The humble fart could play an important role in our digestive health, say Australian scientists. So much so, they’ve created a swallowable sensor that can travel through your gut, carrying out chemical analysis of future farts as they form.
The purpose? To lift the lid on the various gases of the gut and show how vital they are for human health.
“Rather than laughing about it or feeling embarrassed about this subject, actually there is good reason to take this very seriously.
“Even Benjamin Franklin wrote about this more than 200 years ago. He was one of the first to propose that different types of foods have different effects on our gut health, which can be measured by smelling the resulting farts – although I’m not so sure about his methods.”
While Franklin’s challenge continues to elude modern pharmacology, a change of diet to avoid foods rich in sulphide – such as broccoli, cauliflower, eggs, beef, and garlic – could reduce the malodorous nature of our gaseous emissions.
By contrast, smelly sulphide compound gases exist in trace amounts in the colon. Nitrogen and oxygen end up in the gut by being swallowed and carbon dioxide can be chemically produced in the stomach.
With the exception of nitrogen, the gases found in the intestines have also been linked with various gut diseases including malabsorption of food, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and even colon cancer, especially when the gas profiles deviate from the norm.
“Adjustment of diet is generally the first port of call to mitigate these disorders as we can modulate the gases by eating different types of foods,” Kalantar-Zadeh says.
The UNSW team, together with their partners at Monash University and startup company Atmo Biosciences, is commercialising a revolutionary tool to analyse the gastrointestinal gases in vivo (within the body) in the form of an ingestible capsule loaded with gas-sensing technology. The capsule can detect gaseous biomarkers as it passes through the gut, all the while transmitting the captured data wirelessly to the cloud for aggregation and analysis.
Traditionally, testing and measuring of the various gases has ranged from the non-invasive in vitro (ie. in the laboratory) gut simulators and indirect breath testing through to colonic or small intestine tube-insertion, a much more invasive method used to capture stool or gas samples.
But the capsule developed by the team gets around the problem of invasiveness while also ensuring the gases can be analysed in their natural environment. The ingestible capsule can simultaneously detect oxygen and hydrogen concentrations as it moves through the gastrointestinal gut and wirelessly transmit the data to an external receiver.
“There is no other tool that can do what this capsule does,” Kalantar-Zadeh says.
“In our early trials, the capsule has accurately shown the onset of food-related fermentation in the gut, which would be immensely valuable for clinical studies of food digestion and normal gut function.”
A trial is currently underway by Atmo Biosciences to test the commercial version of the capsule, the results of which will be detailed in a future research paper.
This article was first published on Australia’s Science Channel, the original news platform of The Royal Institution of Australia.
Ben Lewis is a science communicator with the Royal Institution of Australia.
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