21 Best Housewarming Gifts Under $150

Tracking down a good housewarming gift for someone who’s breaking in a new home isn’t rocket science, but it can be challenging to find one that strikes the right balance of personal and practical—without being so practical that the person already owns the thing. You could go with the safe choice of a bottle of wine or champagne to celebrate, but it’s a lot more meaningful to stand out from the pack with a memorable gift they’ll actually end up using and loving (and maybe wouldn’t think to get themselves).

If you’re confused about what to get a friend or family member to help them settle in to their new digs, we get it (and have totally been there). Keep reading for a few stylish yet affordable housewarming gift ideas under $150 that anyone would want to show off, including some tailored options for the avid baker, plant mom, pet owner, and dinner party host in your life.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Americans would rather drive themselves than have an autonomous vehicle drive them

Many Americans use a ride-hailing service — like Uber or Lyft — to get to and from work. It provides the privacy of riding in a personal car and the convenience of catching up on emails or social media during traffic jams. In the future, self-driving vehicles could provide the same service, except without a human driver.

But would consumers be willing to ride in a driverless car?

Researchers at the University of Washington studied how Americans’ perceived cost of commute time changes depending on who’s driving. Through a survey, the team found that people considered a ride-hailing service at least 13% “less expensive,” in terms of time, compared to driving themselves. If the researchers told people the ride-hailing service was driverless, however, then the cost of travel time increased to 15% more than driving a personal car, suggesting that at least for now, people would rather drive themselves than have an autonomous vehicle drive them.

The team published its results Aug. 6 in the journal Transportation.

“The idea here is that ‘time is money,’ so the overall cost of driving includes both the direct financial costs and the monetary equivalent of time spent traveling,” said senior author Don MacKenzie, a UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering who also leads the leads the UW’s Sustainable Transportation Lab. “The average person in our sample would find riding in a driverless car to be more burdensome than driving themselves. This highlights the risks of making forecasts based on how people say they would respond to driverless cars today.”

The team set up a survey that asked people across the continental U.S. to select between a personal car or a ride-hailing service for a 15-mile commute trip. Half the 502 respondents were told that the ride-hailing service was driverless.

The researchers converted the responses to a score of how much respondents deemed that trip would cost per hour.

“If someone values their trip time at $15 per hour, that means they dislike an hour spent traveling as much as they dislike giving up $15,” said co-author Andisheh Ranjbari, a research engineer at the UW’s Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center. “So a lower number means that the time spent traveling for that trip is less burdensome.”

On average, respondents preferred a ride-hailing service over driving themselves: Ride-hailing services scored at $21 an hour and driving scored $25 an hour. In addition, if the researchers reminded respondents they could multitask during a ride-hailing service ride, their perceived cost of travel time decreased even more to $13 per hour.

Technically a ride-hailing service should be equally as convenient regardless of whether a human or an autonomous car is driving, but respondents disagreed. Driverless ride-hailing services scored at $28 an hour.

These results make sense, according to the team. Driverless cars aren’t commercially available yet, so people are not familiar with them or may be leery of the technology.

“We believe that our respondents are telling us that if they were riding in an automated vehicle today, they would be sufficiently stressed out by the experience that it would be worse than driving themselves,” MacKenzie said. “This is a reminder that automated vehicles will need to offer benefits to consumers before people will adopt them. To a first approximation, a ride-hailing service with driverless cars would need to offer services at a price at least $7 per hour less than human-driven cars, to make the driverless service more attractive.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Washington. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

For kids who face trauma, good neighbors or teachers can save their longterm health

New research shows just how important positive childhood experiences are for our long-term health — especially for those who experience significant adversity as a child.

Studies over the past 20 years have found a correlation between the number of adverse childhood events (such as death or divorce) and worse health outcomes later in life. A new study from professor Ali Crandall and other Brigham Young University coauthors discovered that positive childhood experiences — like having good neighbors, regular meals or a caregiver you feel safe with — have the potential to negate harmful health effects caused by adverse childhood experiences.

“If your child has experienced trauma and you’re worried about the long-term impact it could have on them, these findings show that the positive experiences in childhood lead to better adult physical and mental health, no matter what they have faced,” said Crandall, assistant professor of public health at BYU.

Specifically, the study found that even when an individual had four or more adverse childhood experiences (called ACEs), having a high number of advantageous childhood experiences (Counter-ACEs) lessened the negative effect of ACEs on adult health. This is significant because the landmark 1998 ACEs study concluded that having four or more ACEs in childhood greatly increases negative health outcomes, including higher BMI, smoking rates, depression and chronic health conditions.

BYU study participants reported the number of ACEs and Counter-ACEs they experienced in childhood. ACEs include abuse, abandonment, having a family member in jail, alcoholism, mental illness, addiction, divorce or death. The full list of Counter-ACEs includes having good friends and neighbors, beliefs that provide comfort, liking school, teachers who care, having a caregiver whom you feel safe with, opportunities to have fun, feeling comfortable with yourself and a predictable home routine like regular meals and bedtimes.

Accoring to the study findings, published recently in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, nearly 75 percent of participants had at least one adverse childhood experience, while the average amount of ACEs was 2.67 per person. The average positive experience score was 8.15, with 39 percent of people having experienced all 10 of those Counter-ACEs.

Participants also reported their current health through a variety of physical measures — like BMI, fruit and vegetable consumption, physical exercise, sleep difficulties and if they smoked daily — as well as their cognitive and mental health through executive functioning abilities, perceived stress, depression, internal locus of control, gratitude, forgiveness of self and challenging situations and familial closeness. Interestingly, researchers also found that the absence of Counter-ACEs led to poor adult health regardless of the number of ACEs.

“As bad as ACEs may be, the absence of these positive childhood experiences and relationships may actually be more detrimental to lifelong health so we need more focus on increasing the positive,” Crandall said.

While many of the adverse childhood experiences in this study are affected by a child’s family situation, Crandall said that “other adults in a child’s life that are not the parent, like extended family, teachers, neighbors, friends and youth leaders all help to increase the number of counter ACEs and boosts lifelong health.”

Crandall believes that increasing counter-ACES in the home is the easiest place to start and is working to educate the community about how to do this in conjunction with United Way. BYU professors Brianna Magnusson, Len Novilla, Carl Hanson and Michael Barnes were coauthors on the study.

Differences in personality structure among humans

How people behave in one situation often tells us how they will act in others. A shy introvert in one place, for example, isn’t likely to be the gregarious life of the party in another.

Such is personality — patterns of behavior within individuals that are reasonably stable over time and contexts. But what creates those patterns of behavior, and why do they persist?

Different behaviors tend to covary, or present together. Gregarious people, for example, are also likely to be assertive. But this covariation in behavioral tendencies is neither random nor easily explained by genes. The social and ecological environments in which we develop, scientists say, have a lot to do with how we develop.

Socioecological niches and navigating daily life

New work by researchers at UC Santa Barbara, UC Merced, California State University Fullerton and the University of Richmond suggests that societies differ in the personality profiles of their members because societies vary in the number and richness of their socioecological niches — the shorthand for all the occupational, social and other ways of navigating successfully through daily life. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

“We developed a computational model to create a world in which we can vary how many niches are in the environment,” said Michael Gurven, a professor of anthropology at UC Santa Barbara and the paper’s senior author. The researchers wanted to discover whether increasing the number of niches in a particular environment resulted in the kinds of shifts in personality structure that coincide with their theory. Their idea is that more complex societies (i.e. those having more niches) will show a greater diversity of personality types.

“Each niche has an ideal personality profile to fit it,” Gurven continued. “People in the environment are born with some initial personality picked at random. And then we let people sort across the landscape in ways that might best suit their personality — if you’re a loner, for example, maybe you don’t want to live in the middle of New York City; if you love mountains and snow, you probably don’t want to live in Phoenix, Arizona.”

The researchers also varied the extent to which individuals can adjust their personalities to better fit the environments in which they find themselves.

Societal complexity in populations

As it turned out, it didn’t matter whether they were working with a population of a hundred individuals or a thousand. Increasing the number of niches made personality traits tend to look more like those in the Big Five. This separable quintet of dimensions that psychologists have long believed universally define the structure of human personality include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. “Increasing the number of niches in a population results in lower correlations among personality traits, so you need a larger number of higher-level Big Five-like factors to best explain personality,” Gurven said.

The crux of their argument rests on the degree of societal complexity in a population — i.e. specialization in all areas of life, including jobs, clubs and hobbies. “Simpler” societies have fewer niches, while more “complex” societies have many. “You can think about it like a five-band equalizer on a stereo. The more bands you have, the more combinations and nuances of sound you can create,” said Gurven, “Imagine if all you have is one volume control. The only thing you can change is loudness.”

“The socioecological environment shapes who we are,” said lead author Paul Smaldino, an assistant professor of cognitive and information sciences at UC Merced. “Within a socioecological niche, particular behavioral characteristics may contribute to more or less success and be more or less reinforced.”

An unexpected prediction

Their model results demonstrate how differences in the diversity of niches can explain the interesting empirical patterns. The team had earlier shown that across 55 nations where the Big Five were measured using the same methods, greater complexity (measured as a combination of urbanization, development and a country’s product diversity portfolio) was associated with lower correlations among Big Five personality traits. The researchers’ new model helps explain this result, and also yields an unexpected prediction: Personality traits should exhibit more internal variation in more complex societies.

Re-examining their 55-nation dataset, the researchers found support for their prediction: Indeed, personality factor variance correlates with socioecological complexity.

What’s behind the Big Five

The social complexity and personality project was borne of a confluence of coincidences. Gurven, co-director of the Tsimane Health and Life History Project, had begun collecting personality data among the Tsimane, an isolated indigenous population in the Bolivian Amazon, to assess health and fitness costs and benefits associated with different personality types. When he and Christopher von Rueden, formerly a graduate student in anthropology at UC Santa Barbara and now an associate professor at Jepson School of Leadership Studies and a co-author of the paper, began analyzing the data using all the standard tools of the trade, they realized they couldn’t replicate the Big Five personality structure.

What’s more, they were struck by the fact that there is no theory in personality psychology that can explain the Big Five structure from first principles. Why do certain traits — like trust and sympathy, impulsivity and anxiety — bundle together the way they do? There are many possibilities for what personality structure might look like, so why does something like the Big Five appear in so many places? How can the Big Five be a human universal, yet scientists have little understanding about why trait covariation takes this exact form over another?

Gurven’s previous work with the Tsimane revealed a Big Two (prosociality and industriousness), as opposed to Five, among that population and led the researchers to contemplate the role of societal structure, divisions of labor and specialization. Together with Aaron Lukaszewski, who completed his Ph.D. in evolutionary psychology at UC Santa Barbara and is now an assistant professor of psychology at CSU Fullerton and also a co-author of the paper, the group developed a verbal theory of how personality traits might emerge in response to societal complexity. They tested this with the personality data from 55 nations.

At the same time, Smaldino had been developing a theory of social identity signaling and social complexity that involved similar arguments. “I found my theory difficult to model as social identity doesn’t have well-established, cross-culturally validated measurement paradigms, and was looking for a way to make progress,” he said. “Personality data fit the bill and was a way to show how social complexity can shape the emergence of psychological features.”

A new model

The model developed by the researchers is intentionally a simple one that ignores a number of features that spring to mind when considering this topic, like social networks and social influence, developmental processes and competition. “We initially designed and build a much more complicated model that included many of those things, as well as frequency-dependency payoffs within niches, membership in multiple niches and competing drives for similarity and differentiation,” Smaldino explained. “But this model had so many parameters that analyzing it was complicated and not particularly informative. We were forced to ask ourselves: What is the essence of our theory?”

Only when they simplified their model by building it around only the essentials of their theory were they able to make progress.

Social isolation derails brain development in mice

Society for Neuroscience. “Social isolation derails brain development in mice: Brain and behavior impairments observed in loner adolescent mice.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 September 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190916143943.htm>.

Society for Neuroscience. (2019, September 16). Social isolation derails brain development in mice: Brain and behavior impairments observed in loner adolescent mice. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190916143943.htm

Society for Neuroscience. “Social isolation derails brain development in mice: Brain and behavior impairments observed in loner adolescent mice.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190916143943.htm (accessed September 16, 2019).

Lack of sleep affects fat metabolism

We’re all a little short on sleep during the work week. A new study adds to the mounting evidence about just how harmful lack of sleep can be. In the Journal of Lipid Research, researchers at Pennsylvania State University report that just a few days of sleep deprivation can make participants feel less full after eating and metabolize the fat in food differently.

Sleep disruption has been known to be have harmful effects on metabolism for some time. Orfeu Buxton, a professor at Penn State and one of the senior authors of the new study, contributed to a lot of the research demonstrating that long-term sleep restriction puts people at a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. However, Buxton said, most of those studies have focused on glucose metabolism, which is important for diabetes, while relatively few have assessed digestion of lipids from food.

Kelly Ness, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, ran the study when she was a graduate student in Buxton’s lab. After participants spent a week getting plenty of sleep at home, she said, the 15 healthy men in their 20s checked into the sleep lab for the ten-night study. For five of those nights the participants spent no more than five hours in bed each night.

During the study, Ness said, she and other researchers collected data but also spent time, “interacting with the subjects, playing games with them, talking with them — helping to keep them awake and engaged and positive.”

To find out how the uncomfortable schedule affected metabolism, the researchers gave participants a standardized high-fat dinner, a bowl of chili mac, after four nights of sleep restriction. “It was very palatable — none of our subjects had trouble finishing it — but very calorically dense,” Ness said. Most participants felt less satisfied after eating the same rich meal while sleep deprived than when they had eaten it well-rested.

Then researchers compared blood samples from the study participants. They found that sleep restriction affected the postprandial lipid response, leading to faster clearance of lipids from the blood after a meal. That could predispose people to put on weight. “The lipids weren’t evaporating — they were being stored,” Buxton explained.

The simulated workweek ended with a simulated Friday and Saturday night when participants could spend ten hours in bed catching up on missed shut-eye. After the first night, they ate one last bowl of chili mac. Although participants’ metabolic handling of fat from food was slightly better after a night of recovery sleep, they didn’t recover to the baseline healthy level.

This study was highly controlled, which makes it an imperfect model for the real world, Ness said. It focused on healthy young people, who are usually at a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and all of the participants were men. The researchers also wondered whether giving more recovery time would change the magnitude of recovery they observed.

Nonetheless, according to Buxton, the study gives worthwhile insight into how we handle fat digestion. “This study’s importance relies on its translational relevance. A high-fat meal in the evening, at dinnertime — and real food, not something infused into the vein? That’s a typical exposure. That’s very American.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

How happy couples argue: Focus on solvable issues first

In marriage, conflict is inevitable. Even the happiest couples argue. And research shows they tend to argue about the same topics as unhappy couples: children, money, in-laws, intimacy.

So, what distinguishes happy couples? According to “What are the Marital Problems of Happy Couples? A Multimethod, Two-Sample Investigation,” a study published this August in Family Process, it is the way happy couples argue that may make a difference.

“Happy couples tend to take a solution-oriented approach to conflict, and this is clear even in the topics that they choose to discuss,” said lead author Amy Rauer, associate professor of child and family studies and director of the Relationships and Development Lab in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.

Rauer and three colleagues — Allen Sabey of Northwestern University, Christine Proulx of the University of Missouri, and Brenda Volling of the University of Michigan — observed two samples of heterosexual, mostly white, educated couples who describe themselves as happily married. Fifty-seven of the couples were in their mid- to late 30s and had been married an average of nine years; 64 of the couples were in their early 70s and had been married an average of 42 years.

Couples in both samples similarly ranked their most and least serious issues. Intimacy, leisure, household, communication, and money were the most serious, as well as health for the older couples; couples in both samples ranked jealousy, religion, and family as the least serious.

When researchers observed couples discussing marital problems, all couples focused on issues with clearer solutions, such as the distribution of household labor and how to spend leisure time.

“Rebalancing chores may not be easy, but it lends itself to more concrete solutions than other issues,” Rauer said. “One spouse could do more of certain chores to balance the scales.”

The couples rarely chose to argue about issues that are more difficult to resolve. And Rauer suggests that this strategic decision may be one of the keys to their marital success.

“Focusing on the perpetual, more-difficult-to-solve problems may undermine partners’ confidence in the relationship,” Rauer said.

Instead, to the extent it is possible, focusing first on more solvable problems may be an effective way to build up both partners’ sense of security in the relationship.

“If couples feel that they can work together to resolve their issues, it may give them the confidence to move on to tackling the more difficult issues,” Rauer said.

As to which issues may be more difficult to resolve, couples avoided discussing challenges regarding their spouse’s health and physical intimacy. These issues may be more difficult to address without challenging their partner’s sense of competence or making the partner feel vulnerable or embarrassed, resulting in more conflict.

“Since these issues tend to be more difficult to resolve, they are more likely to lead to less marital happiness or the dissolution of the relationship, especially if couples have not banked up any previous successes solving other marital issues,” Rauer said.

Researchers also found that couples who were married longer reported fewer serious issues and argued less overall. This is consistent with previous research suggesting that older partners’ perceptions of spending less time with each other may lead them to prioritize their marriage and decide some issues are not worth the argument.

In other words, couples may want to choose their battles wisely, according to Rauer.

“Being able to successfully differentiate between issues that need to be resolved versus those that can be laid aside for now may be one of the keys to a long-lasting, happy relationship.”

Importance of when adolescents sleep to obesity and cardiometabolic health

A new study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and Harvard Medical School has found that adolescent sleep timing preferences and patterns should be considered risk factors for obesity and cardiometabolic health, and that the effects are greater in girls than in boys.

Poor quality and short duration of sleep are known to increase obesity and cardiometabolic risk among children. What’s rarely been studied, however, is how sleep timing and teens’ own preferences for when to sleep and engage in other activities can influence their risk of obesity and poor cardiometabolic health.

“Beyond quantity and quality, timing is a vital component of sleep because it determines if an individual’s circadian clock — the internal sleep/wake schedule — is synchronized with the rhythms of their daily activities,” says Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, division chief, General Academic Pediatrics, MGHfC, and senior investigator of a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics. “This is particularly important to adolescents whose evening preferences and academic demands often result in irregular sleep schedules that may cause circadian misalignment. Our research found that ‘night owls,’ teenagers who prefer to go to bed late but have to get up early for school, had higher waist circumference and greater abdominal fat deposition (adiposity) than the ‘morning larks,’ those who prefer to go to bed early and get up early to begin their day.”

The researchers emphasized the need for consistent sleep-wake patterns throughout the week, including on weekends, to reduce the risk of obesity and promote cardiometabolic health.

The research team studied 804 children who were part of Project Viva, a groundbreaking cohort study begun 20 years ago by researchers at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute that followed Boston-area mothers and children to characterize early-life factors that influence long-term health. Scientists examined chronotypes (evening versus morning preferences) and “social jet lag” (differences in sleep timing between school and free days) in children 12 to 17 years of age. Evening chronotypes and greater social jet lag were associated with higher adiposity.

“Large variability in sleep patterns across the week can disrupt normal physiology, resulting in obesity and cardiometabolic risk,” explains lead author Elizabeth Cespedes Feliciano, ScD, ScM, formerly at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and now research scientist in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

“Our study supports the importance of biological clocks in influencing obesity risk.” Stronger associations with adiposity were observed for girls versus boys. “While the reasons for that difference are not fully understood, they may include biological and sociocultural influences,” says Feliciano.

Helping teenagers address the effects of chronotypes and social jet lag calls for family, clinical and community-based initiatives, according to the investigators. “Families should encourage consistency in their children’s sleep schedules and their bed and wake times as well as improvements in their sleep hygiene by limiting electronic media and caffeine use in the evening,” says Feliciano.

Schools can also play an important role by enacting polices that delay morning start times and by making it easier for students to devote time during the school day to academic or athletic activities that are spilling more and more into the late night, says Taveras. From a clinical standpoint, she adds, physicians should start to include chronotypes and social jet lag in their preventive counseling. “Physicians should be aware of the importance of encouraging adolescents to follow consistent sleep schedules on weekdays and weekends,” she says. “Adolescent girls and ‘owls’ may especially benefit from keeping consistent sleep schedules.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Massachusetts General Hospital. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Brain activity intensity drives need for sleep

The intensity of brain activity during the day, notwithstanding how long we’ve been awake, appears to increase our need for sleep, according to a new UCL study in zebrafish.

The research, published in Neuron, found a gene that responds to brain activity in order to coordinate the need for sleep. It helps shed new light on how sleep is regulated in the brain.

“There are two systems regulating sleep: the circadian and homeostatic systems. We understand the circadian system pretty well — our built-in 24-hour clock that times our biological rhythms, including sleep cycles, and we know where in the brain this rhythm is generated,” explained lead author Dr Jason Rihel (UCL Cell & Developmental Biology).

“But the homeostatic system, which causes us to feel increasingly tired after a very long day or sleepless night, is not well understood. What we’ve found is that it appears to be driven not just by how long you’ve been awake for, but how intensive your brain activity has been since you last slept.”

To understand what processes in the brain drive homeostatic sleep regulation — independent of time of day — the research team studied zebrafish larvae.

Zebrafish are commonly used in biomedical research, partly due to their near-transparent bodies that facilitate imaging, in addition to similarities to humans such as sleeping every night.

The researchers facilitated an increase in brain activity of the zebrafish using various stimulants including caffeine.

Those zebrafish which had drug-induced increased brain activity slept for longer after the drugs had worn off, confirming that the increase in brain activity contributed to a greater need for sleep.

The researchers found that one specific area of the zebrafish brain was central to the effect on sleep pressure: a brain area that is comparable to a human brain area found in the hypothalamus, known to be active during sleep. In the zebrafish brain area, one specific brain signalling molecule called galanin was particularly active during recovery sleep, but did not play as big a role in regular overnight sleep.

To confirm that the drug-induced findings were relevant to actual sleep deprivation, the researchers conducted a test where they kept the young zebrafish awake all night on a ‘treadmill’ where the fish were shown moving stripes — by imitating fast-flowing water, this gives the fish the impression that they need to keep swimming. The zebrafish that were kept awake slept more the next day, and their brains showed an increase in galanin activity during recovery sleep.

The findings suggest that galanin neurons may be tracking total brain activity, but further research is needed to clarify how they detect what’s going on across the whole brain.

The researchers say their finding that excess brain activity can increase the need for sleep might explain why people often feel exhausted after a seizure.

“Our findings may also shed light on how some animals can avoid sleep under certain conditions such as starvation or mating season — it may be that their brains are able to minimise brain activity to limit the need for sleep,” said the study’s first author, Dr Sabine Reichert (UCL Cell & Developmental Biology).

The researchers say that by discovering a gene that plays a central role in homeostatic sleep regulation, their findings may help to understand sleep disorders and conditions that impair sleep, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“We may have identified a good drug target for sleep disorders, as it may be possible to develop therapies that act on galanin,” added Dr Reichert.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University College London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Gutsy effort to produce comprehensive study of intestinal gases

A source of embarrassment to some, or pure comedy to others, flatulence and the gases of the intestines are increasingly seen as playing an important role in our digestive health.

A paper led by UNSW Sydney and published in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology has examined all available literature on gastrointestinal gases, their interactions with the microbiome of the gut, their associated disorders and the way that they can be measured and analysed.

Lead author Professor Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, who is an ARC Laureate Fellow with UNSW’s School of Chemical Engineering, says the purpose of the study is to lift the lid on the various gases of the gut and show how vital they are for human health.

“This is about providing knowledge to people about the importance of gases in the gut,” he says.

“Rather than laughing about it or feeling embarrassed about this subject, actually there is good reason to take this very seriously.

“Even Benjamin Franklin wrote about this more than 200 years ago. He was one of the first to propose that different types of foods have different effects on our gut health, which can be measured by smelling the resulting farts — although I’m not so sure about his methods.”

Indeed, Franklin wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels where he proposed “To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.”

While Franklin’s challenge continues to elude modern pharmacology, a change of diet to avoid foods rich in sulphide — such as broccoli, cauliflower, eggs, beef, and garlic — could reduce the malodorous nature of our gaseous emissions.

Gas profiles

In the paper published today, the authors examine each of the main gases that are found in the gastrointestinal system.

“Interestingly, the gases in most abundance throughout the digestive system — nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and even methane — are odourless,” Professor Kalantar-zadeh says.

By contrast, smelly sulphide compound gases exist in trace amounts in the colon. Nitrogen and oxygen end up in the gut by being swallowed and carbon dioxide can be chemically produced in the stomach.

“The rest are mostly by-products of the microbiome — the colonies of bacteria living in our intestines — as they break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins.”

With the exception of nitrogen, the gases found in the intestines have also been linked with various gut diseases including malabsorption of food, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and even colon cancer, especially when the gas profiles deviate from the norm.

“Adjustment of diet is generally the first port of call to mitigate these disorders as we can modulate the gases by eating different types of foods,” Professor Kalantar-Zadeh says.

Gas-sensing technology

The UNSW team, together with their partners at Monash University and startup company Atmo Biosciences, is commercialising a revolutionary tool to analyse the gastrointestinal gases in vivo (within the body) in the form of an ingestible capsule loaded with gas-sensing technology. The capsule can detect gaseous biomarkers as it passes through the gut, all the while transmitting the captured data wirelessly to the cloud for aggregation and analysis.

Traditionally, testing and measuring of the various gases has ranged from the non-invasive in vitro (ie. in the laboratory) gut simulators and indirect breath testing through to colonic or small intestine tube-insertion, a much more invasive method used to capture stool or gas samples.

But the capsule developed by Professor Kalantar-Zadeh and the team gets around the problem of invasiveness while also ensuring the gases can be analysed in their natural environment. The ingestible capsule can simultaneously detect oxygen and hydrogen concentrations as it moves through the gastrointestinal gut and wirelessly transmit the data to an external receiver.

“There is no other tool that can do what this capsule does,” Professor Kalantar-Zadeh says.

“In our early trials, the capsule has accurately shown the onset of food-related fermentation in the gut, which would be immensely valuable for clinical studies of food digestion and normal gut function.”

Professor Kalantar-Zadeh says a trial is currently underway by Atmo Biosciences to test the commercial version of the capsule, the results of which will be detailed in a future research paper.