So here is a question. When you feel a fart brewing, do you let it rip or hold it in until out of the range of others?*
If you are of the ‘hold it in’ persuasion, what do you do when in an enclosed space? Like on an aeroplane. Last week the New Zealand Medical Journal published a ‘viewpoint’ article by a group of Danish doctors asking just this question**. Alas, the article is behind a paywell but it goes something like this:
1. People fart.
2. Farting in a confined space is unpleasant to those who encounter the fart (reducing their quality of life***).
3. People may fart even more when on a plane as they may produce more intestinal gases because of the lower partial pressure in the cabin, not to mention the food served.
4. People may try to hold in their farts because they are embarassed/don’t want to impair people’s quality of life. This can cause discomfort, bloating, indigestion and heartburn. The authors even go so far as to say that the stress of holding in those farts could cause a person’s blood pressure and pulse to rise and reduced oxygenation of the blood, which could lead cardiovascular complications, like strokes.
5. If the pilot is the one holding in the farts, it could impair their performance.
Yikes! I’d never thought of farting on planes as that serious an issue. Fortunately, the authors have suggested some solutions. The most extreme is to use some kind of methane breath test to divide passengers into “flatulent and non-flatulent flyers”. They suggest flatulent flyers could be “restricted to concealed areas” or made to buy “flatus quotas” – in other words, a ‘fart tax’.
But the easiest solution, they suggest, is to install activated charcoal into aeroplane seats. Activated charcoal is a form of carbon processed to be riddled with small, low-volume pores, which are able to absorb gases. Farts, in other words. Just one gram of activated charcoal has a surface area in excess of 500 square metres. Failing this, they suggest people could wear activated charcoal undies, or perhaps socks, which could intercept farts escaping down a trouser leg.
So if you find yourself worrying about your next long haul flight, you could invest in some Under-ease undies, complete with removable activated charcoal filter, for which their inventor, Buck Weimer won the 2001 IgNobel prize for biology.
Hans C Pommergaard, Jakob Burcharth, Anders Fischer, William E G Thomas, Jacob Rosenberg (2013). Flatulence on airplanes: just let it go. New Zealand Medical Journal. 126:1369.
*Just in case you are wondering why this Monday Micro post is about flatulence, it’s because farts (or flatus as it is known in medical circles) are mostly produced as a byproduct of bacterial fermentation in the gastrointestinal tract. According to Wikipedia, people produce 476 to 1491 ml of flatus every 24 hours, depending on diet.
**I am quite curious as to why a group of Danish doctors are publishing this in the NZ Medical Journal. Perhaps because we are one of the furthest places away from Denmark?! Air New Zealand take note!
***I kid you not. They actually say that.