Archive for October 24, 2008

Flatulence may be adaptive!

Posted in Musings on October 24, 2008 by xxxicana

Dear Gentle Readers,

I know that for most Americans, flatulence causes extreme emotional responses (either embarrassment or laughter). As an anthropologist, I am concerned with human behavior, development, and evolution — and I just love taboo subjects! Farting (ok, let it out . . . the laughter, that is) is a normal, everyday aspect of the human body. In our culture, however, there is almost nothing more humiliating than to let one rip in public — unless of course you are a sub-adult male. In that case, farts are used as weapons. Women in American culture, of course, DO NOT fart. You know that saying “men sweat, women glow”? This is a good example of how bodily functions are subject to cultural interpretations and can be deployed to signal gender differences. Same with flatulence. For men, collective farting can even promote social bonding. For women, it’s another story [however, it should be noted that I have never lived in a collective of women such as a dorm, sorority, or convent, so my perspective may be skewed]. As we move along into adulthood, into the stage of relationship building (pair bonding), there comes the day that we must reveal to our romantic interest that we do, indeed, have bodily functions. Now, come on, admit it, you all know what I’m talking about. Have you ever gone in to tinkle and tried to muffle the sound of the stream? What about the first time you actually fully expelled your bowels in the vicinity of your lover? Moving up the chain of increasing trust, there comes a day when one can pass a small, innocuous fart with no consequence. Now that is intimacy!!

You may be wondering what brought on my musings about farting. Well, a new study indicates that the gas that makes farts stinky (hydrogen sulfide) may play a role in regulating blood pressure (see story here). Most of the gas in farts is made by bacteria in the digestive tract, but it is also naturally produced in the cell lining of blood vessels. Mice that were genetically unable to produce hydrogen sulfide were shown to be less able to control hypertension. Researchers will be following up on this research to develop treatments that would promote the production and release of more hydrogen sulfide. So, will we see a fart pill in the future? Next time you feel the need to suppress a fart, think twice — let it rip for better health!