The stinkiest health story this week

Image: Amy Poehler in Baby Mama

This week, the world was captivated by a piece of breaking wind news that suggested inhaling flatulence could help prevent cancer.

Sorry to break it to you, perpetual farters – that science-approved excuse to drop ‘trouser burps’ has turned out to be a bit of a beat up. Actually, no, we’re not all that sorry.

Researchers at the University of Exeter are understandably a little miffed that the findings of their latest study were interpreted by worldwide media outlets to mean ‘smelling farts will stop you from getting cancer’ – although what a headline, right?

What they did find in their study is that in small amounts, hydrogen sulfide – a compound found in the smell of rotten eggs and, um, human flatulence – could play a role in protecting cells from damage. But it’s not as simple as ‘inhale fart = eternal health’, which is both a good and bad thing depending on which way you look at it.

The study looked at a bodily compound called AP39, which apparently delivers small amounts of hydrogen sulfide to mitochondria, which is a subunit of cells, when it’s stressed by disease. By using minute quantities of the compound, mitochondria can keep working – if this doesn’t happen, the cells can die or “lose the ability to regulate survival and control inflammation”, co-author Professor Matt Whiteman said in a statement.

“Our results indicate that if stressed cells are treated with AP39, mitochondria are protected and cells stay alive,” he added.

The researchers believe this finding could be significant in the prevention of strokes, arthritis, heart disease and other conditions in the future.

Where did the cancer prevention angle come from? Well, previous research has shown that hydrogen sulfide regulates several bodily functions and responses, including cancer. On the other hand, certain cancer cells are known to produce large amounts of the compound to help them grow and survive, according to NBC News. So it’s a little complicated.

In sum, while this is certainly an interesting and potentially very significant area of research to watch, there’s no good reason just yet to encourage your friend, housemate, family member or significant other to let rip in your home – or your purse, for that matter.

What’s the silliest health rumour you’ve ever heard?