By Dr. W. Gifford Jones
May 4, 2003
This week it's tough getting back to work. I've just returned from a cruise around South America's Cape Horn. Each day I was pampered on Holland America's ship, the Ryndham. Then a stay in Rio de Janeiro strolling Copacabana's magnificent beach. One doesn't forget the bikini-clad Latin ladies! So still in a vacation mood I've searched hard and long for a lighter topic for this week's column. I finally found The Great Canadian Fart Survey.
This study will never be nominated for a Nobel Prize. It's certainly not a topic for a sedate dinner party. But there are some amazing facts suitable for Trivial Pursuit. Besides the problem is universal. Kings, Queens and the rest of us are all affected by it.
So what did the report prove. I have to be cautious on this one as I have no intention of offending any province. But the survey revealed that Manitobans experience the most flatus! Those in Quebec the least. You can bet I have no desire to speculate on why this is the case.
Nor do I want to theorize why 58 percent of B.C. residents say they expel gas whenever and wherever. Or why those living in the Atlantic provinces are less likely to feel embarrassed while passing gas in the presence of others. Or that 58 percent of Ontarians do not avoid foods that cause flatus.
So how much flatus is normal? It's not easy to reach a dependable figure. After all, how many researchers want to say "I'm a specialist in farts". But my research reveals that most people pass flatus 15 to 25 times a day.
Flatus can reach mind-boggling proportions in patients unable to metabolize lactose. For instance, one man with this problem had 141 rectal expulsions in four hours after drinking two quarts of milk! Surely a feat for The Guinness Book of Records.
Here's a Trivial Pursuit question you might fail. Did you know that rectal gas is potentially explosive. One patient was undergoing a sigmoidoscopic examination for removal of a polyp in the large bowel. When the bowel was cauterized to control bleeding the collection of gas caused an explosion. This resulted in a six inch tear in the intestine and the force blew the doctor across the room . The patient had ignored advice to take an enema to remove gas prior to the procedure.
Everyone has experienced being present at a dinner party, needing to pass flatus and wishing to be in the Sahara desert. But retaining gas may cause harm.
Dr. Wynne-Jones a New Zealand physician claims being polite results in herniations of the bowel (diverticulosis) due to constant pressure from the gas. He advises patients to pass flatus whenever necessary. But he makes no mention of whether he's ever invited a second time to dinner parties.
How much flatus collects in the bowel depends on the type of bacteria present, the speed at which gas reaches the rectum and the amount of undigested carbohydrate in the lower bowel.
Genetics plays a role. If your Mother produces methane gas there's a good chance her children will also manufacture it. A lighted match once placed near the trowsers of a friend expelling gas turned royal blue due to methane gas. But please don't try this experiment.
Novartis, the company behind this study, believes it has a flatus buster called Gas-X (simethicone). This is a silicone-based substance included as an antifoaming agent in many other medications for the release of excess gas and digestion. So it's nothing new. The company claims it works by joining gas bubbles together for easier passage. Not being an expert on farts I can only speculate that this may mean one big explosion rather than a series of little ones!
I wish the company luck. But I recall a computer search several years ago that failed to find any effective medication to control this common problem.
Fortunately, most flatus is odourless. However, some is so powerful that it can be detected as low as one part in a million. All the more need for great caution at a dinner party.
I'm sure that by next week I'll have recovered enough to discuss a more vital medical issue.�
W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker's website is: Docgiff.com
My book, �90 + How I Got There� can be obtained by sending $19.95 to:
Giff Holdings, 525 Balliol St, Unit # 6,Toronto, Ontario, M4S 1E1Pre-2008 articles by Gifford Jones