Flatulence is a hilarious, sometimes stinky, but always inevitable part of being human. For centuries (most of us) have done all we can to make the passing of gas a private affair, but new research out of the Mayo Clinic suggests it’s time to stop being ashamed. Farting could actually be an indicator of a happy, healthy gut–something to be proud of in today’s messed up food system!
In recent years, science has become more aware of how intimately our overall well-being is connected to the health of the millions of microscopic critters that live in our gastrointestinal system. “This live-in colony of microbes, which together can weigh several pounds and consist of hundreds of individual species, is a digestion powerhouse, breaking food down into useful and nutritious components for us and for the microbes,” explains TIME.
These beneficial bacteria are the real-world version of Star Wars’ midi-chlorian: when they’re unhappy, there is most definitely a disturbance in the force. Unhealthy (or too few) gut bacteria can affect brain function, mental health and digestive efficacy. Likewise healthy gut flora deliver a wealth of benefits, like reduced risk of obesity and diabetes.
For a long time, passing gas was linked to unhappy gut flora, but a study by Purna Kashyap, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, suggests that in some instances, farting may simply be a sign that our gut microbes have lots to eat.
Gut microbes “eat up unused food in your large intestine, like fiber and other carbohydrates we don’t digest,” reports NPR. “They also produce a slew of molecules (called short chain fatty acids) that may promote the growth of other beneficial bacteria and archaea.” In the process, they produce a bunch of gases as waste, just like a tractor trailer produces exhaust. This gas has to go somewhere, so when enough of it builds up in our gut, we produce a toot or two.
Here’s the catch: flatulence can also be a symptom of a gut that’s out of balance. So how can we know whether our last fart was the work of happy gut flora or a sign that our colon critters are struggling? The key, says Kashyap, is in the scent.
In most cases, the gas produced by healthy microbes is odorless, made up of carbon dioxide, hydrogen or methane. However, if you eat a lot of broccoli, mustard or veggies from the cabbage family, some sulfurous gas is likely to be mixed in–which is still a good thing because these vegetables have their own health benefits.
Ultimately, farting is almost always a good thing unless gas build up becomes painful or you’re farting so many times a day it disrupts your life. So instead of begging excuses next time you toot in public, give your healthy gut microbes a round of applause.