Friday, March 19, 2010

What's That Smell?: This Post Is All About Farts

Did you know no two farts smell the same? Well, Dr. Lester Gottesman, a proctologist from St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in NYC, gave an interesting interview to the folks over at Vice Magazine and we learned a few things: Like, gas is in your system for about 30 hours before it's expelled through the anus! And when you came out of your mother's cat trap, she covered you in her nasty bacteria that you'll never get rid of.

Read and learn, kids.

What’s up with the wide variety of noises farts make? Why do some come out as squeakers and others like a diesel truck going up a mountain?
The kinds of flatulence are directly related to the amount of swallowed air and the ability of the intestine to degrade food stuff to gas. It also has to do with the shape of the sphincter when the gas is released. If the sphincter is tight, it will make a different noise than if it’s more relaxed.
Often times my farts feel physically hot. What causes that sensation?
The sensation of heat is when the internal sphincter opens a little to sample what’s in the rectum. That is a normal response. If there isn’t a great deal of gas, the body will expel it slower, allowing you to feel the fart’s heat. If there is a lot of gas, the gas comes out too quickly for the body to feel the heat.

What’s the reason behind the smell?
The smell has to do with the amount of absorbed products like methane, which is made by fermentation of what we eat, and that’s what causes the bad smell, basically. As a baby, when you’re born, passing through the vagina, you’re infected by the bacteria in your mother’s colon, and that’s the bacteria you’re dealt for your lifetime. Also, everybody is different in how they’ll digest wheat products, milk products, whatever. And if they are not digested properly there will be a lot of methane produced and a lot of acid, and that would tend to cause a stinkier bowl movement.

Wait, go back to that thing about the vagina.
A baby is born with a sterile intestinal track. During the delivery, there’s lots of fluid and stool and whatever, and it’s thought that at that exposure the baby’s colon is populated by the mother’s colon bacteria, thereby affecting the smell of the individual’s farts for the rest of their lifetime. There’s also other theories claiming the colon is populated during the first few months of exposure to fecal material, but that probably doesn’t affect the smell as much as the initial intake of feces by the baby during delivery.

Wow. It’s like original shit sin. Does what your mother ate prior to delivery effect the bacteria you get?
Yes. In fact, they now also think that the appendix keeps an arsenal of bacteria so that if, for whatever reason, the bacteria in your colon gets killed by antibiotics the appendix can repopulate your colon with the bacteria that you’ve had since birth. That’s the new thought as to why the appendix is around.

So the signature smell of your farts wholly depends on how much poop your mom had at the time…
It’s not the amount, just the type of bacteria.

OK, but that’s really what determines your fart smell forever?
Well, there are also other components. Farts are made by two things. They are made by one, the amount of air you swallow–so people who drink a lot of soda, chew a lot of gum, suck on candies, they get a lot of air into their colon, and that air comes out in farts. The second component is gas production by the colon. The colon’s job is to break down the nutrients in food products, like proteins and fats and sugars, and in the process of breaking them down they produce either sulfur or methane, neither of which smell great. If, let’s say, the colon has stuff in it like grapes and beans, and if it’s just sitting there for a few days it’s just going to ferment more and more until it becomes very smelly, versus if what you eat goes through quickly–like if you had the same beans, but it came out eight hours later, you’ll tend not to have as much gas from those beans. So it has to do with what your intestinal transit is. For most people, it takes 32 hours from the time they eat something to the time they shit something. That’s the average, so that means there are people who move their bowels every three or four days, and they have more time for the beans to ferment in the colon, thereby producing larger amounts of gas and more frequent, smellier spasms of gas.

Now, I imagine that you’re familiar with “oops poops.”
No, what’s that?

It’s when you think you’re going to fart, but then a little bit of poop comes out.
Oh, OK, sure.

What I’ve noticed is, often when it happens it’s not preceded by the urge to shit–it just feels like it’s going to be a regular fart. Does that have anything to do with poop speed or it’s position in the intestines or anything?
No, it has to do with the muscles of the anus. There are two muscles of control. One muscle, the internal muscle which is active all the time, it’s the one that allows you to sit on that chair without shitting on the chair, then you also have the external muscle which is a voluntary muscle like your biceps. And when you need to hold stool in it will contract, and keep the stool on the inside. The passage that you are describing happens for one of several reasons. One is that the internal muscle has become very labile, meaning any little input inside the anus causes it to relax. Sometimes it relaxes too much, and that can cause stool to slip out. The other reason is you could have hemorrhoids–everybody has hemorrhoids, but people with bigger hemorrhoids sometimes experience gas slipping out between the hemorrhoids and taking with it mucus material produced by the hemorrhoids, which can cause staining of your underwear.

That is shockingly gross. How long is gas in our body before it comes out?
About 30 hours. It has to go through five feet of large intestine, and 25 feet of small intestine.

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