Your abdomen seems to expand and starts to rumble ominously.
You feel it coming on, and if you’re not alone, are afraid of the telltale sound and smell if the little “devil” breaks out.
A soundless escape hardly helps, because “silent, but deadly” is obviously bad too – although it may offer a chance at plausible deniability.
People in most cultures are embarrassed if they happen to fart in public.
Nevertheless, doctors say you shouldn’t try to suppress the expulsion of intestinal gas, which could be painful.
Instead, you should release it discreetly at an unnoticed moment and at a distance from other people.
To reduce the risk of finding yourself in this situation, you could make changes to your diet.
This is easier said than done though, because healthy foods are unfortunately the ones most likely to cause flatulence – the medical term for breaking wind.
But there are things worth trying and experts have some tips on reducing these noxious emissions.
First, an explanation of how flatulence occurs.
“Feeling bloated is due partly to gas in your gut, but also increased intestinal content,” says Dr Viola Andresen of the German Society of Gastroenterology (DGVS).
Gas is produced when bacteria in the colon metabolise fibre in food.
Some of the gas is broken down by the bacteria, some enters the bloodstream and is eventually exhaled, and the rest is passed rectally.
Flatulence is ordinarily no cause for concern, according to Dr Andresen.
“It’s usually part of normal digestion,” she says.
But she adds: “If flatulence is new to you or puts you under heavy stress, you should have it checked out.”
There are various possible causes.
Often the culprit is gas-producing food you’ve eaten.
Some people have trouble digesting lactose and/or fructose, for example.
Or a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth could be to blame.
Or you may have eaten too fast and swallowed a lot of air.
While gas is mostly caused by the metabolization of dietary fibre, that’s no reason to avoid fibre as it’s very important for healthy digestion and protects against many diseases, notes dietician Gabriela Freitag-Ziegler of the Berlin-based Professional Dietetics Association (VDOE).
“Alliums (e.g. onions, garlic, leeks), cabbage, legumes, wholemeal bread, and some kinds of fruits and vegetables, in particular, cause flatulence in some people,” she says.
Her tip: Cooked fruits and vegetables are generally more easily digestible than raw ones.
You can also gradually accustom yourself to high-fibre foods by sampling them in small portions to see, for instance, whether cabbage or lentils agree with you, she advises.
If this doesn’t help, you should replace individual foods rather than cutting out entire food groups.
“Not all cabbage is the same,” the dietician says, and suggests you try hispi (pointed) cabbage if white cabbage doesn’t agree with you.
“It’s softer and more easily digestible for many people.”
There are big differences among lentils as well.
She points out: “Small lentils, such as the red ones, are often more easily digestible.”
Herbs and spices can also help reduce the production of pesky intestinal gas, especially caraway, fennel and aniseed.
“But also, fresh basil, dill and thyme add flavour, as well as soothe your stomach,” says Freitag-Ziegler.
Although a lot of people steer clear of wholemeal bread because it makes them gassy, it deserves a second chance.
“There are many varieties, and they’re worth sampling,” she says.
Her tip: “Wholemeal breads from finely ground wholemeal flour are more easily digestible.”
But what’s most important is the way the bread is made, she adds.
Hard-to-digest substances in the dough are broken down when it’s allowed to rise and rest for long periods of time.
And exercise – as it does with many physical complaints – is also helpful in combating flatulence.
“It stimulates the intestines and gas is transported better,” remarks Dr Andresen.
When gas “gets stuck”, she says, you don’t break wind – you might well experience abdominal pain though. – dpa