There are plenty of wonderful things about nature like that distinct whiff of fragrance you get every time you cross a jasmine bush in full bloom. There are also some things about nature that can make you sick to the stomach – such as the smell of poop.
But it’s really the bizarre ways of nature that leaves us completely stumped. For instance, discovering that the same compound that gives the jasmine flower its irresistibly charming odor is also responsible for making your poop smell so unbearably repugnant. Well if that wasn’t strange enough, it may also be just the elixir of good health we’ve all been waiting for!
Mind you, as counterintuitive as this piece of information may seem – it isn’t one of those old wives’ tales. In fact, it comes with some really solid scientific backing. But before we get to that, here’s a little bit about the star compound in question – indole.
What Exactly Is Indole?
In small concentrations, indole has a pleasant, flowery odor. In larger concentrations, however, most people will agree it smells like poop. The concentration of indole in poop is especially high if you’ve eaten foods like milk or turkey, which contain tryptophan – an amino acid that gets converted into indole and indoxyl sulfate in your digestive system.
Indole and its chemical relatives can be found in plants, especially vegetables such as broccoli and kale.
What Makes Indole Foul And Fragrant At The Same Time?
When a scent hits your nostrils in very large concentrations, it binds itself to a much wider range of smell receptors that are associated with bad scents. In smaller traces, the receptors involved are a lot fewer in number and are associated with more acceptable smells.1 2 This ought to explain why every time you come across someone who has marinated himself in perfume, you feel not only overwhelmed but also sick.
But this is not just all. According to some researchers, too much indole doesn’t really smell like feces, and too little doesn’t smell like flowers either. In fact, both have a rich animal odor – fresh and green. It’s really a strange combination of dirty and pleasant – similar to what most “green” odors would smell like.
Indole May Make You Healthier
Research has proved that indole molecules can have a significantly positive impact on the health of a variety of older animals. Thus, it may also have a similar positive effect on the health of elderly humans.
Of The Study
A team of U.S. researchers from Atlanta’s Emory University wanted to figure out a way to make elderly animals healthy.
So they studied a few mice, fruit flies, and worms and fed them bacterium that produces indole molecules.3
The focus of this study was not to increase the overall lifespan of these animals but instead on how to make them more fit and improve the quality of their health in their old age (also known as healthspan).
Results Of The Study
In the tests that followed, mice that were fed indoles displayed increased strength, mobility, and heat resistance as compared to those who weren’t. The indoles also more than doubled the reproductive span of these worms, allowing them to remain fertile up to 12 days – which was a huge jump from the usual limit of 5 days.4
Improved mobility and heat resistance were also seen in the fruit flies and mice that ingested indoles. The old mice (aged 28 months) who ingested indoles were also able to maintain their weight and activity levels. Moreover, when the researchers tested the effects of indole molecules on younger mice, they found the compound extended the survival of these mice after exposure to lethal radiation. The researchers also reported that indoles made the old animals look like the young ones, thus hinting that indole may also be an important compound that fights aging.5
Does This Mean?
The study indicates that indole molecules may help old animals live healthier, but not necessarily longer. This is important because, with numerous advances in the field of medical care, one may certainly end up living longer but that may not be a blessing if those extra years are spent feeling sick, frail, and infirm. In such circumstances, one can’t be expected to enjoy those additional years of life.
Researchers aren’t too sure as to how the indole molecules were able to perform such dramatic miracles on the animals’ health. However, they suggest that the compound may have a protective effect on the intestinal barrier and may also limit systemic inflammatory disorders.6 And while studies are yet to be carried out on older humans, the researchers believe that the results are sure to be just as positive.
Of course, the road to proving that indole molecules may indeed positively affect human healthspan is a long one. However, it will certainly make us think about wanting to live healthier for longer.
|↑1||Odorant Receptors and Olfactory Coding. National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|↑2||Olfactory Perception in Humans. National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|↑3, ↑4, ↑5||Sonowal, Robert, Alyson Swimm, Anusmita Sahoo, Liping Luo, Yohei Matsunaga, Ziqi Wu, Jui A. Bhingarde et al. “Indoles from commensal bacteria extend healthspan.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017): 201706464.|
|↑6||Berstad, Arnold, Jan Raa, and Jørgen Valeur. “Indole–the scent of a healthy ‘inner soil’.” Microbial ecology in health and disease 26, no. 1 (2015): 27997.|