Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars states that Claudius intended to pass a law "'allowing to all people the liberty of giving vent at table to any distention occasioned by flatulence,' upon hearing of a person whose modesty, when under restraint, had nearly cost him his life."
Modern day medicine says such modesty isn't exactly life-threatening—but most experts do agree that letting loose is usually your healthiest option.
We all pass gas, says gastroenterologist Dr. Patricia Raymond, up to 14 times and up to two liters a day. And tooting your own horn can, in fact, be a sign of health. "All the healthiest foods produce gas, especially the cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage. If you're going to be healthy, you're going to be gassy."
When you feel one coming on, assuming you're not alone and in close quarters with your boss, the best thing to do is to trust your body. "Most people can tell with a very good degree of certainty whether what is distending is a solid, a liquid or a gas," says Raymond. "Once you know what's coming, just relax your sphincter and let it go on out of there."
Holding it in once and a while isn't harmful, she adds, but you likely won't be very successful. "Think about how you tighten your lips up when you want to whistle. If you tighten up and try to prevent flatus from happening, you're only going to create more noise when it eventually does slip out." Plus, keeping it bottled up too long may result in uncomfortable bloating and stomach cramping.
Bottom line: We wouldn't advise going all out at the dinner table, but it's generally best to let nature take its course. "Relax and let it go," says Raymond. "With any luck, no one will notice—or you can just look at the dog."