The first-ever trial using smart pills that can measure intestinal gases inside a person’s body was recently conducted, yielding striking results that revealed previously unthought-of ways in which fiber affects the gut.
The trial was led by Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh of the Centre for Advanced Electronics and Sensors at Australia’s RMIT University. The smart gas sensing pills, which can send data from inside the gut directly to a smartphone, were also developed at this research unit.
The trial revealed that not only the amount of gas produced, but also the place where it is stored in the gut – large or small intestines or stomach – was affected by the amount of fiber in a person’s diet.
The smart pills were tested in two different groups of pigs, which share a similar digestive system to humans. The two groups were fed either a low-fiber or high-fiber diet. Results showed that:
- The ratio of methane gases and carbon dioxide remained the same in the large intestine for both diets, suggesting that neither diet would be helpful for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) diseases associated with excess methane concentration;
- Low-fiber diets produced four times more hydrogen gas in the small intestine than high-fiber, suggesting that a high-fiber regimen could benefit patients with IBS caused by bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine;
- High-fiber diets produce more methane gas in the large intestine than the low-fiber diet, suggesting that painful gut gas retention could be avoided by cutting back on high-fiber food.
“We found a low-fiber diet produced four times more hydrogen in the small intestine than a high-fiber diet,” Kalantar-zadeh said in a news release. “This was a complete surprise because hydrogen is produced through fermentation, so we naturally expected more fiber would equal more of this fermentation gas. The smart pills allow us to identify precisely where the gases are produced and help us understand the microbial activity in these areas — it’s the first step in demolishing the myths of food effects on our body and replacing those myths with hard facts.”
Intestinal gases have been associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), IBS, and colon cancer, but why we produce them and what role they play on our health are questions that still remain unanswered by specialists.
“We hope this technology will in future enable researchers to design personalized diets or drugs that can efficiently target problem areas in the gut to help the millions of people worldwide who are affected by digestive disorders and diseases,” Kalantar-zadeh said.