Farts aren't known for smelling like a walk through a blooming meadow on a perfect spring's day. When you let one rip, you kind of brace yourself for the bad stench. But what if your farts smell so bad? We're talking clear-the-room bad.
If you're not exactly excited to bring up the topic with your doctor, we don't blame you. That's why we asked a gastroenterologist to explain what's really going on and when you should seek help for those putrid toots.
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1. It’s Something You Ate
This is perhaps the biggest offender.
"The odor of flatulence is due to the breakdown of food in the digestive system," Maia Kayal, MD, assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Certain foods take longer to be broken down, such as high-fiber foods, so the smell of flatulence might be worse," she explains.
The stank farts might be from that pile of broccoli you downed tonight thanks to that resolution to eat more fiber. Foods that have more sulfur — onion, garlic, kale, cabbage, broccoli — contribute to "rotten egg" farts, Dr. Kayal says.
You don't necessarily want to avoid these foods, though. High-fiber cruciferous vegetables like broccoli have been found in research to reduce the risk of diseases like cancer, per the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Conversely, a high-protein, low-carb diet leads to excess protein fermentation that can also cause awful smelling gas, suggests a January 2016 review in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.
And, lastly, there's also some evidence that fart aroma is stronger in beer drinkers, particularly in people assigned male at birth, so a change in cocktail choice may be in order.
2. You’re Constipated
When was the last time you went number two? Constipation is defined as pooping fewer than three times per week, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
"Constipation may also cause bad-smelling flatulence, as stool builds up in the colon and breaks down further," Dr. Kayal says.
The longer it sits, the smellier it gets.
3. You Have a Food Intolerance
"Particularly awful-smelling flatulence may be an indication of malabsorption that can occur with lactose or gluten intolerance," Dr. Kayal says.
Lactose intolerance means your small intestine does not produce adequate amounts of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products, notes the NIDDK.
Gluten intolerance is when your body has trouble digesting gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
That said, smelly farts won't be your only problem if they're caused by gluten or milk.
"These conditions typically have additional symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea," Dr. Kayal says.
If along with the gagging gas you experience bloating, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or vomiting after eating dairy foods (milk, ice cream), talk to your doctor about possible lactose intolerance.
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, as well as non-GI symptoms like headache, joint pain, fatigue and anemia, according to Beyond Celiac.
How to Stop Smelly Farts
1. Tweak Your Diet
First, determine what might be going on. The most likely culprit is your diet. For instance, if one of your get-healthy goals is to eat more fiber, ramp up fiber intake slowly over time. If you're on a high-protein diet, then consider how you can include more fiber-rich foods while still sticking to your macronutrient aims.
2. Assess Your Other Symptoms
If your problem is more than odorous farts and involves other symptoms like bloating, pain or changes in bowel habits, talk to your doctor about a possible intolerance.
3. Keep Things Moving
If you're backed up, treatment for constipation includes eating 25 to 31 grams of fiber per day in whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and nuts; drinking plenty of water throughout the day; and avoiding low-fiber fare such as chips, fast food, meat and processed foods, per the NIDDK.
4. Consider Swapping Your Undies
Should smelly farts be a common problem for you, odor-neutralizing underwear (yep, fart-filtering undergarments exist!) such as the brand Shreddies can help stop the smelly gas from filling the room.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Definition & Facts for Constipation”
- American Institute for Cancer Research: “Broccoli and Cruciferous Vegetables: Reduce Overall Cancer Risk”
- Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics: “Review article: insights into colonic protein fermentation, its modulation and potential health implications”
- European Journal of Surgery: “Flatus emission patterns and fibre intake”
- Beyond Celiac: “Symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.