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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Apr;98(4):E698-702. doi: 10.1210/jc.2012-3144. Epub 2013 Mar 26.

Methane and hydrogen positivity on breath test is associated with greater body mass index and body fat.

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  • 1Division of Endocrine Diabetes and Metabolism, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA 90048, USA.



Colonization of the gastrointestinal tract with methanogenic archaea (methanogens) significantly affects host metabolism and weight gain in animal models, and breath methane is associated with a greater body mass index (BMI) among obese human subjects.


The objective of the study was to characterize the relationship between methane and hydrogen on breath test (as a surrogate for colonization with the hydrogen requiring methanogen, Methanobrevibacter smithii), body weight, and percent body fat in a general population cohort.


This was a prospective study (n = 792) of consecutive subjects presenting for breath testing.


The study was conducted at a tertiary care center.


BMI and percent body fat were measured.


Subjects were classified into 4 groups based on breath testing: normal (N) (methane <3 ppm and hydrogen <20 ppm at or before 90 minutes); hydrogen positive only (H+) [methane <3 ppm and hydrogen ≥20 ppm); methane positive only (M+) (methane ≥3 ppm and hydrogen <20 ppm), or methane and hydrogen positive (M+/H+) (methane ≥3 ppm and hydrogen ≥20 ppm]. There were significant differences in age but not in gender across the groups. After controlling for age as a confounding variable, M+/H+ subjects had significantly higher BMI than other groups (N: 24.1 ± 5.2 kg/m(2); H+: 24.2 ± 4.5 kg/m(2); M+: 24.0 ± 3.75 kg/m(2); M+/H+: 26.5 ± 7.1 kg/m(2), P < .02) and also had significantly higher percent body fat (N: 28.3 ± 10.0%; H+: 27.5 ± 9.0%; M+: 28.0 ± 8.9%; M+/H+; 34.1 ± 10.9%, P < .001).


The presence of both methane and hydrogen on breath testing is associated with increased BMI and percent body fat in humans. We hypothesize that this is due to colonization with the hydrogen-requiring M smithii, which affects nutrient availability for the host and may contribute to weight gain.

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