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J Exp Med. 1971 Mar 1;133(3):572-88.

Factors influencing pulmonary methane excretion in man. An indirect method of studying the in situ metabolism of the methane-producing colonic bacteria.


Measurements of pulmonary excretion of methane (CH(4)) were used to obtain information on the CH(4)-producing bacteria in man. Preliminary studies indicated that (a) all CH(4) excreted by man is produced by colonic bacteria, (b) there is no appreciable utilization of CH(4) by man, and (c) breath CH(4) can serve as a relatively accurate indicator of CH(4) production in the intestine. The rate of pulmonary CH(4) excretion varied enormously, ranging from undetectable (<5 x 10(-6) ml/min) to 0.66 ml/minute. In general, the CH(4) excretion rate for subjects was consistently very low (nonproducers) or relatively large (producers). 33.6% of the adult population were producers of CH(4). Whereas diet, age over 10 yr, and sex did not influence the rate of CH(4) production, some familial factor appeared to play an important role. 84% of siblings of CH(4) producers also were producers, while only 18% of the siblings of nonproducers were found to be CH(4) producers. This familial tendency appeared to be determined by early environmental rather than genetic factors. These studies of CH(4) excretion demonstrate that the exposure of individuals to intestinal bacterial metabolites may differ markedly and that these differences may be chronic and determined by familial factors.

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