meyer Benno Rochow biology science essay

Something’s in the air

And it doesn’t smell too good

A good friend of mine is a doctor on a cruise ship and he could tell you a thing or two about the behaviour and the diseases of seamen and tourists, but that’s not what I want to write about. This good doctor friend of mine claimed he could identify illnesses simply by what he smells when entering a patient’s room. Sniffing at a sick person’s clothes, bed sheets or ears would give him further valuable clues, he said. And in this way he’d be able to diagnose, with his nose, stomach, liver and bladder anomalies as well as various other ailments ranging from the common cold to diabetes and even some forms of cancer.

Under normal circumstances a healthy adult contains about 150 ml (about a tea cup full) of gas at any one time in the gut. That gas is a mixture of CO2, methane, and minor foul-smelling components. This gas mixture is actually a potent greenhouse gas and it takes little imagination to think of the effects that the world’s farmed cattle population, estimated to be around 1,500,000,000 heads, has with regard to gas emissions and global climate change!

But back to us humans. Over a single day a person releases approximately 600-1,200 ml of the gas mixture mentioned above, most of it in a little-polite way through the rear end of his or her body. Some gas, however, makes its way up via the stomach to the mouth and another component is carried by the blood from the gut to the lungs, where it is breathed out in the normal way. Sweat can also be involved in releasing odours. Although some gas stems from swallowing, the majority of it is actually produced by gut microorganisms and represents breakdown products of mainly non-digestible carbohydrates in the food that a person has ingested. Everybody, and especially children all over the world, know that legumes and cabbage are very potent food in this regard (but let me tell you cherries can work quite well, too).

Anyway, if the composition of these gut organisms is disturbed through diseases or poisons, the composition and chemical natures of the gases produced inside our intestine also changes. Someone with a trained nose, like my ship’s doctor friend, can then indeed diagnose certain disorders from the odour a patient emits. That this ability can have embarrassing side effects is clear: when my friend met our captain’s wife for the first time and had exchanged a few words with her, he suddenly uttered, audible to everyone around: “Your exterior is delightful, madam, but inside there’s something rotten and you had better have your liver checked.”

leaves autumn benno meyer rochow science

Do you smell the Autumn? Click here for reading “Autumn colors”

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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