Science - November 8, 2018

Breath test shows how gut bacteria work

Tessa Louwerens

Researchers in the Animal and Human Physiology chair group have succeeded in identifying how intestinal bacteria process different kinds of food by analysing air. The analyses can provide information about intestinal health and be of help in dealing with overweight and bowel conditions.


The research team led by Evert van Schothorst demonstrated in tests on mice that intestinal bacteria react differently to different kinds of food. Indigestible food ferments faster than easily digested food, for instance. Researchers established this by putting the mice in a room equipped with sensors that continuously measure the gases in their inhalations and exhalations.

The method could be suitable for use in research on people, says Van Schothorst. ‘There are already rooms where people’s breath is analysed. If they are equipped with the sensors we used in our study, they can analyse in real time how gut bacteria process food.’

These analyses can then provide important information about the health of the intestines, and perhaps in future also about conditions such as Crohn’s disease of irritable bowel syndrome. The composition of the gut bacteria and their reaction to food also affect the sense of satiety. ‘The more we find out about that, the better we can deal with overweight, obesity, and the diseases associated with them,’ says Van Schothorst.