Smartphone-connected gas sensing pills developed at RMIT University reveal what's going on in the gut

First smart pill trials reveal what fibre does in gut

First trials using ingestible smartphone-connected sensors to monitor how diet affects digestion have been conducted in Australia. 

A team from the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, used their sensor-fitted capsule to study how fibre intake affects the production of intestinal gases in pigs.

Pigs were selected as their digestive system closely resembles that of humans. Half of the pigs were put on a high-fibre diet while the other half were fed only a little fibre.

The researchers were surprised as the data, contrary to expectations, revealed that a low-fibre diet tends to produce more hydrogen in the small intestine than a high-fibre diet.

"This was a complete surprise because hydrogen is produced through fermentation, so we naturally expected more fibre would equal more of this fermentation gas,” said Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, who led the study.

"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.”

Knowing exactly what is happening in what part of the gut would be extremely valuable to doctors trying to help patients suffering from intestinal gases. These may point to some rather serious conditions, such as colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, but may also be a symptom of the relatively harmless irritable bowel syndrome.

"We hope this technology will in future enable researchers to design personalised diets or drugs that can efficiently target problem areas in the gut, to help the millions of people worldwide that are affected by digestive disorders and diseases," Kalantar-zadeh said.

While low-fibre diets during the trial tended to produce more hydrogen in the small intestine, high-fibre diets were responsible for an increased production of methane in the large intestine. The ratio of carbon dioxide and methane gases remained the same in the large intestine for both diets, suggesting that neither diet would be helpful for people suffering IBS diseases associated with excess methane concentration

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