Being Gassy Can Actually Be A Good Thing, Says This MD — Here's Why
For most of your life, you've likely gone to great lengths to try to avoid gas or have been red-faced at its presence. Perhaps you've even suffered at times with a painful buildup of gas, a common symptom of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). But the bad rap intestinal gases have gotten in our culture is not fully deserved.
Why intestinal gas can be good for you.
When produced in the right amounts, new research shows that postbiotic gases play several important roles in the body, including acting as a second set of powerful signaling agents, similar to short-chain fatty acids. In this way, postbiotic gases invisibly influence infinite amounts of your bodily functions including your inflammation levels, brain clarity, and mitochondrial energy production.
And though they're considered rude to discuss in polite company, the gasotransmitters are possibly even more critical to your energy than the short-chain fatty acids. So, let's air this out, shall we?
Intestinal gas 101
The most abundant intestinal gases in the human body are nitrogen and carbon dioxide. They primarily originate from inhaled air that you swallowed, so most of us who suffer from "gas and bloating" are actually air swallowers from talking and breathing.
However, some gases are produced by bacterial fermentation, like hydrogen, methane, and hydrogen sulfide, as well as the aforementioned CO2. These have only very recently joined the league of gasotransmitters led by nitric oxide—the first gasotransmitter "discovered" to be not just a vasodilator but also a signaling molecule used by the microbiome to influence a wide array of bodily functions. This breakthrough discovery garnered a Nobel Prize in 1998. Whoever thought that your gas could be worthy of a Nobel Prize?
OK, so you make some gas, you pass an embarrassing fart that smells like rotten eggs (that's hydrogen sulfide), you play the old Boy Scout trick of lighting it with a BIC lighter (that's hydrogen gas; think Hindenburg, highly flammable), or you contribute to greenhouse gases like the cows (that's methane gas).
No big deal, you might think; that's just the cost of doing digestion. Except these biome-generated gases, which it turns out are all constantly sending signals to the cells in your body, are a really big deal.
For example, not only did nitric oxide signaling function get recognized with a Nobel, it actually got an even bigger accolade in 2019, when researchers declared it to be a hitherto unrecognized sophisticated system that "communicates with and controls the host's DNA like a chemical language instead of single words." How's that for impressive?
And methane, which has possibly the worst rap of all gases for its negative effects on climate, is both crucial for proper mitochondrial function and an important modulator of inflammation.
The gasotransmitters produced in your gut play an incredibly important role in your inner ecosystem as they serve as the primary language of "transkingdom" or interspecies communication: In other words, the cross-talk or operating system between the bacteria in your microbiome and your body's cells.