Old folks tend to have the worst farts, according to Dr. Sarina Pasricha, a gastroenterologist. And there’s a method to their flatulence. As we age, our GI systems tend to slow down and become more prone to constipation; the medications and decreased physical activity slow digestion down further. The result of all that backed-up energy is doubly offensive gas — explaining why Grandpa’s farts ruin family functions.
“The longer poop stays in the colon, the more the gut bacteria ferment, resulting in gas,” Pasricha told Fatherly. But she clarifies that the epidemiological phenomenon of gnarly elder farts is mere conjecture. “There have been no studies to date that clearly show an increase in flatulence as people age,” she says.
The only research that attempted to rate how fart potency changes over time analyzed data from 16,537 participants as part of the National GI Survey. Participants reported bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and other Thanksgiving-ruining symptoms on a mobile app. Results revealed that, although increased age was correlated with increased GI ailments, there was no increase in flatulence. If anything, the survey results suggested that fart frequency declines with age.
But Pasricha has her doubts. The sample included only 296 people over the age of 65, and more dignified older folk were free to lie about their flatulence. And then there’s the biology itself. “As people age, their anal sphincter muscles weaken and they are less able to hold in their gas,” Pasricha says. Anatomically speaking, we would expect greater fart frequency and less ability to wait for an opportune moment.
Whether old people farts are a societal problem or not, there are ways to mitigate the situation. A low FODMAP diet or an elimination diet that is low in fermentable sugars and polyols should take the edge off, Pasricha says. Then there’s always over the counter medications that help reduce gas, and it’s important to consult with a doctor if symptoms of gassiness and bloating persist. They may be able to adjust some medications or tailor more specific medical recommendations on a case-by-case basis.
And it’s always possible the survey was correct. Perhaps old people farts aren’t really a problem. “We found that reported flatus events per day decreases as individuals age, even after adjusting for covariates,” the study authors write. “The term ‘old fart’ may be inaccurate. ‘Young fart’ seems more apt.”