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Are Smelly Farts Ruining Your Self-Esteem?

Farting is normal and a sign of a healthy digestive system. But what if you’re passing gas too frequently and it smells bad?

Woman covers her nose with her fingers with an expression of smelling something bad while a young girl looks embarrassed about farting.

If there is one thing that we find funny regardless of where we come from, it would be fart jokes. And like laughter, it’s better to let a fart out than to keep it in. But some mysteries remain: Why are not all farts created equal, and why are some smellier than others? Is there something that can be done about smelly farts? 

We explore why this gassy situation happens and if there’s anything you can (and should) do about it. 

The Ins and Outs of Flatulence 

Did you know that not only are farts normal and healthy, but 99% of farts are also neither loud nor stinky? Flatulence is our body’s way of getting rid of excess gas in the digestive system. This excess gas comes from air that we swallow, or a by-product of the food digested in our gut.

So, what’s up with the 1% that makes you want to crawl into a hole and hide forever? Firstly, smelly farts don’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong. But if you’re curious as to the possible reasons they can be so stinky, here they are:  

Food 

As the old saying goes, you (and your fart) are what you eat

  • Fibre-rich foods: When your gut must work longer and harder to digest fibre-rich foods like beans, fermentation will take place. This releases smellier gas. 
  • High-sulphur foods: High-sulphur foods like cruciferous vegetables, meat, eggs, garlic, onion and cheese result in more hydrogen sulphide, a stinky gas. 
  • Undigestible food: Some processed foods like artificial sweeteners contain compounds that the gut can’t absorb. People with food intolerances produce more smelly gas when their system tries to digest the unfriendly substance.  

Medication 

Some drugs like antibiotics can throw off your gut balance, resulting in digestive issues with smelly gas. 

Constipation 

Backed-up waste in your plumbing can add a little extra “oomph” to gas that’s making its way out of your toot chute.

Man using fork and knife to cut into a steak on his plate which also has other cooked meats.
Meats are high-sulphur foods that give off smelly hydrogen sulphide gas when digested.

Illness 

Digestion-related conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) all suffer from gas. Though not always the case, passing smelly gas could also be a symptom of colorectal cancer

Gut flora 

It’s possible that your unique gut flora just happens to have bacteria that give off stronger-smelling gases than odourless ones.

Smelly No More? 

Is it possible to change the smell of your farts? Exciting preliminary research done at Monash University indicated that it may be possible to make your farts smell less stinky. The researchers found that slow-digesting resistant starches like potatoes and bananas can reduce hydrogen sulphide gas production by 75%.

But rather than focusing only on the smell, which in and of itself is not necessarily a sign of bad health, try a more holistic approach.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views excessive and smelly farts as indicative of a weak Spleen qi (vital life force). The Spleen is responsible for extracting the essence of foods you eat. It then transforms it into qi and blood that power your body’s engine. A compromised Spleen leads to sluggish digestion with symptoms of Dampness like bloating, nausea, diarrhoea, and stinky gas. 

Try these TCM remedies and see if things improve. 

Eat only cooked foods, avoid raw and cold foods 

Raw and cold foods as further weaken the Spleen. Digestion requires heat and warmth. On an impaired Spleen, cold foods are even more taxing. Instead, eat cooked, warm foods that are easy on the stomach like congee. A salad, although generally healthy, is not the best food choice in this case. 

Herbal therapy 

Dried costus root against a white background.
Mu xiang or costus root is a TCM herb known to strengthen Spleen qi to improve digestion and remove smelly farts.

Restore Spleen qi as well as replenish and mobilise qi along the Spleen-stomach meridians using herbs. Depending on the specific case and body constitution, your TCM physician may choose from the below herbs:  

Massage and acupoint therapy 

Think of your digestive system as an engine. When it’s not working optimally, it may need a little help to move the gears. Massages such as tuina can help “oil” the gears.

To get your qi going more and to help jumpstart your digestive system, try acupuncture. While waiting for your acupuncture appointment, massage the following points to help move things along: 

  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里)  
  • Nei guan (PC6, 内关)  
  • Gong sun (SP4, 公孙)

If everything else in your body is going well health-wise, your smelly farts aren’t anything to worry about. But if your embarrassing emissions are also accompanied by poor health, then TCM may have something to offer. In any case, if you consistently pass stinky gas and are worried about it, do get it checked to rule out any serious illness.

Have any other tips on getting rid of smelly farts? Tell us below! 

This is an adaptation of the article “什么我会放屁?“which first appeared on the Health123 website

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Why Do Farts Smell and What Does That Say About Your Health?. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023]  
  2. GoodRx Health. 2022. Common Causes of Stinky Farts. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023]  
  3. New Scientist. 2016. These are the foods you should eat if you want less smelly farts. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023]  
  4. Active Herb. 2021. Mu Xiang: This Legendary Herb Banishes Embarrassing Gas. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023] 
  5. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2020. Aucklandia costus (Syn. Saussurea costus): Ethnopharmacology of an endangered medicinal plant of the himalayan region. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023] 
  6. Me and Qi. Spleen Qi Deficiency. [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023] 
  7. My Rest. How Tui Na Massage Therapy Can Help With Irritable Bowel Syndrome [online] [Accessed 18 January 2023] 

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