Today’s Topic: Exploding Colons

My kitchen reno is temporarily on hold (a few key things are missing—like doorknobs and radiators—but the construction crew is digging basements for new houses before winter hits, so I must be patient).

The good news: Today, I get to discuss two true heroes in the medical world—Dr. Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Dr. Michel Antonietti. These brave men have done what no one else dared to do—they’ve solved the mystery of why colons explode.

Now, doctors have known about exploding colons for years—it’s a rare, but unfortunate complication that occurs during colonoscopies. Ben-Soussan and Antonietti decided to get to the bottom of this—they decided to find out why some colons explode, plus how to avoid this hair-raising disaster.

Their research—which, if I’m reading these studies correctly, involved siphoning gas out of people’s colons—determined that an explosion is imminent if you have:

a) A 5% concentration of oxygen (which is, unfortunately, provided by colonoscopy equipment)
b) A 4% concentration of methane or hydrogen gas (which your own digestive tract is happily producing right this minute), and
c) Heat (which colonoscopy equipment also provides)

So, it turns out making a colon explode is a lot like making bread rise—you need just the right ingredients, and you need them in just the right amounts.

Think internal combustion couldn’t happen to you? Ben-Soussan and Antonietti’s studies suggest that at least 45% of us are walking around—right now—with potentially explosive levels of hydrogen and methane in our colons.

Thankfully, these intrepid researchers decided to probe a little deeper. They decided to study how people could ensure (in their words) “an uneventful colonoscopy.”

The secret? Explosive diarrhea. Yes, today’s colon prep liquids are vile, but you need to chug every drop, then sit on the toilet with explosive diarrhea the day before your colonoscopy, if you want to avoid an even worse explosion the day of the procedure. Once a colon is fully, properly and completely emptied, the levels of hydrogen and methane plunge to less than 1%—well below the amount needed for ignition, Ben-Soussan reports.

Ben-Soussan and Antonietti got an Ig Nobel Award for this discovery (if you’ve never heard of the Ig Nobels, you can read about these amazing awards here). And there’s no question they deserved it. Their discovery has probably saved countless colons over the years—and a few of their colleagues’ eyebrows, as well.

4 thoughts on “Today’s Topic: Exploding Colons

  1. Sally Ashby

    That was very interesting… As I, have had the joy of having a colonoscopy and would attest to the vile liquid and the aftermath. But very glad now I drank every last nasty, vile drop ☺

    1. Brenda Post author

      Hello Sally,

      I’ve chugged that colonoscopy liquid, too – it was disgusting at the time, but now I’m glad that I did!!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *