www.whyville.net Nov 9, 2008 Weekly Issue

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The Stinky Science of Farts

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We have all done the "Silent But Deadly," "Pull My Finger," and "Blue Flame" ? that is everyone farts. My father used to get me to pull his finger as a child with hilarious results, my Mom was not as amused. Fart games abound.

Whether it takes the form of stealth bombers or noisy bottom burps, farts are a normal byproduct of the human body. Everybody farts multiple times throughout the day and night (yes even me).

Flatulence is made up of five gases: nitrogen and oxygen, which are swallowed while talking, chewing, or drinking fizzy beverages, and carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane, which are produced in the gastrointestinal tract during digestion of food. Gas produced or trapped in the intestine only has three possible routes it can follow: some will be absorbed into the body; some will be burped out; and some will pass as you know what.

Flatulence is made by microscopic organisms much smaller than the eye can see. They're called bacteria. There are millions of them living all over and inside you. They help your body with everything from eating, to protecting you from diseases. Fart bacteria help you to digest your food, and they live in the part of your digestive system call the large intestine. Just like you like to eat some foods more than others; so do bacteria. Beans, for example, are difficult for your stomach to digest, and so they arrive in the large intestine in large amounts. The fart bacteria are now faced with a chemical feast, the bacteria eat and eat, and make more and more bacteria. More bacteria produce more gas, and so you fart more. Besides beans, vegetables (especially broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower) are also great gas producers, as are grains and fiber. Farting is a combination of restriction and pressure, and the vibration of intestinal tissue makes that embarrassing farting noise.

Although humankind has learned how to split the atom, manipulate genes, and travel to the moon, we do not know all that much about how to reduce the production of natural gas. Dr. Michael Levitt, also known as Dr. Fart, is a gastroenterologist who is a leading expert on the underappreciated field of farts, intestinal gas that escapes via the anus. Dr. Levitt has gone to extraordinary lengths to explore the mysteries of flatulence. He has captured farts in specially made pants, measured the cocktail of gases they contain, even conducted a study devised to get to the bottom of what might be the most contentions question in the field: which gender emits the smelliest farts.

According to Levitt, people flatulate 10 to 20 times a day, with some hitting the 30, 40, even 50 mark. Men pass gas an average of 10 times a day, while women are behind with an average of 8 times a day.

Dr. Levitt certainly knows a lot about gas, and his now trying to determine if farts can be an accurate indicator of how healthy your intestines are.

Who knew that gas could actually tell us something important and scientific about how are bodies are working?

Author's Note: Sources:

Editor's Note: For more blogs from Dr. Rabiah, visit Science Chicago's website at: http://www.sciencechicagoblog.com


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