Farts are like snowflakes

ghost fart.jpg

No two farts smell exactly alike, according to this interview with Dr. Lester Gottesman, a proctologist from St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

The smell has to do with the amount of absorbed products like methane, which is made by fermentation of what we eat, and that's what causes the bad smell, basically. As a baby, when you're born, passing through the vagina, you're infected by the bacteria in your mother's colon, and that's the bacteria you're dealt for your lifetime. Also, everybody is different in how they'll digest wheat products, milk products, whatever. And if they are not digested properly there will be a lot of methane produced and a lot of acid, and that would tend to cause a stinkier bowl movement.

Image courtesy Flickr user banjo_d, via CC


  1. Does that mean if you’re born via c-section you don’t get infected w/ the bacteria?

    1. I think you’ll pick up intestinal bacteria from your food, from your environment, and from touching other people. Intestinal bacteria are pretty ubiquitous, despite our attempts at hygiene.

    2. It would appear that the esteemed proctologist hasn’t the faintest clue what goes on in the maternity ward. Nor does he have the slightest idea how intestinal bacteria actually colonizes in infants.

  2. Methane is odorless. The stink of farts comes from hydrogen sulfide and other organic sulfur compounds generated by colonic bacteria.

  3. “As a baby, when you’re born, passing through the vagina, you’re infected by the bacteria in your mother’s colon, and that’s the bacteria you’re dealt for your lifetime.”

    That doesn’t seem right. As the above commenters point out, if that’s right then people born via C-section shouldn’t have any bacterium, and it should be impossible to pick up from other sources such as food, etc.

    Personally my farts have always smelled like my dad’s farts, to the point where it’s kind of a family in-joke.

    Can we get a citation on that quote please?

  4. Please excuse the improper singular “bacterium” in my above post. Will be using the preview button in the future!

  5. People born via C-section would get bacteria other ways, but it wouldn’t be the same. One theory is that they are more prone to allergies and related auto-immune issues. Apparently nowadays they give pro-biotics to c-section babies. Although maybe someone else has better info on exactly how babies born vaginally get the bacteria? The description here sounds off, because how exactly do vaginas contain colon bacteria?

  6. While it’s true that some exposure to the mother’s microbiome happens in the birth canal, breastfeeding also provides significant bacterial transfer. Dr. Gottesman makes it sound like these are the *only* bacteria you’ll ever have in your guts (“dealt for your lifetime”), which is nonsense, as every bite we take is swarming with bacteria (and some of use will intentionally seek out fermented products like yogurt or natto to introduce extra beneficial bacteria). Of course, stinky (or “putrefactive”) bacteria are what make farts smell, so replacing them with better bacteria should cut down on that problem, too.

  7. Why he gotta judge a fart by calling it a “bad smell”? Trying to find a decent pun in this, but alas my brain is to floppy today.

  8. Dr. Gotterman should read up on her literature. Gut flora do change over life.
    This group http://www.mib.wur.nl/UK/Research/Molecular+Ecology/ at my alma mater did a lot of work on changes in gut flora over life, including following developments in gut flora in twins from baby to adulthood. In brief, and from memory: gut flora is more similar between family members, and very much alike that of the mother early in life, but the flora keeps changing in the course of one’s lifetime.

  9. I’m not sure what the real answer is to this riddle, but I get the feeling it’s blowin’ in the wind…

  10. My father, an advanced fartier, claimed to have developed a technique for passing his gas *around* the turd rather than through it, thereby eliminating any foul odor, while retaining full (and very robust) auditory charateristics. Although the science is sketchy, the empirical evidence (a most pleasant bouquet) would tend to back him up (even if what he ate didn’t).

  11. Sort of neglects the effects of antibiotics which can wipe out intestinal flora. At which point you need to be dealt a new deck.

  12. “As a baby, when you’re born, passing through the vagina, you’re infected by the bacteria in your mother’s colon…”

    I may have to review my girl-parts chart, but the colon and vagina are not connected. So I am confused.

  13. I wonder, has any research been done that suggest matrilinear information can be deduced from intestinal flora, as an adjunct to mtDNA data, or does progressive re-population over a lifetime cause the bacteria to be unreliable indices?

  14. I suppose this would be a good time to ask if I’m the only person around here who cannot smell farts. When I was a kid and the other kids would react with disgust to fart smells, I would just play along to not seem out of place.

    My sense of smell is a bit substandard in other respects, but somehow for farts I have zero ability to smell them. I can smell poo, I can smell sulfur, but I can’t smell farts.

  15. About flowery farts…

    Indole occurs naturally in human feces and has an intense fecal odor. At very low concentrations, however, it has a flowery smell, and is a constituent of many flower scents (such as orange blossoms) and perfumes. It also occurs in coal tar.”

    Skatole is a mildly toxic white crystalline organic compound belonging to the indole family. It occurs naturally in feces (it is produced from tryptophan in the mammalian digestive tract), and coal tar, and has a strong fecal odor. In low concentrations it has a flowery smell and is found in several flowers and essential oils, including those of orange blossoms, jasmine, and Ziziphus mauritiana.”
    “In a 1994 report released by five top cigarette companies, skatole was listed as one of the 599 additives to cigarettes.”

  16. Their premise is that the bacteria you encounter while going thru the vagina is the only bacteria you will be infected by or that it somehow trumps all other bacteria you will encounter for the rest of your life.


  17. Actually, the bacteria you are “infected with” is mostly a very positive thing for our ability to digest foods. This writer needs to do a bit of research.

  18. so babies “ingest” bacteria from the mother’s colon during vaginal delivery? someone ought to tell them you never go ass to mouth!

  19. if i remember correctly, my wife was well and truly torn apart when she gave birth to both of our children. colon, vagina, its all the same in the end. maybe you people who are questioning how the baterial transfer occurs have never witnessed chidbirth.

  20. This unique and lifetime long transmission of maternal bowel bacteria to the child is nonsense. Not only for the c-section reason mentioned before, also your bowel bacterial micro-flora is nothing permanent. It changes completely every time you take antibiotics – the existing population is exterminated and a new one emerges when you stop eating the medication. Also, as you travel to exotic countries – the traveler’s diarrhea is the result of colonization (pun not intended) by the native bacteria.

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