I’ll never forget the day that I read the headline that would change my life forever: Smelling Farts can Prevent Cancer. As a man who had grown up around men, I immediately started calling all of my old roommates and friends and thanking them for all they had done for me to keep me cancer free all of my life. All of the times someone locked the windows of a car or cleared a campfire became cherished memories, instead of long-remembered bouts of torture. Then came the crushing news: smelling farts has nothing to do with preventing any kind of disease. For the most part.
The initial reports of the power of flatulence to prevent any disease, let alone cancer, were exaggerated at best. So how did such a sensational lie get developed in the first place? Who was responsible for this travesty? The trouble all started when a doctor, Mathew Whiteman from the University of Exeter discovered that hydrogen sulfide gas had an interesting ability to preserve the mitochondria of cells that were in distress.
The (mighty) mitochondria is the part of a cell that is responsible for producing ATP, which the cell uses for energy. Many inflammatory conditions result in the destruction of the mitochondria, and eventually the cell.
According to Whiteman, “When cells become stressed by disease, they draw in enzymes to generate minute quantities of hydrogen sulfide. This keeps the mitochondria ticking over and allows cells to live. If this doesn’t happen, the cells die and lose the ability to regulate survival and control inflammation.” This is where all the trouble started. You see, hydrogen sulfide gas is a gas that the body produces when food is digested, but in very minute quantities.
Whiteman never suggested that smelling a fart could prevent mitochondrial destruction.
What Whiteman did find was that by creating a compound known as AP39, he could deliver minute amounts of hydrogen sulfide to a cell and protect it from mitochondrial breakdown. Whiteman says, “We have exploited this natural process by making a compound, called AP39, which slowly delivers very small amounts of this gas specifically to the mitochondria. Our results indicate that if stressed cells are treated with AP39, mitochondria are protected and cells stay alive.”
So yes, hydrogen sulfide gas is responsible for protecting and healing cells, but it doesn’t come from farts. Ever. It comes from a chemical compound created in a lab. I guess the lesson to be learned here today is that just because you read it on the internet, doesn’t mean it is true.