Finally, at the very end of one of the crappiest news weeks in recent memory, is a whiff of something good: Scientists may have finally figured out a way to solve the scourge that is fart smell. As New Scientist reported, a team of researchers led by Chu Yao, a gastroenterology researcher at Monash University in Australia, recently conducted a study to figure out what separates the harmless from the silent but deadly — not the highest thing on the problem list, all things considered, but a welcome development nonetheless.
A fart is made of two components, New Scientist explained: Odorless gases from the air we take in, and gases that form in the digestive system as our gut bacteria interact with digested food. Hydrogen sulphide, which falls into the latter category, is what causes that quintessential rotten-eggy fart odor. And according to Yao and her colleagues, who presented their research earlier this week at the Gastroenterological Society of Australia’s annual meeting, levels of hydrogen sulphide fluctuate dramatically depending on what you’ve had to eat:
Examining the faeces from seven healthy people, the team found that mixing it with cysteine – a major sulphur-containing component of meat, eggs, dairy and other types of protein – caused hydrogen sulphide emissions from gut bacteria to increase more than seven-fold.
But hydrogen sulphide production declined substantially when the team mixed the faeces with four slowly absorbed carbohydrates. These pass through the small intestine without being fully digested, and are then fermented by bacteria in the large intestine.
Two of these carbs – resistant starch, which is found in potatoes, bananas, legumes and cereals, and fructans, which are found in wheat, artichokes and asparagus – both reduced hydrogen sulphide production by about 75 per cent. These foods are highly fermentable, meaning they are preferentially broken down ahead of protein, Yao says. “The focus is taken away from the protein, so hydrogen sulphide is not produced.”
So, to sum up: If you’re dealing with a farting problem, all you have to do is ease up on the protein, load up on bananas, and be glad that amid the garbage fire that’s currently raging all around us, there’s still one thing you can do to make the world a little less noxious.