Monday, May 7, 2012

Finding the Goldilocks Solution

A top story in today’s news is related to a recent scientific paper published in Current Biology concerning the dinosaurs. British scientists wanted to know, Could methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs have helped drive Mesozoic climate warmth?  By their estimates, some 520 million tons of methane (a “greenhouse gas” emission) were produced by the flatulent beasts every year.  This begs the question, do flatulent humans today also contribute to global warming?

Probably not enough to be concerned about. Even so, this doesn’t allay the anxieties people have about expulsing gas—anxieties that have more to do with interpersonal relationships in the workplace than with the implications of global warming.

As Dr. Wynne-Jones says in an article on diverticular disease, many bowel-related problems are in fact confined to modern urban communities affecting “the cultured, the refined, the considerate.” Folks go out of their way to avoid beans in their diet for fear of embarrassing themselves in a working environment where everyone is packed together in neighboring cubicles.

Happily, Winham  and  Hutchins discovered that over 50% of people can consume up to ½ cup of beans daily without any adverse effects. But how do you know how much beans to eat on your own?  How do you arrive at the Goldilocks amount—not too much, not too little—that’s just right for you?

Personal health analysis tools like Aurametrix are already making it possible to apply systematic measures to discover for ourselves our individual tolerance levels for a wide variety of foods. As Aurametrix founder Irene Gabashvili remarked in her Forbes article:  “A digital nurse can analyze hundreds of ‘health variables’ in search of patterns in the data. She could do this with far greater precision than a physician or nutritionist, due to her ability to quickly and tirelessly check all possible combinations. In a relatively short timeframe she could narrow down the factors that are positively and negatively influencing your health, while taking into consideration your pre-existing conditions and sensitivities.”

To see the digital nurse in action, see the video below. It shows how to pin-point the causes of a related, though potentially embarrassing, physiological process: frequent stomach growling.


  • Wilkinson, D., Nisbet, E., & Ruxton, G. (2012). Could methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs have helped drive Mesozoic climate warmth? Current Biology, 22 (9) DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.03.042 
  • Winham DM, & Hutchins AM (2011). Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies. Nutrition journal, 10 PMID: 22104320
  • Wynne-Jones, G. (1975) Flatus retention is the major factor in diverticular disease. The Lancet, 306 (7927), 211 - 212, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(75)90677-7