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Breath Test Gives Clue to Microorganisms in the Gut

A recent study at Cedars-Sinai suggests that a simple breath test can help determine the profile of microorganisms inhabiting one’s gut, which may give a clue of their likeliness of developing obesity. The study was published by The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, and shows that high concentrations of both hydrogen and methane gasses in the breath are linked to a higher body mass index (BMI) and higher amounts of body fat.

Lead author Ruchi Mathur, MD, director of the Diabetes Outpatient Treatment and Education Center in the Division of Endocrinology at Cedars-Sinai  states that this is the first large-scale study that demonstrates a link between gas production and body weight, which could prove to be an important factor in understanding the cause of obesity.

The study involved almost 800 people whose breaths were analyzed for types of gases released by microorganisms in their gut. The investigators discovered four patterns, where the participants either had normal gas content, high levels of methane, high concentration of hydrogen, or high levels of both gases. Participants who had high levels of both gases were noted to have significantly higher BMIs and body fat percentages.

Methane gas in the breath indicates the presence of a microbe called Methanobrevibacter smithii, which is responsible for majority of methane gas production in humans. Although microorganisms in the gut may be helpful in converting food into energy, this particular microbe, when overabundant, may alter the balance that might cause an increased likelihood of gaining weight, according to Mathur.

Mathur is currently involved in another study, which aims to confirm the association between M. smithii, obesity and increased blood sugar levels. He believes that it is important to understand how microorganisms in the gut affect metabolism and their impact on health.


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Obesity may be linked to microorganisms living in the gut. ScienceDaily.

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