The answer to what is best for your gut could be hidden in your breath.
That’s according to the creators of a ‘game-changer’ gadget that flags which foods you could be intolerant to, simply in response to being blown into.
The AIRE2 – created by Dublin-based company FoodMarble – claims to help irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients and those suffering from abdominal pain, bloating or diarrhoea.
The pocket-sized device, which costs £199, detects levels of hydrogen and methane in a person’s breath.
Both are produced in abundance by the gut when it is struggling to digest certain naturally-occurring sugars, such as lactose, fructose and sorbitol.
As a result, the device can flag whether the food a person has just eaten is causing digestive problems, according to its creators.
It’s hoped the device, created by Dublin-based company FoodMarble, could help people find out which foods are causing them IBS symptoms and other digestion problems
However, experts have warned that the level of these gases in your breath alone may not reveal the full picture of what’s behind debilitating tummy problems and advised people to turn to their GP to find out what’s behind the symptoms.
An estimated 13million people in the UK suffer with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which causes abdominal pain, bloating and sickness that come and go over time.
Additionally, 10million Brits suffer from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which mirrors IBS but affects the small intestine rather than the large one.
The exact causes of the conditions is unknown but certain foods can trigger a flare-up in symptoms.
However, it can be difficult to work out which are to blame.
Aonghus Shortt, the company’s CEO, created the device after witnessing his wife Grace’s debilitating IBS symptoms, which made it hard for her to leave the house.
He said AIRE2 is a ‘game-changer’ now she knows which foods trigger her.
It works by measuring the amount of both hydrogen and methane gas in the gut. When you breathe into the device the app, which is synced to your smartphone, it will give you a score on a scale between zero and ten. High is a ten and low is a zero
How does it work?
Users are prompted to breathe into their AIRE2 — through a small hole on the edge of the device — up to 10 times a day, while logging what they have eaten and any abdominal symptoms.
The device will then send a score from zero (low) to 10 (high) to their mobile for both hydrogen and methane levels.
Hydrogen is produced by the gut during fermentation — when the gut breaks down food that hasn’t been fully absorbed in the stomach or small intestine — which can trigger bloating and abdominal pain.
Methane is also produced and can cause constipation.
A high hydrogen level may signal that small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is present or that the body is struggling to digest carbohydrates and sugars, while a low score means your gut isn’t faring okay.
Scoring high for methane signals there is an intestinal methanogen overgrowth which can cause slower digestion and constipation, while the other end of the scale is a sign the gut is digesting the food efficiently.
Dr Claire Shortt, a microbiologist at FoodMarble, said it is the production of these gases in high quantities that causes IBS-like symptoms.
‘There is always going to be a certain level of gas production happening in your gut’, said Dr Shortt.
‘The presence of gas is not a problem. It’s just when the body produces more gas than it can tolerate.’
While most people don’t feel discomfort during digestion, for IBS sufferers, these gases can cause pressure in the stomach similar to ‘blowing up a balloon’, as well as other signs of digestive problems, she said.
Hydrogen and methane are produced throughout the day as food is broken down. Some passes into the bloodstream and is exhaled by the lungs.
That’s why breathing into the AIRE2 can detect certain gases produced in the gut and how much there is, and make the link with what foods could be the culprit, FoodMarble claim.
‘If you don’t have any symptoms you don’t have to adjust your diet’, said Dr Shortt.
By tracking your meals, symptoms and breath tests in the FoodMarble app you can spot a pattern of what might be causing your IBS symptoms (left). If you get a high reading on a breath test for hydrogen and methane gas in the gut, the app can help by showing which foods are easier to digest (right)
How do you know if you have a food intolerance?
Even after testing your breath throughout the day and keeping track of your meals, it can be tricky to pinpoint what is causing the symptoms.
To track your bodies response to a particular food, for an extra £39, the breath tester comes with four sachets of powdered products that are common intolerances.
This includes a packet of lactose, which is found in dairy products such as milk, cream and yoghurt, and a sachet of fructose, which is in fruits and vegetables, as well as corn syrup, explains Dr Shortt.
The kit also includes sorbitol, which is found in avocadoes, plums and low-calorie sweeteners, and inulin, which is found in wheat-containing foods, such as bread, pizza and pasta, as well as onions and garlic.
Users are advised to dissolve the powders in water, drink them, then log their hydrogen and methane levels through the AIRE2.
FoodMarble claims this can pinpoint what component is causing IBS-like symptoms.
Dr Shortt argues the device is a fast way to detect problem foods.
With IBS, sufferers are advised to eat low levels of fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, known as the FODMAP diet.
These are four sugars that the body struggles to digest and can trigger abdominal symptoms in some people with IBS, including diarrhoea, cramping and constipation.
However, the FODMAP diet is extremely restrictive, with grains, certain vegetables, fruits, beans, pulse, dairy, sweeteners and nuts and seeds eliminated.
It can also take months before problem foods are identified.
Dr Shortt said the AIRE2 cuts the time it takes to figure out which foods don’t work.
She said: ‘For some people the [FODMAP] diet will last for months and others will never get off the diet, so it is a pretty long process with many steps.
‘Using the device and app, we’ve shortened that whole process to about two weeks.’
She added: ‘If somebody does a lactose test and they get high gas after eating lactose and they feel unwell, we would be just as confident with that result as if we did it in a hospital.’
For those who find out they have an intolerance using the AIRE2, the first step is to reduce their portion size of the offending ingredient.
Dr Shortt says: ‘Instead of making two scoops of ice cream, have one, or have a smaller glass of milk with your meal. With a food intolerance, it’s about finding the right portion size, it’s different to an allergy (which means you have to avoid a food).’
She added: ‘Our goal is to help people with digestive symptoms find foods which are well tolerated by their gut so they can have a broad, varied diet.
‘Feeding our gut microbiome is so important to keep us healthy and strong.’
However, experts have warned that a breath test cannot provide reliable, definitive diagnosis of FODMAP intolerances.
Dr Duane Mellor, based at Aston University in Birmingham, says: ‘Food intolerances do go beyond just FODMAPS.
‘Anything that can cause an irritation can result in an intolerance, which unlike an allergy does not have an allergic component.’
He warns that testing for ‘the production of gases can be one sign of malfermentation’ but might not be ‘the whole story’.
Dr Mellor urges people to visit a doctor to rule out bowel cancer and conditions like coeliac disease — which can both cause digestion problems — if a person is suffering from changes to their poo, stomach pain and bloating.
He added: ‘Perhaps the most useful approach is the use of a symptom diary to work out which foods might be leading to symptoms.
‘However, this should not be done alone and it is strongly recommended that you do this with a registered dietitian so that you do not restrict your diet unnecessarily and reintroduce foods to help ensure you are eating a varied and balanced diet.’
Dr Gunter Kuhnle, a food scientist at the University of Reading, believes the AIRE2 device could encourage people to restrict their diets unnecessarily and highlight minor problems.
He says: ‘It might make some people aware of minor sensations they would otherwise have ignored.’