The smell of flatulence has secret health benefits – and could help stave off cancer, strokes, heart attacks and dementia, scientists have revealed.
Hydrogen sulfide is one of a number of potent smelly gases produced by bacteria as it breaks down food in the gut.
It is toxic in large doses but in tiny amounts it helps protect cells and fight illness, according to experts at Exeter University.
When cells become stressed by disease they try to draw in enzymes to generate their own minute quantities of hydrogen sulfide.
The chemical helps to preserve mitochondria, which drive energy production in blood vessel cells and regulate inflammation, and without it the cell can switch off and die.
Now researchers have come up with a new compound named AP39 to assist the body in producing just the right amount of hydrogen sulfide.
They believe it will help prevent or reverse mitochondrial damage, which is a key strategy in treating conditions such as stroke, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, dementia and ageing.
Professor Matt Whiteman from University of Exeter’s medical school said: ‘When cells become stressed by disease, they draw in enzymes to generate minute quantities of hydrogen sulfide.
‘This keeps the mitochondria ticking over and allows cells to live. If this doesn’t happen, the cells die and lose the ability to regulate survival and control inflammation.
‘We have exploited this natural process by making a compound, called AP39, which slowly delivers very small amounts of this gas specifically to the mitochondria.
‘Our results indicate that if stressed cells are treated with AP39, mitochondria are protected and cells stay alive.’
Before it can be tested on humans, researchers have run disease models to see how effective AP39 is.
Early results show that it can help up to 80 per cent more mitochondria survive highly destructive conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
Fellow researcher Dr. Mark Wood added: ‘Although hydrogen sulfide is well known as a pungent, foul-smelling gas in rotten eggs and flatulence, it is naturally produced in the body and could in fact be a healthcare hero with significant implications for future therapies for a variety of diseases.’
The study was published in the journal Medicinal Chemistry Communications.