This can be an uncomfortable topic, or sometimes a humorous one, so I’m just going to put it out there: farting stinks. We all hate to toot!

But what causes gas, bloating, distension, flatulence, and yes, smelly farts? Basically they all stem from some kind of indigestion.  And depending on what health tradition you ask, there are countless different reasons;  I’ll try to list as many of those from Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and modern health as I can, and then give some suggestions how to reduce the frequency or severity of this type of indigestion.

Long-term or chronic causes of gas

  • Build-up of toxins (ama) due to undigested foodstuffs or retained wastes
  • Poor digestive function (IBS, inadequate good-for-you gut bacteria, etc)
  • Severe, undiagnosed food allergies, or more commonly food intolerances
  • Celiac disease or gluten intolerance
  • Taken too many antibiotics
  • Decreased secretion of digestive enzymes
  • Decrease saliva production

Acute attacks of intestinal gas

Food causes

  • Eating beans and other foods that provoke gas
  • Improper food combining – this is largely person-by person trial and error. (Even I don’t understand all the proper dos and don’ts for combining foods, and to make matters worse, modern medicine, Ayurveda, and Chinese medicine don’t all agree)
  • Eating fruit at the end of the meal, which allows it to sit on top undigested, then ferment
  • Eating individually-specific trigger foods (prunes, cheese, dates, etc–find your own)
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Additives and preservatives (e.g. sulfur dioxide)

Other causes

  • Thinking too much while eating
  • Eating too fast
  • Swallowing ‘wind’ – sounds strange, but basically if you spend time eating, talking, or breathing heavily in a windy environment it gets inside causing gas
  • Eating again before the previous meal is digested
  • Irregular meal times and eating patterns
  • Inadequate chewing necessary to facilitate digestive process
  • Excessive drinking of liquids during or immediately after meals thus slowing digestion
  • Failing to pass urine or stools as natural urge arises

Finding relief from gas

Before it happens

  • Find your triggers.
    1. Track everything about eating and how you feel afterwards
      • Were you thinking too much? Did you feel stressed when you ate?
      • Did you eat very quickly?
      • Did you have fruit at the beginning or end of the meal?
      • What foods did you eat together?
      • Did you eat dairy, beans, wheat, gluten?
      • Read labels. Did anything contain preservatives like sulfur dioxide?
      • Were you actually hungry? Had everything digested from the previous meal?
      • Do you drink a lot of liquids with or immediately following a meal?
    2. Next, start cutting certain categories of foods or individual foods that you suspect to be causing issues. Keep recording.
    3. Perhaps you need to slow your breath and meditate before a meal to not bring stress, emotions, or thinking into your eating.
    4. Consider fewer meals/snacks per day to allow full and complete digestion along with regular meal times.
  • Clear out toxins, undigested foodstuffs, and retained wastes with an occasional purgative. A very mild purgative, Triphala powder, can be taken in a 3g dose once daily. A stronger purgative such as avipathi powder can be taken weekly. Another option is a colonic, followed by probiotic.
  • Replace good gut bacteria with bacteria-rich yogurt or fermented food (kimchee) or a probiotic-prebiotic formula.
  • Use Beano or asafoetida powder to reduce flatulence caused by beans or lentils.

If you already have gas

Once you already have gas, there is very little you can actively do to make it just go away.  The best you can hope for is to pass gas and get rid of it as quickly as possible.

  • Certain massage techniques may help to pass the gas faster
  • Yoga poses such as vajrasana can relieve indigestion and others help to break wind sooner to eliminate the bloating and distension


This is certainly an issue I’ve struggled with and I’m always surprised, yet somehow strangely relieved, to find so many other people do too.

And the amazing thing is, once you’ve found and corrected all of your bad eating habits, you no longer have to suffer abdominal distension, bloating, gas, flatulence, or otherwise suffer the embarrassment of a public toot. It actually is possible.

Image by Flickr user FBellon