Breaking Wind

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There was a story last week that broke like a wild-fire. Or more accurately it broke like a wild wind.

It was a story about a Swedish soccer player who was issued a red flag by the referee while he was playing in a football match. His offense? He “broke wind.” In simple terminology, he farted. The player, Adam Lindin Ljungkvist, claims that he had a “bad stomach” but was surprised and annoyed he was penalized for releasing bad air.

I know it may be inappropriate to fart in a public place nor it is prim and proper to do so in a polite company. But could it be an offense? Or a crime? Should we hold it in then?

There was a study not too long ago, published in New Zealand Medical Journal, that stated that you should not hold your fart in while in an airplane, but should “let it go.” No, the release of gas will not generate thrust nor help the buoyancy of the airplane. It has nothing to do with that. The issue is altitude can increase the gas content of the digestive system and it is not healthy to suppress the gas in.

Not healthy for the individual, you may say, but how about the health of the other passengers who would be exposed to the “polluted” air? Should gassy people be on the TSA’s No Fly list?

The authors of that particular study also suggest that airplane seat cushion should contain charcoal to help absorb and neutralize the smell. I would like this recommendation implemented.

What is the science behind fart? By the way, the term fart may not be decent to some, but it comes from the Old English “feortan” meaning “to break wind.”

Flatulence (that’s the medical term), is part of human living. We all fart. A normal person farts an average of more than 10 a day. Yes, women fart as often as men, they just may not be as proud of it. And for those who denies they fart, are either not telling the truth or not human.

Why do humans fart?

When we eat, drink or even when we clear our throat, we swallow tiny amounts of air which accumulates in our gut. When we digest the meal we ate, gas is also released from the breakdown of the food. As the gas builds up, the body may need to get rid of it. This we do by burping or by flatulence.

air release

The chemical makeup of the average fart is: 59% nitrogen, 21% hydrogen, 9% carbon dioxide, 7% methane and 4% oxygen which are all odorless. The gas that gives it a distinctive smell is hydrogen sulfide (sulfur) which is less than 1% of this released gas.

Many times, flatulence occurs and the person is unaware of it – there is no smell, and the amount is tiny. If food has not been digested properly, it starts to decompose or rot, releasing sulfur. Which can make it stinkier.

Foods that can cause flatulence are generally those high in certain polysaccharides. Examples of these are: beans (of course you know that already!), sweet potatoes (kamote), broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, radishes, and cauliflowers. Though we should not particularly avoid these foods for they are healthy and very nutritious.

Other food products that may cause flatulence are artificial sweeteners (sorbitol and mannitol), carbonated drinks, and fiber supplements. Chewing gums can cause flatulence not because of its content, but because you swallow more air when you chew gum.

There are also health conditions that predispose to flatulence, like lactose intolerance, celiac disease (intolerance to gluten), and other more serious chronic conditions like Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Laxatives and antibiotics can also cause flatulence. Antibiotics do so by upsetting the normal intestinal bacterial flora.

How about the sound of a fart? That particular sound that we playfully simulate in a whoopee cushion, is not from the fart itself, but from the noise generated by the flapping of the butt cheeks as the wind passes through.

Apparently we are not the only civilization to appreciate the sounds of flatulence. Roman Emperor Elagabulus was known to trick his royal guests with a primitive version of the whoopee cushion.

What should you do when you “accidentally” broke wind while you’re in a crowd?

One, you can own up to it and ask for pardon, and explain that you had bean burrito for lunch. Most likely they’ll let it pass, for all of us pass gas. Or you can act as if nothing had happened and keep everybody guessing who’s the culprit. Or lastly you can act surprised but annoyed, then look suspiciously to someone beside you, and let others think it’s somebody else not you.

But what can you do if someone beside you farted? Should you run away?

According to a study by AsapScience, using the kinetic theory of gases, it figures that the smell particles of a fart can travel 243 meters per second, which is a lot faster than any human or animal can move. So sorry folks, you cannot outrun a fart!

Do you have more questions on this subject? The answer my friends may be blowing in the wind.

(*photo from the web)




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