I freely and openly admit to my fascination with the natural sounds that emanate from our body cavities. Have those sounds erupt in the sanctity of worship, clutch of intimacy, or other "inappropriate" occasions, and I erupt in laughter.
And the smell - What can you say to those of us who work in bib overalls? One of my earliest childhood memories of laughter and pain was the result of accepting a challenge from my cousin and slipping a loaded Whoopee Cushion beneath my descending grandmother at Thanksgiving dinner. And in some locker room we used a match to ignite the released gas and the place exploded in howls of laughter and disbelief (an early science experiment).
"Passing gas," "Bronx cheer," "breaking wind," whatever your vocabulary, the "fart" or "flatulence" is a common denominator for those of us who eat garlic (Membership Survey, Garlic Press #19 - Question: "Does garlic make you fart?" Yes: 87%) To some, this phenomenon has become an evil affliction and medical literature advises doctors that in some cases, particularly gaseous individuals should refrain from jobs associated with electrical sparks where chance of explosion could be a risk factor.
Until recently, very little research was done on the subject as there were few methods of study. The volume, composition, and frequency are all in some way related to our age, diet, heredity, air swallowing, stress, antibiotics and colonic fermentation. The 30% of us who produce excess internal methane generated by colonic bacteria have a higher frequency rate, which is probably genetic and seldom occurs in any child less than 2. Five odorless gasses comprise the majority of the volume of any fart: nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane. The odor of the flatus that we so readily recognize is imparted by: skatole, hydrogen sulfide, volatile amines, indole, and short-changed fatty acids; compounds detectable to the human nose in concentrations of one part per 100 million!
What makes us fart? Well, diet is an important factor. Certain foods in certain people become explosive. The formulation in the colon of indigestible materials (i.e. cellulose and fats) creates excessive amounts of hydrogen and its passage. Air swallowing from chewing gum, dentures, stress, irregular breathing, and mastication (chewing mechanics) increases gastrointestinal air volume. There is also some gas diffusion from our tissues and bloodstream into our bowel, but this is not of consequence to most of us living below 35,000 feet. I can report that this is a BIG problem for the astronauts, and in 1985, France and the Soviet Union held high-level diplomatic talks on this matter during a joint space venture.
What is the mechanism of internal gas production? The excessive volume of gas (from above) changes the internal pressure, which, in turn, prolongs the transit time through the system or refluxing of gas from the small intestine back to the stomach. The partial digestion of foods and the remaining material's interaction with our internal flora create the remaining gas volume. "Floating Stools" are considered a sign of excess internal gas.
If you want to do something about it, the big issue is diet, or as the research puts it: Avoid flatulogenic foods! It's the greatest factor, and there are universally recognized items: Milk and milk products, onions and garlic, beans, carrots, garlic, prune juice, celery, raisins, bananas, garlic, apricots, pretzels, wheat germ, bagels, cabbage family veggies, and garlic. In beans, it's the cellulose of the skin (try digesting sawdust). In milk it can indicate some lactose deficiency. You will fart less if you identify these foods in your diet and remove them. If you want to keep your diet, try adding: antibiotics or biotics (like Been-o), some will work while others won't; simethicones reduce the surface tension on gas bubbles (defoamers) increasing absorption rates and very successfully (76% in early studies); anticholinergics decrease intracolonic and rectal pressures, which allows the material to pass through our system at a normal rate; charcoal has been used since 1830 to absorb and bind up excess gas due to its enormous surface area. Lastly, if you are stressed-out or taking the related medication, both work against you, because one increases the speed of digestion and the other inhibits it.
This isn't all I learned in my quest, however. Nope, there's a whole other side of this issue. Madline Shueller was a society matron and banker's wife in England, and during the course of a fancy party of dignitaries, while Madam Madline was introducing guests, she introduced "a very loud, very unmistakable sound! Everybody tried to ignore it, but there was just no way - and God help us, some of us just had to laugh." Ms. Shueller returned home and ended her life. But on a happier note, there is Joseph Pujol, a French baker and musical performer, who worked at the Moulin Rouge in Paris from 1892-1914. Pujol went by the name "Le Petomane," the Man of a Thousand Farts," and learned at a young age that he had the muscle coordination to bring air into his rectum. Once inside, he learned to modulate the exhaled sound from the almost inaudible to the sharpest and most prolonged. Odorless! This led to his career on the stage impersonating the farts of famous people and musically with the aid of a tube and tin whistle ... a veritable fart fantasia.
I conclude my report with some interesting observations from Flatulograms (graphed statistics from population studies): We don't fart very much when we sleep - almost never between 3:00-8:00 a.m. We fart most between 9:00-10:30 a.m. and 3:00-7:00 p.m. We average 14 farts per day, with the volume between 400-1600 ml (each). In my next paper, I shall calculate the contribution of methane gas production (25% of each fart) by humans to the issue of global warming.
By David Stern
[The opinions and assertions contained herein are the private view of the author and are not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the GSF. Thanks to Fred, Sandy, Anny, Miranda and Davis.]