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In the BBC News article CES 2019: Tech preview of the expo's hottest new gadgets there is a new product that one can use to measure the hydrogen in ones breath, and this is supposed to have some connection to diet:

By contrast, FoodMarble's Aire measures the hydrogen in your breath and combines this with a log of what you have eaten, to warn you of foods you should avoid and possible substitutions.

Aire is designed to discover which foods are being passed to the large intestine without being fully digested

There also exist air quality monitor chips that measure both TVOC (total volatile organic compounds) and "eCO2", where "eCO2" is really a measurement of H2 in the air, and via some electronic algorithm uses it to calculate the expected rate that people are exhaling CO2.

Question: Both of these are examples of interpreting the presence of molecular hydrogen as having some indication that we are alive, breathing and eating. Here I would like to understand the sources of hydrogen in human breath, and how that hydrogen makes it from source to breath.

potentially related: Where does molecular hydrogen in the atmosphere come from?

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  • $\begingroup$ They explain on their website. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jan 6 at 7:56
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer Thanks! I'm not sure how to judge the validity of foodmarble.com could you consider writing a short answer and quoting that page? That way other readers can comment and possibly add more information or other sources. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 6 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ If I have some free time I will. They do link to scientific articles on that website. The gist of it is that this isn’t new technology (all they’ve claimed to have done is make it available to consumers) and it is based on hydrogen fermentation by bacteria in the gut. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jan 6 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ The hydrogen breath test is well established, and is accepted to be a product of the scientific method (even if not everyone agrees as to what it may be concluded from such measurements). "Breath hydrogen is derived from the interaction between ingested carbohydrate and intestinal bacteria" see here for a peer-reviewed article in a reputable journal. $\endgroup$ – user1136 Jan 6 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @user1136 thank you for the link, and I see what you mean. Pardon me a moment, I'm going to brush my teeth now... ;-) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 6 at 13:06
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Hydrogen in breath arises from normal intestinal bacteria, mainly in the colon, which break down (ferment) the undigested nutrients that have passed through the small intestine. Hydrogen is absorbed from the intestine into the blood and exhaled via the lungs.

Conditions in which intestinal bacteria produce hydrogen:

  • Normal digestion in which soluble dietary fiber is not digested in the small intestine. Examples of soluble fiber: beta-glucan (in oats and barley), pectin (in apples) fructo-oligosaccharides (in red onions), raffinose (in beans), etc.
  • Lactose intolerance in which lactose remains undigested due to lack of the enzyme lactase (gas is produced mainly after ingesting milk)
  • Fructose malabsorption in which fructose absorption is reduced due to lack of a certain molecule in the intestinal lining (gas is produced after eating foods high in fructose: apples, pears, honey, agave, etc.)
  • Sucrose intolerance due to lack of the enzyme that digests sucrose
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) due to various malabsorptive conditions

Hydrogen breath test is an established method for diagnosing various intestinal disorders. It includes drinking a solution high in certain substance (lactose, fructose..., depending on which disorder is expected) and measuring hydrogen in the exhaled air.

To properly interpret the results of a hydrogen test you need to consider the time in which hydrogen appears in breath after ingestion of a certain substance.

Food Marble provides a relatively thin explanation of their breath test. The question is if this test can distinguish between the hydrogen produced during normal digestion of the soluble fiber and hydrogen produced in the mentioned intestinal disorders.

Business Insider made a review of FoodMarble in which they mention some other reviews...In summary: it's not proven reliable, yet.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow, this is a real surprise! Thank you for taking the time to explain all of this and source well. It looks like the rises are of order tens of ppm, so it's not a profound amount of gas. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 7 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ The breath tests in hospitals are established and considered reliable, but the results need to be explained by a gastroenterologist. BreathMarble does measure hydrogen, but it is not clear how reliably you can explain the results. $\endgroup$ – Jan Jan 7 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ yep I understand. Until now I had no idea of the order of magnitude of the amount, ppt? %? This is very small compared to what I first imagined. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 7 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ Most of hydrogen goes out of the intestine at the back side... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatulence $\endgroup$ – Jan Jan 7 at 14:59

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