Hydrogen sulfide is one of a number of potent smelly gases produced by bacteria as it breaks down food in the gut. It is toxic in large doses but in tiny amounts it helps protect cells and fight illness, according to researchers at Exeter University.
When cells become stressed by disease they try to draw in enzymes to generate their own minute quantities of hydrogen sulfide. The chemical helps to preserve mitochondria, which drive energy production in blood vessel cells and regulate inflammation, and without it the cell can switch off and die.
Mirror UK reported that Professor Matt Whiteman from University of Exeter’s medical school said: “When cells become stressed by disease, they draw in enzymes to generate minute quantities of hydrogen sulfide.
“This keeps the mitochondria ticking over and allows cells to live. If this doesn’t happen, the cells die and lose the ability to regulate survival and control inflammation.
“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.
“Our results indicate that if stressed cells are treated with AP39, mitochondria are protected and cells stay alive.”
Before it can be tested on humans, researchers have run disease models to see how effective AP39 is, and early results show that it can help up to 80 percent more mitochondria survive highly destructive conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
Fellow researcher Dr. Mark Wood added: “Although hydrogen sulfide 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.”