An Australian professor claims a fart that wants to escape rectally may find another way if tempted.
Clare Collins, a professor in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle states that if a fart is not expelled, some air may get reabsorbed by the body and exhaled through the mouth. But more commonly it will come out as an uncontrollable fart.
In an article published in The Conversation, she states:
A buildup of intestinal gas can trigger abdominal distension, with some gas reabsorbed into the circulation and exhaled in your breath. Holding on too long means the buildup of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart.
She and her collegues studied how baked beans and psyllium increased gas quantity. She urges to “let it go”, rather than holding it in.
Holding in a fart can be dangerous
In 2013 Dr. Pommergaard and Rosenberg et al published a report encouraging to “let it go” when it comes to flatus on an airplane. At high altitudes, i.e. on an airplane, air expands. Hence gastrointestinal symptoms could be exacerbated by the intestinal distention. These include:
- Abdominal pain
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
to name a few… The authors write:
Furthermore the ability to restrain a fart may be impaired by flatus incontinence or falling asleep on the airplane. Persons susceptible to such flatus incontinence may be especially vulnerable to the effect of air holes, turbulence, coughing and sneezing.
On a more serious note, the physiological responses to distended intestine are elevated blood pressure and pulse, and reduced oxygenation of the blood, which can be serious for people already at risk for cardiovascular complications. Furthermore, flatus retention has been suggested as a major factor in the origin of sigmoid diverticular disease.
However, what hasn’t been documented is bowel perforation from holding in gas. Bowel perforations occur from ulcerations that eat through the lining of the intestine and trauma to the wall. A direct link to holding gas in has not been documented I believe with any case of bowel perforation.
A sneeze has force and speed that increases the air pressure. Holding in gas that is not being expelled has significantly less pressure and therefore would be unlikely to directly lacerate tissue.
What about sitting on your farts?
Some will try to lessen the sound of the fart by expelling the gas while seated firmly. So in this instance, air pressure in increased because the fart is being expelled by sphincter muscles and air is trapped between the anus and the chair. This may cause damage and some back pressure, but would occur at the level of the rectum and anus and most likely spare the large intestine from injury.
What’s in a fart?
Flatus, or flatulence, is commonly called a “fart”. Flatus is made up of multiple gases obtained from swallowing and produced by the microbes lining the intestine. These include hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane.
Flatus odor, however, is caused from minor sulfur gas components including hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide and others.
IMAGE FROM PHYSICS STACK EXCHANGE
Can farts make you sick?
Studies have found that bacteria passed from flatus will grow on a petrie dish but that clothes provide a filter. Reports of pink eye being obtained from a pillow case soiled in flatus are anecdotal.
However, nausea and headaches can happen. The hydrogen sulfide, depending on the dose, can cause headaches, nausea, skin and eye irritation. In toxic doses, hydrogen sulfide (which has the characteristic rotten egg odor) can cause convulsions, delirium and death. But hydrogen sulfide comprises such a minute amount in flatus that no one would become that ill by smelling it.
Can farts be beneficial?
For the farter, yes. It assists in movement of the stool and passing it can help prevent bloating and constipation. However for the recipient of the smell, it may be beneficial too.
In 2014, a study from Exeter University, found the hydrogen sulfide in gas to HELP cells recover from mitochondrial damage, allowing their energy powerhouses to continue working. Researchers believe this could help repair the damage in heart disease, stroke, dementia and many other diseases.
In summary, holding in farts, or burps for that matter, may cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms but in theory should not cause serious injury to the intestines by means of perforation. Keep in mind, however, that you only have so much control. The air will need to escape somehow, so the next sneeze, cough or laugh during a board meeting or date may be your gas’s only time to escape.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.
She is also a Board Certified Family Physician and Assistant Professor at Touro University Nevada