Today I found out why beans give you gas.
Beans contain a sugar molecule called ‘Oligosaccharides’. These types of sugars cannot be digested by the stomach or small intestine. They get passed on to the large intestine where numerous types of bacteria begin to break them down. During the process, the bacteria release several different types of gases, mainly hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Don’t be concerned about these particular gases, they are stench-free! Your fetid flatulence affliction is from a different source.
About 1/3 of the microbes end up producing methane as a result of breaking down these sugars. Once the methane builds up to the point that it begins to produce pressure on your anal sphincter…. BAM!!! A release that allows kids everywhere to play the infamous “Door-knob, Safety” game.
When you eat any food, your body has to process it. You can think of your digestive tract, that path between your mouth and your anus, as a system that is essentially outside of your body, just contained within it. It’s the job of your digestive system to break down the foods we take in, allowing the nutrients to “cross-over” into the different body systems and organs for use as fuel. Each different part breaks these foods down differently. For example, the mouth chews it up into smaller parts, the stomach uses enzymes and acids to further break it down. The food then goes to the small intestine where most of the nutrients that come from our food (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) get absorbed into the bloodstream by a process called diffusion. What is left over is then passed to the large intestine whose main job is the absorption of water that remains in the indigestible residue of food. A smaller role of the large intestine is also to break down polysaccharides (fiber) that gets passed into it. One type of fiber is the aforementioned Oligosaccharides.
Oligosaccharides are basically sugar molecules that are made up of several different types of monosaccarides (usually 2-10) to form a polymer. An enzyme that would break these molecules down does not exist anywhere inside the human body. Therefore, when they passed into the large intestine, they serve as food for the countless microbes present. This is important for our health as these bacteria are necessary for creating different vitamins that get absorbed into the body as well as for the production of antibodies that help fight off certain types of infections. The downside is that the gaseous side effect of these bacterial processes tends to clear rooms everywhere.
You might have resigned yourself to the fact you can never eat beans before going on a first date, but fret not! There are some methods to prevent your noxious abdominal expulsions. For instance, there is a type of mold called Aspergillus niger that contains an enzyme (Alpha-Galactosidase) that will break down Oligosaccharides, preventing your large intestinal bacteria from creating gas. You can buy it at stores everywhere under the auspicious name “Beano“. If you don’t want to be seen sprinkling your beans with this product, you can always try soaking your beans in water for several hours before you make your food. This softens the beans and allows them to ferment. The yeast produced can consume the offending Oligosaccharides and help leave your dinner date vapor-free!
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- A typical human gut contains around 100 trillion microbial cells (click the link to learn more). This means there are about ten times more bacterial cells in you than there are cells of you… creepy…
- Everyone will react differently to certain foods, and some will cause gas in one person and not the next. However, there are some common foods that can cause gas (other than beans). These include: the artificial sweeteners Mannitol and Sorbitol; dairy products like cream, ice cream, and milk products; fruits like apples, avocados, bananas, melons, prunes and raisins; vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, corn, green peppers, cauliflower, onions and Sauerkraut; high fatty foods like meats, gravy, and fried foods; and grains, starches and products with high wheat content.
- Ever heard of a poop transplant? If you think that having all that fart producing bacteria in your gut might not be that awesome, think twice. A type of bowel infection that comes from a bad type of bacteria known as Clostridium difficile can cause symptoms ranging from uncontrollable diarrhea, colon inflammation, and blood poisoning. Patients that have recurring episodes of this type of infection are often low on certain types of other bacteria (known as flora) that can fight off this infection. When this situation occurs, doctors yield to Mother Nature and go after readily available stores of the much needed flora. How do they do this? By transplanting it from the colons of healthy people. Specially by taking a healthy person’s fecal matter, diluting it with water, and then putting it into the colon of the patient. A bona fide poop transplant, that can actually save lives, and will probably cost you a crap-load (eh-eh?) of money to have performed, at least if you live in the United States!
- A study done in 2009 showed that 13 out of every 1,000 hospital patients are infected with C. difficile.
- If you think a poop transplant is gross, just know that an enema is not the only way doctors can get healthy flora into a patient. They can also feed it to them (yum?) or put it in their nose. However you receive the flora, once in the patient, the healthy person’s flora begin to propagate and attack the Clostridium difficile infection. The cure rate with this treatment is approximately 90%.
- In April of 2012, a 66 year old man from Albert Bridge, Nova Scotia performed the infamous fecal bacteriotherapy on himself. He had reached his breaking point, living with C. defficile that he contracted from a routine surgery 18 months previous. His doctor was supposed to perform the procedure one month earlier. However, a problem arose when the hospital approved the procedure without setting any guidelines for it, so the doctor postponed the transplant. So feeling very “MacGyver-like” he took feces that belonged to his cousin and mixed it with some water and shoved it up his rectum himself, for free!
- The average length of the small intestine is 22 feet 6 inches in men, and 23 feet 4 inches in women. These averages are somewhat misleading as the actual length can vary from about 15 feet to as long as 32 feet, depending on the person. The average length of the large intestine is 4 feet 9 inches.
- The “Door-knob, Safety” game is played as follows: Should a person produce any sort of flatulence, that person must claim the offending sound and or odor by shouting out “safety!” Should a person nearby the offender hear or smell the broken wind and yell out “Door-knob!” before the windbreaker says “safety” the person yelling “door-knob” is allowed to hit the farter as hard and as many times as they want. The beating must cease as soon as the other person touches a door knob. In the case of a tie, the claim of “door-knob” will be honored and hitting can commence. This is because the person who has the right to claim “safety”, should have known in advance that they were about to cut the cheese.
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