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We've all had those awkward moments when a roomful of people tries to ignore a less-than-fragrant blast from someone's nether regions.

It's bad enough at work - but much worse on the bus or, heaven forbid, in a lift.

Now help could be on the way, with the humble kiwifruit thought to hold the key to an embarrassing condition affecting hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders.

Up to one in five men and one in four women suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), with flatulence and constipation among common symptoms.

The fruit contains an enzyme called zyactinase, and a small study has shown it could provide relief for IBS sufferers.

"People think of kiwifruit for constipation but it also seemed to be quite good for general irritable bowel," said gastroenterologist Dr Russell Walmsley, who worked on the research.

Overseas studies have shown up to 24 per cent of women and 19 per cent of men in developed countries suffer from IBS.

Walmsley said New Zealand statistics would be "in the same ballpark".

Stress is a common trigger and sufferers who have had more symptoms than usual could blame the recession.

"There is a well-recognised phenomenon of it being better when you're on holiday and worse when there's talk of redundancy," said Walmsley.

Most sufferers can manage the condition through stress control and dietary changes, but a minority find it difficult to work and travel.

"They can get very worried about leaving the house, so it can lead to a social crippling of their lives," said Walmesley.

The survey saw Walmesley contact 36 regular users of Phloe, a kiwifruit-based bowel health product. Twenty-one fitted the profile of IBS sufferers and many of them said Phloe eased their symptoms.

Melanie Palmer, communications manager for kiwifruit marketing company Zespri, said the fruit was known for relieving that "blocked and bloated feeling".

"Early results show eating green kiwifruit as part of a meal may improve digestion."