gross. Your doctor can also test for it, but if you get gassy every time you take in dairy, that’s probably enough confirmation, says Gross.
You have gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease
If your body is having trouble breaking down certain foods, it’ll let you know via gas. “There can be real malabsorption problems that happen with celiac or other autoimmune disorders when people’s bodies don’t react well to gluten and start breaking down the lining of the small intestine,” says Gross. If you recognize these signs of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, head to the doctor for a formal diagnosis.
Your hormones are changing
When you’re going through menopause or have a condition that’s throwing your hormones off, your body might amp things up on the gas front. “It’s not clear whether estrogen or progesterone are predominantly responsible for it, but a lot of women whose hormones are changing feel like they’re not moving their bowels as they did when they were younger,” says Gross. No matter what the underlying cause of gas is, exercise can be helpful, as can keeping bowel movements regular and taking probiotics, says Gross. Not being able to poop can also translate into gas. Which leads us to…
As if being clogged up weren’t annoying (and painful!) enough, it can turn you into a farting machine. “When stool isn’t moving, people often feel like they make more gas—and more noxious smelling gas—than they did before,” says Gross. That’s because the poop is mainly made up of bacteria, so you have more of it just sitting around in your system, fermenting and releasing fumes out into the world. If you’re constipated, make sure to drink a ton of water, exercise, and include good sources of fiber in your diet, says Gross.
Your body’s just more sensitive to gas
“Some people are very sensitive to normal amounts of gas they produce,” says Gross. While you might not necessarily make more gas than someone else, you could experience more irritation as a result of symptoms like bloating, sharp gas pains, and flatulence. If that’s true, you could be somewhere on the irritable bowel spectrum, says Gross. If you suspect that may be the case, your doctor can help you come up with a plan to relieve your symptoms as much as possible.