Did you hear the recent news about dinosaur flatulence and global warming? In a journal article British scientists speculate that herbivorous sauropods produced such large amounts of methane gas that the earth’s climate was affected, which eventually led to the demise of said dinosaurs. (Today, livestock are responsible for about one fifth of the world’s methane emissions.)
This revelation led to several discussions among friends about human “emissions,” that often deteriorated into accusations and teasing about particular dietary habits, which we will not rehash here. However, this did get us thinking about our own natural gasses in the same way children are often curious about everything from the mundane to the sublime. (Several of our friends have a special affection for the various series of children’s books that attempt to answer sometimes-embarrassing questions about bodily functions.)
So we decided to jump right in to the delicate subject of farting…
The gas in our intestines comes from several sources: air we swallow, gases from our blood, chemical reactions, and bacteria living in the intestines.
Most of the air we swallow, especially the oxygen component, is absorbed by the body before the gas gets into the intestines. By the time the air reaches the large intestine, most of what is left is nitrogen. Chemical reactions between stomach acid and intestinal fluids may produce carbon dioxide, which is also a component of air and a product of bacterial action. Bacteria also produce hydrogen and methane.
The proportions of these gases we release depend on what we’ve eaten, how much air we swallowed, what kinds of bacteria we have in our intestines, and how long we hold in the gas. The longer we hold it in, the larger the proportion of nitrogen, because the other gases get absorbed into the bloodstream through the walls of the intestine.
The good news is that, apparently, most of us do not emit methane. However, if both parents are methane producers, their children have a 95% chance of being producers as well – whether this is purely genetic or due to environmental factors is still uncertain. All methane comes from bacterial action and not from human cells.
Perhaps we will revisit this topic another day to talk about what sorts of foods are most likely to cause you to fart more… perhaps…
We leave you with this incredible sculpture by Chinese artist Chen Wenling, “What You See Might Not Be Real.”
For much more information about farts than you ever wanted to know, you can go to any number of medical sites (such as the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel and AskMen), or check out such sites as Heptune or that perennial favourite PoopReport.