New research released this weekend might comfort or unnerve you, depending on your perspective. An international survey of thousands suggests that just about everyone often feels gassy, with farting being the most common symptom experienced daily. The findings also indicate that these symptoms can affect people’s quality of life the more frequently they happen.
The survey was conducted by researchers from the Rome Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit research organization focused on gastrointestinal health. France’s Danone Nutricia Research, an offshoot of the Danone food company, funded the study and collaborated with the researchers on the study’s design (in the U.S., Danone sells yogurt and other dairy products under the Dannon brand).
Nearly 6,000 adults in the U.S., UK, and Mexico were recruited online to answer various questions about their health, including whether they had experienced up to seven gas-related symptoms recently. These symptoms included bloating, abdominal distention (a swollen belly), flatulence, and bad breath. Those surveyed were meant to be representative of the general population.
Eighty-one percent said they had experienced flatulence in the past 24 hours, while 60% said they had a rumbling stomach, and 58% had belched. The least common symptom—bloating—was still reported by 38% of participants. Ultimately, only 11% reported not experiencing any gas-related symptoms the day before. The findings were presented Saturday at the annual conference of the United European Gastroenterology.
“I think there are two most notable findings from our research. The first is the extremely high prevalence of gas-related symptoms in adults we found in the general population of the three countries we surveyed. Almost all adults experience some gas-related symptoms on a daily basis,” lead author Olafur Palsson, a clinical psychologist and health researcher from the University of North Carolina Department of Medicine, told Gizmodo in an email. “The second is the fact that even though gas-related symptoms like stomach-rumbling and belching are often seen as benign and get little attention in medical research, our results show that they clearly have a negative effects on people’s physical and emotional well-being.”
Those who reported a higher score on the questionnaire used to measure gas-related symptoms also tended to have worse scores on questionnaires asking about their mental health or overall quality of life. And while these are only correlations, it does suggest that having more of these symptoms at once can negatively affect people, the authors say.
Interestingly enough, those under the age of 50 reported higher amounts of gas-related symptoms than did older people. Those in Mexico similarly had higher gas scores than those in the UK and U.S. But there was no significant difference in how gassy people felt when it came to their body mass index or weight. Meanwhile, those who reported exercising regularly were slightly less likely to experience gassiness.
Whether any of these patterns show something about people’s vulnerability to gas is still unclear and has to be studied further, the authors say, especially the differences seen across different countries. But Palsson does note that the health of the gut microbiome—the essential community of bacteria that lives along our digestive tract—can affect our risk of certain gas-related symptoms, as could other factors like our diet. His team is now working on analysing data from a smaller but more detailed group of participants from the study to better quantify the influence of diet.
The results have not been peer-reviewed, an important step for validating any research’s conclusions. But Palsson says that they do plan to submit their findings to a journal in the near future. Other studies have also found that having an uneasy tummy is a common price of being alive. A 2018 survey of 71,000 people, for instance, suggested that at least 61% of Americans had recently experienced one gastrointestinal symptom. Notably though, flatulence was not one of the symptoms asked about in that survey, and the most commonly reported complaint (31%) was instead heartburn.
While there are many available remedies for gas-related symptoms, from over-the-counter medications to pre- or probiotics, Palsson notes that they aren’t always as effective as people would want. He argues that some of this gap can be chalked up to the way we treat these symptoms as individual health problems.
“Greater understanding of the inter-relationship between the many different gas-related symptoms, such as the seven different ones we studied, and examination of what influences the overall burden of them, rather than the amount of just one or another of them, is likely to lead to improved understanding of the contributing factors, and hopefully more effective ways to reduce these highly prevalent and troublesome symptoms,” he said.
This article has been updated with comments from study author Olafur Palsson.