Scientists say savoring the noxious gas hydrogen sulfide -- a byproduct of the body's work breaking down food -- could help stave off the development of cancer.
"Although hydrogen sulfide gas 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," said Dr. Mark Wood, a researcher at Exeter.
In a new study, Wood and his colleagues suggest small doses of hydrogen sulfide can help reverse mitochondrial damage. The mitochondria are the "powerhouse" of the body's cells, driving energy production in blood vessel cells.
Protecting the mitochondria is a key strategy for preventing stroke, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis and dementia. The health of the mitochondria goes a long way toward determining whether cells live or die, and strong mitochondria help control inflammation.
In clinical trials, detailed this week in the journal Medicinal Chemistry Communications, manmade hydrogen sulfide helped protect mitochondria under unforgiving biological circumstances.
"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," explained study author Professor Matt Whiteman -- that way patients won't need to sniff foul odors to get the health benefits of hydrogen sulfide.