There have been a rash of stories spreading on the internet about a study that supposedly concluded that smelling farts could decrease the risk of cancer, stroke, arthritis, erectile dysfunction, dementia, and several other ailments. While it should go without saying that this conclusion was taken entirely out of context, apparently we need to slow down and take it from the start.
Hydrogen sulfide is a gas associated with the disgusting smell of rotten eggs or human flatulence that can be fatal in large quantities. However, the human body uses enzymes to create small amounts of the gas for cellular signaling as well. A group of researchers led by Matthew Whiteman of the University of Exeter have created a molecule called AP39 which delivers hydrogen sulfide to mitochondria in epithelial cells to preserve the function of the cells, and possibly aid in fighting disease. The results of the study were published in the journal Medicinal Chemistry Communications with a follow-up report published in The Nitric Oxide Journal.
As a basic cell biology refresher, the mitochondrion is an organelle that produces the majority of ATP, which the cell uses for energy. It also has its own genome that is passed down exclusively through the mother. If the mitochondrial DNA or the organelle itself become damaged, the cell has a diminished capacity to control inflammation, and losing its main energy source and could lead to the death of the cell. Preserving the integrity of the mitochondria could prevent the spread and severity of disease.
“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,” Whiteman explained in a press release. “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.”
AP39 has been applied to cells in vitro under a variety of conditions, and so far, the cells have done a good job in decreasing the severity of the negative effects. Researchers are currently working toward bringing AP39 to use in human clinical trials, but there is no word on when that will be.
It is important to stress that the researchers found that the compound brings in enzymes to produce hydrogen sulfide within the mitochondria and there is absolutely no indication that getting it from an outside source, like from smelling farts, benefits cell function.
So, to anyone who has been subjecting loved ones to increased amounts of pungent flatulence over the weekend and telling them it’s good for them: you owe them one hell of an apology.