Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Silent, but not deadly

Today's topic is flatulence. Everyone passes gas. The trick is to have no one notice when it happens, which requires both silence and an absence of noticeable odor. Where does the offensive odor come from? Sulfur! Yes, brimstone (an archaic word for sulfur) really does deserve to be associated with imagined conceptions of hell. Specifically, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) correlates with the level of stinkiness of flatulence. (

Happily, we know how to bind H2S. Bismuth, zinc, iron, and nitrate are able to do so. ( Nitrate is considered toxic, but the other three are commonly ingested by people. Bismuth is in Pepto-Bismol, and zinc and iron are in many foods and taken as vitamin supplements. Treatment with bismuth has been proven to bind fecal H2S in humans (, but long-term supplementation with bismuth is possibly connected to encephalopathy; brain dysfunction is too high a price for me to pay to get rid of bad-smelling flatulence, so I won't run out and buy myself a bottle of Pepto-Bismol for that purpose. But zinc...that's in common use as a supplement, especially in connection with fighting colds, and appears relatively safe as long as one keeps zinc intake below 40 mg in a day. ( Moreover, the body has no specialized zinc storage system. People occasionally eat oysters, which are extremely high in zinc, and don't appear to be negatively affected by eating the oysters. Zinc is worth a try.

My husband's digestive system doesn't handle onions well. I was sad as a newlywed to realize that onions were going to have to be cut out of the household menu for his sake. And over time my gut bacteria seem to have altered so that I also have a hard time with onions now. This was a very unfortunate change to a woman who loves salsa. But then two days ago, I discovered from the studies cited above that H2S can be bound with easily obtained minerals, and so we experimented. Last night for dinner, we ate a packaged, reconstituted potato and onion soup that gave us both extraordinarily unpleasant gas about a year after our marriage. We adults took some chelated zinc right before eating the soup. We both had some gas today, but it didn't stink. Hurrah! We are fairly confident that the zinc helped us because our seven-year-old, who didn't get any zinc and did eat two bowls of the soup, had decidedly malodorous gas this morning.

Next step: Mexican food (well, American-style "Mexican" food, which really isn't the same thing as authentic Mexican food) with some zinc in our accompanying beverage. I really hope this works so that I can go back to cooking with onions.

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