Scientists from Maastricht UMC+ and Maastricht University are developing a new approach to measure fermentation in the intestines through people’s breath. This can lead to more effective prevention and treatment of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Our intestines contain trillions of bacteria, which ferment indigestible foods such as fibers in whole grains, legumes, and fruits. These cannot be digested in the first part of the intestines. During this process ‘products’ are created that can have beneficial effects on metabolism, immune system, and brain health. Good microbial fermentation is therefore essential for maintaining our health. However, measuring the fermentation process in humans is very difficult.

Grant award
For the research project ‘ Non-invasive continuous gut microbial fermentation measurement for health and disease’, led by the Department of Human Biology, a new approach is being developed that makes this possible in a non-invasive manner and in real time. This project involves collaboration with Human and Animal Physiology of Wageningen University & Research, Research Engineering (IDEE), Maastricht Instruments, Sensus and TSE Systems. A grant of more than one million euros was recently awarded to the project by the Human Measurement Models 2.0 program. Within this research program, more effective methods are being developed allowing for more frequent human research.

Measuring gases
The advanced respiration chambers, which the department uses to study metabolism and energy management in humans, will be extended to fermentation chambers. Each chamber forms a closed circuit, the subject enters and then does not come out for several days. In this controlled environment, the chamber will be provided with fresh air and the air used by the test subject is extracted. The exhaled air will be measured and analyzed using highly sensitive sensors. For measuring the fermentation process additional gases will be measured, such as methane, hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen. This gives the researchers information about the fermentation of proteins and carbohydrates in humans. The balance between the fermentation of carbohydrates and proteins can be important for our health.

Disease prevention
Research leader Prof. Dr. Ellen Blaak: “This unique and new measurement method will provide us with fundamental data on the interaction between food, environmental factors, fermentation in our intestines and our health. In the future, this could lead to new beneficial food products and lifestyle interventions to prevent various chronic diseases.”  If you are interested in measuring metabolism and energy management then consult us about our indirect calorimetry metabolic cartwhole room calorimeter systems or accelerometry add-ons. Please contact us or find more information on our information pages.