“What comes out of the backside only tells us about the last 20cm of the gut,” says Peter Gibson at Monash University in Victoria, Australia. Gibson wants to know what’s happening in the previous 130cm of the digestive tract, leading up to that final explosion.
Digestion depends on the subtle interactions between your genes, diet, metabolism, and the myriad micro-organisms inhabiting your body, each of which may leave its signature in gaseous by-products. A noticeable change in your farts’ peculiar recipe might therefore be a sign of serious diseases affecting any part of that process.”
The team at Monash are working on a way to analyze the gas in your body. (They have come up with these Intestinal Gas Capsules which they’ve been beta-testing on pigs. I wonder how that smelled?!) Apparently we know very little about what makes gas. Starches and sugars are assumed to ferment and make hydrogen and methane. (Excess methane can mess with your bowel movements.) But basically much of what is accepted wisdom has yet to be definitely proven.
Hydrogen sulphide, meanwhile, is the chemical that gives our farts that full-bodied odour of rotten eggs. Besides the discomfort it may cause in confined spaces, chronically high levels of the gas may be the sign of a damaged gut lining, inflammatory bowel disease or even colon cancer. “It’s one example of a gas that could be incredibly instructive,” says Gibson.
So that’s why we need to measure and study farts. It’s a job Professor Gibson is welcome to!