Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why Do We Fart?

Oh hell, did I have fun researching this one!  It must be one of the most asked questions out there, with some of the most hilarious answers.  Perhaps I have never grown up, as little kids find farts hilarious, don't they?  And if most of us are honest, we adults mostly do too!  I was really serious about my reading and learning, but had a great time along the way.  We all know that the bowel rules the body, really - but perhaps we think that we fart because we have air in our intestine.  Weeelll, sorta! 

The gas our body makes comes from different sources, and made up of varying components.  We have chemical reactions going on in our gut, we swallow air, especially when we are nervous.  Gas crosses into our intestines from our blood,  and the living bacteria in our intestines also produce gas.  So at the bottom of it (oh dear, sorry!) a fart is actually a byproduct of our digestive process.  The air we swallow tends mostly to be absorbed by our body before it gets to our gut, so that normally what reaches the gut will be mainly nitrogen.

Nitrogen is the main gas our body releases when we 'break wind' or 'fart' - together with carbon dioxide.  To a lesser extent we may also release methane and hydrogen.  These two gases are flammable, so if you are one of those people who releases suitable amounts of methane and hydrogen, your farts can be ignited.  Oh dear.   Not everyone produces methane, however, but only about a third of us.  If you are a very nervous person you may have quite a lot of oxygen in your flatus (fart) - as you will swallow more air, and probably move things through your digestive system too quickly for all the oxygen to be absorbed by the body.

And the smelly farts? What causes the honk, the pong?  According to dear old Wikipedia:

"For many years, this was thought to be due to skatole and indole, which are byproducts of the digestion of meat. However,  gas chromatography testing in 1984 revealed that sulphur-containing compounds, such as methanethiol, hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg smell) and dimethyl sulfide, were also responsible for the smell."

And ladies?  It is official - ours smell worse than men's, but they produce more gas!  (Not many people know that, ha!).  So how about the sounds? This is tricky, very tricky - it all depends.  It depends on how tight your sphincter muscle is, how fast the gas is being expelled, and factors such as how much water and body fat there is.  The pitch of the fart alters according to how much vibration of the anus there is, and also how close together your buttocks are.  You laughing at me?  I hope not!  The smelliest of our gas emissions are caused by the action of bacteria in our gut.  These little critters tend to produce heat also, and so the gas bubbles we release are smelly as hell, and quite warm.  Thus, the silent but deadly (SBD) fart.

Ever been in a lift with 14 other people and someone dropped a depth charge?  Hmmmm.  Most unpleasant.
Interestingly enough, we produce quite a large amount of gas daily, probably approximately 14 fart's worth - or around half a litre.  And I guess some of us produce more.  Holding it in is not the greatest idea of all - although some people can and do hold on.  I only tried that once - my dear mother was most upset as I kept 'breaking wind' - so I held on, and ended up having to have the doctor called out.  Couldn't even get out of bed for pain.  They thought it was appendicitis - but after examining me the doc said - it is wind.  Fart away!

Another fascinating thing is that:

" Interest in the causes of flatulence was spurred by high-altitude flight and the space program; the low atmospheric pressure, confined conditions, and stresses peculiar to those endeavours were cause for concern. In the field of mountaineering, the phenomena of high altitude flatus expulsion was first recorded over two hundred years ago." (Wikipedia)

I can't vouch for whether it is fact or not, but I did read on Yahoo answers that "In World War Two, the Air Force estimates that around 1000 to 2000 airmen were killed because of flatulence. The reason is B-17 bombers were not pressurized, so when bomber crews operated around 20,000 feet, the gas would expand and rupture their intestines."  In a non pressurized cockpit, intestinal gas expands up to 300 times normal,  at high altitude. 

If you have lactose intolerance you will produce excessive gas when you eat foods containing milk or lactose products, because of the intestinal bacteria feeding on the lactose.  I am sure we all know the foods which produce terrific gas - brassicas, beans and spicy foods to name a few. 

And as I start to round off these few farty facts, a chap by the name of Weimer, from Colorado, in 1998 patented his invention of the first "undergarment" that contains a charcoal filter.  The undergarments are air-tight and provide a pocketed escape hole in which a charcoal filter can be inserted.  It was the addition of the escape hole that had me rolling around in fits laughing.  Oops, sorry!  No more smells eh?

And a farting application for the iPhone, in 2008, took in nearly $10,000 in one single day! 

Last, but by no means least in the funny stakes, in 1911, the Malawi Minister of Justice, George Chaponda, stated that Air Fouling Legislation would make farting in public illegal in Malawi.  Of course, the media loved it, using punning headlines to report the story (well, so would I).  The Minister, unsurprisingly, later withdrew his statement. 

From BBC Mobile 4 February 2011:

Two of Malawi's most senior judicial officials are arguing over whether a new bill includes a provision that outlaws breaking wind in public.Justice Minister George Chaponda says the new bill would criminalise flatulence to promote "public decency".
"Just go to the toilet when you feel like farting," he told local radio.
However, he was directly contradicted by Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga, who says the reference to "fouling the air" means pollution."How any reasonable or sensible person can construe the provision to criminalising farting in public is beyond me," he said, adding that the prohibition contained in the new law has been in place since 1929.

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