Changing Planet

Stinky Flatulence Linked to Lower Blood Pressure

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The rotten egg stink of flatulence has been traced to gas generated by bacteria living in the human colon. Also known as hydrogen sulphide, the smelly gas has now been found to lower blood pressure, scientists say.

The finding may lead to possible treatments of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and others related to high blood pressure.

“Cells inside the blood vessels of mice — as well as in people, no doubt — naturally make the gassy stuff, and …it controls blood pressure,” researchers said yesterday in the journal Science.

“As the newest member of a family of so-called gasotransmitters, this messenger molecule is akin in function, if not form, to chemical signals like nitric oxide, dopamine and acetylcholine that relay signals between nerve cells and excite or put the brakes on mind-brain activities,” the researchers report.

“Now that we know hydrogen sulfide’s role in regulating blood pressure, it may be possible to design drug therapies that enhance its formation as an alternative to the current methods of treatment for hypertension,” says Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Solomon H. Snyder, a co-author of the paper.

The researchers established that hydrogen sulfide was largely responsible for relaxation of blood vessels. “In terms of relaxing blood vessels, it looks like hydrogen sulfide might be as important as nitric oxide,” Snyder says, referring to the first gasotransmitter that two decades ago was discovered to regulate blood pressure.

Just because these two gas molecules perform similar functions, doesn’t mean they’re redundant, says Rui Wang, a physiologist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, and the paper’s principal author. “Nature has added on layer upon layer of complexity to provide a better and tighter control of body function — in this case, of blood pressure.”

“It’s difficult to overestimate the biological importance of hydrogen sulfide or its implications in hypertension as well as diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases,” Wang says. “In fact, most human diseases probably have something to do with gasotransmitters.”

Additional information:

‘Fart gas’ link to blood pressure (BBC News)

Hydrogen Sulfide Key Player in Blood Pressure Regulation (Washington Post)

What is high blood pressure? (American Heart Association)

Health and Human Body (National Geographic Science)

Flatulence in the news:

New Weapon Against Warming: “Flatulence Cards” Offset Dog, Human Emissions (National Geographic)

Herring Break Wind to Communicate, Study Suggests (National Geographic)

California Cows Fail Latest Emissions Test (National Geographic)

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

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