Does smelling farts (of your husband/wife or other people) help you live longer or does it protect you from cancer? No, that's not true: an old study about a compound named AP39 that contains hydrogen sulfide (which also happens to be present in farts) has been presented as if it was about the benefits of smelling farts in several articles that went viral over the years. Unfortunately these articles all smell of bad science reporting, the researchers themselves (Professor Matt Whiteman and Dr. Mark Wood) have denied their study shows any health benefits from inhaling flatulence or any effects on cancer.
The story recently went viral again via an article published by Rare on April 22, 2019 titled "Your Husband's Farts Are Actually Helping You Live Longer, According to Science" (archived here) which opened:
Here we go again, one more study showing me something that I had no intention of knowing, but now I do. Turns out, a new study found that your husbands worst habit, which is farting, duh, may actually increase your lifespan. Yes, his stinky and gross farts are boosting your immune system and have good health benefits. I know, I was shocked too.
A study conducted by the University of Exeter research team found that hydrogen sulfide, which is the gross scent that gives flatulence its rotten egg-like quality, can actually have potential health benefits in low doses. Meaning yes, nobody is better at delivering that dose quite like the average hubby.
Users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail:
Here we go again, one more study showing me something that I had no intention of knowing, but now I do. Turns out, a new study found that your husbands worst habit, which is farting, duh, may actua...
The article referenced a Reader's Digest article from 2017 that made the same claim:
That one particularly awful thing he does? Turns out it could actually be helping your health. Here's the scientific research he's been waiting his whole life for. Shmeliova Natalia/Shutterstock Just about everyone has heard by now that being married is good for your health and longevity, with hitched people having lower rates of high blood pressure risk and even Type 2 diabetes.
That story in turn relied on this report from Cnet from 2014:
It's Friday, and what better way to spend the day that starts with F than talking about Flatulence? Anyone who has accidentally let one rip in a social situation understands the immediate horror associated with getting caught passing gas.
The title and opening paragraph of that story actually read:
Smelling farts could be the best thing you do today
Hydrogen sulfide, commonly found in rotten eggs and human flatulence, could have significant health benefits in small doses, researchers at the University of Exeter say.
That story at least points back to the press release from the University of Exeter:
Scientists in Exeter have already found that the compound protects mitochondria - the "powerhouse" of cells, which drive energy production in blood vessel cells. Preventing or reversing mitochondrial damage is a key strategy for treatments of a variety of conditions such as stroke, heart failure, diabetes and arthritis, dementia and ageing.
And what do we read in the press release, all the way at the end? This:
Note from the study authors: In light of misleading headlines on the above press release, the authors would like to stress that neither the papers (http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2014/MD/C3MD00323J#!divAbstract, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24755204, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25960429, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26513708, and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25555533) nor the accompanying press release above make any reference at all to cancer or to any health benefits from inhaling (sniffing) hydrogen sulfide. The research is an early stage drug development project and has not yet been trialled in humans.
There you have it... we followed the smell of bad science reporting all the way back to the original source and came to one important conclusion: before you report on a study actually take five minutes to look it up and read it so you won't make any fishy claims in your article that give it a weird scent.