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Science | Special Features | World

REALLY IMPORTANT SCIENCE | Scientists clear the air: Women's farts smell worse than men's
The online news portal of TV5

WELLINGTON - A study that set out to determine whether or not airline passengers should be encouraged to break wind while in flight has come out with an emphatic recommendation - and along the way has apparently also helped clear the air on a globally contentious question: Are women's farts worse than men's?

In both questions above, the answer is a resounding "yes", according to European gastroenterologists who conducted the study.

When it comes to farting mid-flight, the experts' recommendation is a thumbs up to airline passengers - but a warning to cockpit crews that breaking wind could distract the pilot and pose a safety risk.

The study concluded that anecdotal evidence that flying increases flatulence is not hot air, finding that changes in air pressure at altitude result in the gut producing more gas.

When Danish gastroenterologist Jacob Rosenberg encountered the malodorous problem firsthand on a flight from Copenhagen to Tokyo, he enlisted some of the finest minds in his field to address the issue.

The result was an in-depth review of scientific literature on flatulence, and arguably more information than most people care for:

What causes the odor? Sulphur.

How often does the average person pass wind every day? 10.

And then their report also took on the biggest question of all: Do women's farts smell worse than men's? The simple, unexpounded answer, as reported by Agence France-Presse: Yes.

The AFP goes no further on the controversy. Instead, the report shifted back to the dilemma on whether or not frequent fliers should be letting fly more frequently. Airline passengers should ignore the social embarrassment of breaking wind and "just let it go," the scientists were quoted as saying.

"(Holding back) holds significant drawbacks for the individual, such as discomfort and even pain, bloating, dyspepsia (indigestion), pyrosis (heartburn) just to name but a few resulting abdominal symptoms," the study found.

"Moreover, problems resulting from the required concentration to maintain such control may even result in subsequent stress symptoms."

The authors - five gastroenterologists from Denmark and Britain - said that while passengers may experience poor service from the cabin crew as a result of their decision, the health benefits outweighed any negative impacts.

However, they said the cockpit crew faced a lose-lose situation.

"On the one hand, if the pilot restrains a fart, all the drawbacks previously mentioned, including impaired concentration, may affect his abilities to control the plane," the researchers said. "On the other hand, if he lets go of the fart, his co-pilot may be affected by its odor, which again reduces safety onboard the flight."

The authors canvassed a number of solutions to the issue of flight-induced flatulence, including using methane breath tests to screen wind-prone passengers from flights, but rejected them as impractical.

They did, however, note that the textile covers used on seats in economy class absorbed up to 50 percent of odors because they are gas permeable, unlike the leather seats in first class.

They suggested airlines could improve the odor-eating properties of the seats and issue special blankets and trousers to passengers to minimize mid-air flatulence.

"We humbly propose that active charcoal should be embedded in the seat cushion, since this material is able to neutralize the odor," they said. "Moreover active charcoal may be used in trousers and blankets to emphasize this effect."

Air New Zealand declined to comment when asked if it would adopt such measures.