Telltale smells of digestion revealed


Recently, police in Missouri were able to apprehend a suspect with just a whiff. With the aid of their police dog, a drug dealer hiding in a wooded area was apprehended after the sound and smell of a fart gave him away. It is no laughing matter, but once they had the criminal in the backseat of the patrol car, I’m sure they howled all the way to the station with the windows rolled down.

Passing gas is a completely natural bodily function. It is a vital action of digestion. Some foods produce more odiferous by-products than others. This gas production is different for each person, just as a fingerprint or the shape of an ear.

As people eat, they also swallow air which is made up of nitrogen and oxygen. These compounds travel through the GI tack while food is digested. They mix with hydrogen and carbon dioxide, as well as hydrogen sulfide, methane and ammonia. These compounds combined can produce a powerful output of sound and smell.

Nervous people and public speakers tend to swallow more air and thus the notion that politicians are full of hot air could actually be a physiological fact. Carbonated drinks can also increase the amount of air in the gut. Often people belch after a beverage, but the excess gas travels to the other end of the gastrointestinal system.

Holding any type of natural bodily reaction is not always the most comfortable thing to do. The feeling of bloating can indicate a buildup of gas that needs to be released. If held in the colon too long, a blast of noxious fumes could erupt depending upon the muscle strength holding it in. Relief occurs immediately.

Medical scientists have recently discovered that the most offensive gas of digestive byproducts is hydrogen sulfide, rotten egg smell. Breathing in this odor has been linked to health benefits. Studies propose that when this sickening smell is breathed, cell damage can be prevented, and even possibly prevent heart attack and stroke. This gives a new meaning to the adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Everyone alive has healthy microbes in their gut which aid digestion. It just so happens that the foods that keep those good bugs the healthiest are the ones that produce more gas. Fiber foods, such as beans and lentils, broccoli, cabbage and kale improve our digestive functions.

The specific odor often indicates the recent foods consumed, but strange smells can actually help predict health issues in some cases. Extreme odors, pains when passing gas and an increasing frequency may help diagnose anything from food intolerance to colon cancer.

The passing of gas varies with lifestyle changes. Exercise jostles the intestines, moving gas through quickly. Sitting more than four hours a day slows the movement of gas and can cause pain or bloating. Excess flatulence after eating dairy products may mean a difficulty with digesting lactose. Constipation and diarrhea will change usual gas production. Fried foods, beans and onions are usually gas producers. Farting is normal and natural.


Bobbie Randall

Contributing columnist

Bobbie Randall is a registered, licensed dietitian, certified diabetes educator in Wooster, Ohio. Contact her at [email protected].

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